Our very first South African Madiba

2016-10-17 08:39

Johannesburg - On the eve of the new Joburg Film Festival, actor and TV presenter Tumisho Masha has spoken out for the first time since it was reported that he allegedly beat up his wife Zozibini, who reportedly took out an interim protection order against him.

“These are just allegations, they have not even been proven in court,” Masha told City Press.

“It’s a private situation that involves two people who love each other and have a beautiful daughter together ... As men, we need to protect our families, not harm them.”

That’s as much as he was willing to say, but he was more than happy to discuss his role in Mandela’s Gun, the film that will open the festival on 28 October.

In it, Masha becomes the first South African actor to portray former president Nelson Mandela in an international film.

Mandela has been played by Sidney Poitier, Idris Elba, Morgan Freeman and a host of other American and British actors, but South Africans have – until now – only played the late statesman in lower-budget local productions – Lindani Nkosi in Drum and Simon Sabela in a 1966 TV docudrama.

“I am so happy to play the iconic role,” said an upbeat Masha. “But you have to satisfy the whole country’s and others’ expectations.”

In the film – billed as a “spy thriller” and directed by award-winning British film maker John Irvine – Masha stars alongside the likes of Tokyo Sexwale, Ronnie Kasrils, Dikgang Moseneke and Denis Goldberg. That’s because it’s a docudrama, with Masha heading up the dramatised side of things.

Mandela’s Gun is named after the Makarov pistol that Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie gave Mandela as the armed resistance struggle took hold. Masha plays a young Mandela, who co-founded Umkhonto weSizwe, received military training in Algeria and Ethiopia, and avoided capture and assassination attempts as he travelled the continent, famously nicknamed the Black Pimpernel.

“I did lots of research about Mandela and I watched lots of video footage on him,” says Masha.

“He was a man who made many sacrifices. He had children whom he loved, and he also chose to stand on his own two feet for his country and the rest of the continent.”

Masha believes young audiences who don’t know much of the Mandela story will benefit from the film, which will be on circuit early next year.

In the film, Zethu Dlomo portrays Winnie Mandela, who has also been played only by international actresses, though Terry Pheto will be seen in the role in next year’s mini-series, Madiba.

Nick Boraine plays Cecil Williams, Meren Reddy is Ahmed Kathrada and funnyman Desmond Dube is Govan Mbeki.

Music by the legendary Abdullah Ibrahim makes up the score.

Other South African features

Mandela’s Gun is not the only highly anticipated offering at the festival. Popular director Akin Omotoso is back with a film about homelessness called Vaya, which recently had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s a return to social justice film making for the man who brought us the anti-xenophobia film Man on Ground, and then the hit romcom Tell Me Sweet Something.

“I think it’s important to tell multiple stories about Joburg,” Omotoso told City Press. “The same Joburg houses Hakeem’s character in Man on Ground arriving to find his missing brother, and also Nomzamo’s character in Tell Me Sweet Something, as well as the four characters from Vaya.”

Vaya, he says, is “about four characters who board the same train headed to Joburg, but never meet – even though their stories intertwine. Their hopes, aspirations and humanity are what drives the story and I hope that people connect with that.”

See the trailer here:

Vaya played to packed houses and an enthusiastic response in Toronto.

An important new-school Namibian film, The Unseen, has also been picked for the festival, which celebrates new African cinema.

The Joburg Film Festival is organised by key staff members from South Africa’s oldest and biggest movie event, The Durban International Film Festival.

They were left disgruntled by interference in the selection of films by the University of KwaZulu-Natal, which owns the festival.

There is bound to be rivalry between the two events, say insiders, but Omotoso wants none of it.

“I wish the Joburg Film Festival success and I hope it has a major impact. It isn’t about whether one competes with the other – it’s about having platforms that showcase films – and the more, the merrier,” he said.

There will be a preview screening of Mandela’s Gun at Maponya Mall in Soweto on October 29


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