I first learned about apartheid when I was in college in the early 1980s. My professors at Boston University were talking about it, and I had several teaching assistants who were from South Africa and who shared firsthand knowledge of the brutal system of racism in that country.
Then came the movies, films like Richard Attenborough’s CRY FREEDOM (1987), which was the first time I saw Denzel Washington in a movie, and A WORLD APART (1988), which dramatized what was happening in South Africa, and at the time, it looked like apartheid was a present-day evil that wasn’t going away any time soon. But miraculously, it did, and Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and became president of that nation!
SILVERTON SIEGE (2022), a new Netflix movie, takes place ten years before Mandela’s release, in 1980, and tells the story, based on real events, of three freedom fighters who fled the police and took refuge inside a bank where not knowing what else to do, took hostages and demanded to be released. When they realized this wasn’t going to happen, they decided to raise the stakes, and they instead demanded the release of Nelson Mandela.
The movie depicts the tense events inside the bank, where the freedom fighters contend with the hostages, explaining to them that they are not there to rob the bank, and outside, where police captain Johan Langerman (Arnold Vosloo) is facing increasing pressure from his superiors to stop negotiating and simply storm the bank.
SILVERTON SIEGE is an excellent historical drama, anchored by two solid performances. The best belongs to Thabo Rametsi as Calvin, the leader of the three freedom fighters. He makes it clear that Calvin is not there to kill anyone. They are there to start a movement to free Nelson Mandela. Of course, this isn’t how it started, but once Calvin realized their own lives weren’t worth anything in the eyes of the government, he decided to wage their freedom on someone much bigger, the imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Rametsi makes Calvin a convincing character, a sincere man who most of the hostages come to believe and support.
Arnold Vosloo is also excellent as police captain Langerman. He wants to stamp out the “terrorists” as much as anyone, but he doesn’t want a bloodbath or any international incidents, as one of the hostages is an American, and so he desperately wants the negotiations to win out, but that’s not how his superiors view things. Vosloo has been around for a long time, making movies since the 1980s, and horror fans know him for playing Imhotep the Mummy in the Brendan Fraser remake of THE MUMMY (1999) and in its sequel THE MUMMY RETURNS (2001).
The rest of the cast is also solid, including Noxolo Dlamini as Terra, the lone woman of the three freedom fighters, who also happens to be the most brazen and probably the toughest.
SILVERTON SIEGE was directed by Mandla Dube who grew up in apartheid in South Africa. Dube has made an efficient movie that pulls no punches and does everything right in pointing out the ugliness that once was apartheid.
The drama here is pretty intense throughout, although if you know your history, you kinda know what is going to happen, because Mandela wasn’t released from prison until ten years later in 1990. But still, the story holds up and works well.
The screenplay by Sabelo Mgidi allows the audience to get to know the characters, especially the three freedom fighters and the police captain, and even some of the hostages. The tension remains high throughout and knowing that the efforts of these three fighters will ultimately fail, actually works to the film’s advantage, as for the most part they are depicted as people who just want freedom for everyone, and the audience definitely empathizes with their plight.
That being said, since this event is often credited as the beginning of the Free Nelson Mandela movement, even though the events of the day ended badly, in the long run, they were successful, as Mandela was eventually freed from prison in 1990.
SILVERTON SIEGE is a compelling historical drama that is highly recommended, and it also serves as a reminder that while there is still more work to do… apartheid may be over, but racism isn’t… the lives lost for the cause of freedom have not been lost in vain.
It makes sure that at least in this case, these lives will be remembered.