It’s been 13 years since the fall of apartheid in South Africa, when millions were allowed to vote in a democratic election for the first time.
At the time I was a student activist in the Western Cape and I threw myself into the ANC election campaign. Every single individual felt that they were helping to shape world history.
The new film Catch A Fire captures this spirit. Based on real events, it is scripted by Shawn Slovo, daughter of anti-apartheid activists Ruth First and Joe Slovo, and directed by the Australian radical filmmaker Phillip Noyce.
Catch A Fire serves as an important record of what life was like under apartheid, but it also reminds us of one of the 20th century’s greatest struggles for liberation.
It’s a pleasant surprise that the film’s main character is played not by Hollywood star Tim Robbins, but by Derek Luke. He is cast as Patrick Chamusso, an ordinary man trying to survive.
Chamusso, a foreman at the Secunda Oil Refinery, is deliberately apolitical. But all this changes when he is targeted by an anti?terrorist investigation after an explosion at Secunda. He faces months of brutality, including the rape and torture of his wife.
But far from breaking him, this experience radicalises Chamusso. He flees to Mozambique to join Umkonto We Sizwe, the ANC’s armed wing, where he trains to return and fight in South Africa.
The scenes of brutality at a notorious torture farm send shivers down your spine. Yet it also reminds us that democracy in South Africa came about because of the struggle and courage of black South Africans.
Chamusso’s story comes at a time when world history is being shaped by the “war on terror”, and when questions about what makes a “terrorist” – what could drive ordinary people to resist and take up arms – are more pertinent than ever before.
Catch A Fire span>
Directed by Phillip Noyce
on general release