This captivating South African film, which follows a hostage situation in the country’s capital at the height of apartheid, rattles your emotions and leaves you pleasantly unsettled.

South African thriller, Silverton Siege, was released on Netflix on April 27, 2022, to mark South Africa’s 28th Freedom Day anniversary. It fictionalises the real events of a 1980 Pretoria bank takeover by three Umkhonto weSizwe freedom fighters. The trio, who are apartheid police targets, grapple with the value of freedom over their daylong bank takeover. 

On the way to sabotaging a power plant in the capital, Pretoria, Calvin Khumalo (played by Thabo Rametsi), Mbali Terra Mabunda (Noxolo Dlamini) and Aldo Erasmus (Stefan Erasmus) suffer a somewhat predictable betrayal by one of their own, which places the police, under the leadership of police captain Johan Langerman (played by The Blacklist’s Arnold Vosloo), hot on their heels. Despite this largely South African cast, accents are sometimes unbelievable, with Vosloo’s American twang making appearances. 

A series of high-speed chase scenes leave the viewer almost as shaken as the camera’s movements. Despite the engrossing storyline, some special effects (such as the trio’s getaway SUV driving through a wall) are unrealistic. 

The fighters find themselves, unplanned, in a bank, in the Pretoria East suburb of Silverton, giving the viewer context that was initially missing from the establishing scene (of the trio’s bank takeover). 

Acclaimed South African cinematographer, Mandlakayise Dube, directed and produced this nail-biting film. Dube, who has lectured at Wits, has directed other apartheid-based thrillers such as Kalushi (2016), making his recent release familiar to his audience. He uses lighting changes to show characters’ emotions and cleverly laces several motifs and symbols into the film’s narrative. These include a statue of Paul Kruger (SA president, 1883 – 1900) and flying birds, possible symbols of oppression and freedom for the trio. 

Dube creatively casts a woman as one of the trio, when historically they were all men, breaking gender stereotypes by juxtaposing this character’s aggression and gentleness. Giving the character the name Mbali – flower in isiZulu’ – Dube told 94.7 radio station in an interview that it is a link to what late ANC president Oliver Tambo called “izimbali zomzabalazo” (flowers of the struggle). 

Silverton Siege explores the dynamics of race in apartheid South Africa and speaks to contemporary social issues of classism and varying and overlapping forms of oppression, allowing the audience to relate to this narrative. However, other differences, such as culture, ethnicity and age could have been further explored to make the film more well-rounded. 

The film’s use of language exposes divisions along racial lines, with Langerman posing the question, “You don’t speak Afrikaans, yet you call yourself a South African?” Khumalo’s response is: “Your people have been here for 400 years, and you haven’t bothered to learn an indigenous language…” However, the bank supervisor’s (Elani Dekker) interesting family history and trilingual use of English, Afrikaans and Zulu, as well as the editing technique of automated subtitles for Afrikaans and isiZulu speech, bridges language and racial barriers. 

Silverton Siege highlights the topic of freedom as Khumalo demands the release of Nelson Mandela from his then 17-year imprisonment on Robben Island. Khumalo’s hard-hitting question: “What is the price of freedom?” reminds audiences that, 42 years after the events that inspired Silverton Siege, freedom in many parts of the world is still under threat. 

The film concludes with Zamo Mbutho’s cover of liberation song, Asimbonanga, which, after the whirlwind of anger, relief and sadness experienced throughout this film, leaves the viewer feeling hopeful. 

This film transports you to 1980 and takes you through the experiences of the people who lived it. It besieges you from the beginning and does not let go. 

Vuvu Rating: 9/10

FEATURED IMAGE: Thabo Rametsi as freedom fighter, Calvin Khumalo, establishes a hostage situation in a Pretoria bank. Photo: YouTube