Solomon Mahlangu's spirit chose me to tell his story: 'Kalushi' filmmaker Mandla Dube
The gallows chamber where Solomon Mahlangu was executed 40 years ago still strikes a chill into the heart
When he was 12 years old and some of his friends made him angry, a young Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu came to school the next day with the word Explosives written on his school bag.
At the time, 1968, Nelson Mandela and some of his fellow Rivonia triallists were four years into their life sentences. JJ Fouché was the state president of apartheid SA, and political activist Dorothy Nyembe had been arrested for the second time and charged on five counts under the Suppression of Communism Act.
Alarmed, the school principal called young Mahlangu into his office to inquire about the school bag. There were no explosives inside. This was Mahlangu's way of sending a message to his friends.
This anecdote comes up as filmmaker Mandla Dube - of the award-winning 2017 film Kalushi - reflects on the 40th anniversary of Mahlangu's execution, which took place on April 6 1979.
"I was struck by his bravery in my research about the young hero. Solomon Mahlangu was fearless, resolute, disciplined, humble and very committed to see black South Africans have their freedom," says Dube.
Dube is the creator of the Legends of Freedom project, dedicated to telling stories of SA's liberation history and the achievements of African people. As well as Kalushi he has produced a play about the Rivonia trial, and shooting starts in June on a film about the 1980 Silverton siege.
Restoring Mahlangu's memory became a bigger mission within the project. Aside from the creative outputs, Dube advocated for Mahlangu's face to be on stamps issued by the Post Office and for his name to be written on the wall at Freedom Park.
Through the Solomon Mahlangu Family Trust, the Mahlangu family house was declared a museum, with a new house built for the family for the 30th anniversary of Mahlangu's death 10 years ago.
The Legends of Freedom project strives to curb collective amnesia by teaching people about their history. Dube's urgency was triggered by the political apathy he saw in his students when he was a lecturer at Wits University in the mid-2000s.
Ironically, a decade later Solomon Mahlangu would become symbolic in Wits's #FeesMustFall movement, mythologised in the protest song Iyho Solomon.
In his telling of Mahlangu's story, Dube portrayed a youth who goes from being a hawker selling vegetables in train stations, with aspirations of being a teacher, to being a symbol of the fight for SA's freedom.
After being brutally beaten by railway police, Mahlangu left SA to train as an Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) cadre in Angola and Mozambique in 1976. On his return in 1977, two civilians were killed in a gun fight with police. Mahlangu was sentenced to death and hanged in 1979.
In January 1980, in what would become known as the Silverton siege, three MK cadres - Stephen Mafoko, Humphrey Makhubo and Wilfred Madela - set out to avenge Mahlangu's execution.
Their plan was to sabotage petrol depots at Watloo, near Mamelodi in Tshwane, but, fearing they were being tailed by police, they took refuge in a branch of Volkskas Bank in Silverton, where they took 25 people hostage.
After a six-hour siege the three were killed along with two civilians when police stormed the bank.
'DYING TO HEAL'
Dube's next feature film, The Silverton Siege, which is pitched as a thriller, is scheduled for release in SA in 2020.
"Telling these stories is part of the human spirit wanting to heal, and dying to heal, because there is still a big vacuum as far as the pain of what happened in the past goes. It is energy and it has to go somewhere," says Dube.
"I also took on the pain of the Mahlangu family. It was taboo to enter their home during the '80s. Solomon's brother could not get a job.
"I feel honoured that Solomon's spirit chose me to tell his story. I did not want to be a coward and not tell it when it was presented to me.
"There's a saying that goes, 'Once you know the truth, you're responsible for it'."