Mandela's Gun: The story of the first weapon against apartheid
2 November 2016
The film Mandela's Gun tells the story of a young Nelson Mandela
and the symbolism of his side-arm weapon. A semiautomatic Makarov pistol given
to him by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, the gun came to represent his
revolutionary awakening and the start of the armed struggle against apartheid.
On his clandestine return to South Africa in 1962, Mandela feared imminent
capture by the apartheid government. So he wrapped his gun in foil and heavy-duty
military material and buried it under a tin plate on Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia,
The new film, directed by Bafta-winning British director John Irvin (The
Dogs of War and Hamburger Hill), uses a mix of documentary
footage, interviews with South African anti-apartheid activists, and dramatisations
Mandela's journey. Mandela's Gun was filmed in Algeria, Ethiopia,
Botswana and South Africa.
Mandela is played by renowned local actor Tumisho Masha. After more than 20
major film and TV productions on Mandela, it is the first time a South African actor
portrays the iconic leader.
Producer Moroba Nkawe told
Variety that the long process of
bringing the story to screen was similar to the remarkable, pan-African trip Mandela
made as a young freedom fighter in exile. "As we uncovered more information
through research, the story grew and…led us to film across the African continent, as
we tried to bring to life this amazing, untold journey."
Intent on building an army
against the apartheid government, the young
Mandela had yet to even shoot a gun, let alone own one. So in exile, travelling
across Africa on false passports, he got military training in Algeria and Ethiopia. It
was here that he received the Selassie gift. He then moved south to Tanzania and
later Botswana, building up tactical and political support from governments and
Returning to South Africa, Mandela gathered together anti-apartheid activists,
ANC members and other supporters at Liliesleaf to plan the armed struggle.
"Not only were we rediscovering Mandela's journey and a part of our history
that is seldom spoken about," said Nkawe, "but also learning what a huge debt
South Africa owes to the African continent for the support they gave in our
Interviews in the film include first-hand accounts of that time from Mandela's
comrades, such as Dennis Goldberg and Ronnie Kasrils.
The all-South African cast
includes Zethu Dlomo, Nick Boraine and Meren
Reddy. Desmond Dube plays ANC stalwart Govan Mbeki.
The soundtrack by Abdullah Ibrahim includes classic South African music of the
period, and new material written for the film.
Guns buried 20 paces from the kitchen
The story of the hidden weapon was only revealed after Mandela was released
from prison in 1990, during his first visit to Liliesleaf in 30 years. The late veteran
journalist Allister Sparks recalled being with Mandela at the time. He told the
Mail & Guardian in 2011: "He was reminiscing about all the things that
had gone on while he was there. He (asked) the house maid, 'Where's the kitchen? I
buried some weapons here 20 paces from the kitchen.'
"We went to the kitchen and he stepped out his paces but by the time he got to
10 he hit the garden wall. So it was over in the neighbour's property. We never
found it and Nick Wolpe (Liliesleaf Trust chief executive)has
been digging ever
Negotiations for the sale of the neighbouring property have been underway for
over five years. But the gun has still not been found.
The film will be on at Ster-Kinekor cinemas in November and December 2016.
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