Silverton Siege

Original article by Bronwyn McKay for Channel 24

Thabo Rametsi in Silverton Siege.
Thabo Rametsi in Silverton Siege. Photo: Neo Baepi/Netflix


Silverton Siege




3.5/5 Stars


After a failed sabotage mission, a trio of anti-apartheid freedom fighters ends up in a tense bank hostage situation. Based on a true story.


After being assigned to review Netflix’s latest local offering, Silverton Siege, I have to admit that I first had to Google what the real-life incident was all about before watching the film.

I was then comforted by the fact that one of the film’s stars, Arnold Vosloo, along with many of his co-stars, also had to research what exactly happened on 25 January 1980.

According to SA History, three armed activists of the ANC’s uMkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the nation) wing – Humphrey Makhubo, Stephen Mafoko, and Wilfred Madela – took refuge in a branch of the Volkskas Bank in Silverton, Pretoria. This after they realised they were being tailed by the police while on their way to carry out a planned MK sabotage mission on petrol depots at Waltloo near Mamelodi. After six hours of negotiations, including the release of Nelson Mandela and two civilian casualties, the trio were shot and killed by police.

South African director Mandla Dube sheds light on what happened on that day in the second instalment of what he calls the Legends of Freedom – a trilogy of films which comprises Kalushi, already on Netflix, Silverton Siege, and the next movie will be based on the Rivonia Trial.

When watching Silverton Siege, it is essential to remember that this is not a documentary. Instead, as Vosloo described it in an interview with Channel24, it is”a piece of entertainment at the end of the day”, which is based on what happened.

Dube, therefore, turns the Silverton Trio, who were all men, into two men and a woman, with different names: Calvin (Thabo Rametsi), Aldo (Stefan Erasmus) and Terra (Noxolo Dlamini). He also introduces Captain Langerman (played by Vosloo) and his partner, Schoeman (Deon Coetzee), as the two police detectives whose job it becomes to negotiate with the trio.

Other notable cast members include the fascistic brigadier known as “Klein Krokodil” (Justin Strydom), in homage to South Africa’s “Groot Krokodil” former prime minister PW Botha; Christine (Elani Dekker), a government minister’s daughter who works at the bank in an assistant-managerial position; Rachel (Michelle Mosalake) a woman with albinism who is struggling with her identity and Sechaba (Tumisho Masha), a helicopter pilot hired by the police to prevent the MK soldiers from escaping the bank.

I found this film profoundly interesting. It takes a historical event and highlights moments that occurred on the actual day while balancing fictional additions of action scenes, emotional journeys and personal touches in an entertaining way that I think will resonate with many viewers. Instead of sticking to a run-of-the-mill documentary-style piece of content, Dube has shown that this is not only a story about an apartheid movement.

It is a story about young human beings who are just like everyone else. It is a story about young human beings who reacted the only way they knew how in a time of turmoil. Last but not least, it is a story about individuals who are on separate emotional journeys but who are bound by something bigger than them – something that is still relevant to the political climate 22 years after the incident occurred.

One of the main stand-outs for me in this film is how the main characters go on their own journeys within the bigger scheme of things. When Calvin and Captain Langerman first interact, your mind immediately goes to the racial tension you’d expect between a middle-aged white Afrikaner and a young Black activist in the 80s.

But as the film develops, there’s an understanding between the two men that is both eye-opening and delivered with so much care and delicacy from both Vosloo and Rametsi. Their onscreen dynamic will take you through all of the emotions they go through on their journey. More of these moments include Aldo’s motivations to protect his family waiting for him at home and Rachel and Calvin’s heart-breaking conversation about colourism and Black identity.

These moments are so crucial to the bigger picture. By giving these characters their own personal stories, Dube has successfully and respectfully shown representations of the Silverton Trio and regular people who were caught between both sides of apartheid.

There were qualities of this film that I really loved, but admittedly it wasn’t perfect. There were inconsistencies in the pacing, script and, more notably, within some of the characters that did bother me. One of these is Calvin’s asthmatic condition – there are times when he really struggles to breathe and shows his weakness; however, seconds later, he explodes into a raging fit, whether it’s running from the police or barking orders or engaging in a fight sequence. I understand the significance of this leader, this man in power within the bank having a weakness, as we all do. Still, parts of it weren’t put together all that well, taking away from its realism.

The film critic in me would say sure, Silverton Siege is worth a go when you have an hour and 40 minutes to spare; however, inconsistencies in characters, script and pacing do let it down. However, the South African in me would confidently say every South African needs to watch this film, and everyone else should watch this film. It is both entertaining and educational and respectfully sheds light on what happened on a day that contributed to the movement that changed South Africa forever.


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FWA Connect bringing the Film, Arts, Media and Entertainment sector together by providing creative industry professionals on the African continent with news, trends and in-depth articles.

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