Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – Viewpoints

The long-awaited and much-anticipated movie ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ is currently being at cinemas in South Africa. I had to opportunity to chat to Tony Kgoroge, Atandwa Kani and Deon Lotz who star as Walter Sisulu, Kobie Coetzee and the teenage Mandela respectively


Tony Kgoroge (Hotel Rwanda, Invictus, Blood Diamond, First Grader) and Deon Lotz (Musiek vir die Agtergrond; Sleeper’s Wake; Skoonheid; Hansie: A True Story) are ‘old’ acquaintances and it was great to pick up the threads again and talk about their accomplishments since we last met.  

Tony, who takes on the role of Walter Sisulu, first worked with Anant Singh (Videovision) and director - Justin Chadwick during the making of ‘First Grader’ and met up with Anant a year later… after a long chat he then left with the understanding that he would be considered for a role in ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’. A script reading with Idris Elba followed and then a period of six months which enabled him to undertake further research.  It’s the 2nd time he has worked with Naomi Harris (Winnie Mandela), the first time being ‘First Grader’, and over time he has seen her strength as an actress develop. His favourite scene in the movie is when she stands up to the policemen shouting “Don’t touch my children”.

Atandwa Kani, on the other hand, plays the teenage Mandela. He is legendary South African actor and playwright – John Kani’s son. He has built his reputation on stage and I asked him whether he preferred stage or screen. “They are so different… on stage I do a lot more acting… it’s on a different level … film is real, but I enjoy the interaction of the audience in a theatre.”

On the subject of film and acting before the camera Deon Lotz (Kobie Coetzee) adds: “I prefer camera, there is an intensity which comes from the gut. It’s amazing how many actors can’t make the transition… you just have to forget about the camera [and live the role].”

For Atandwa taking on the role of a political figure is nothing new. Early last year he played a rhetorical Thabo Mbeki and had to learn all of his speeches, which as he says “were not written to be learned, but to be read... they were influential and powerful. As young actors we want to be influenced and are always humbled by great people. I was inspired in every sense of the word.”

“One has to be diverse,” adds Deon who, not only, has made his name on the South African screen, but has cracked Hollywood as well. “There is not enough money in just one field.”

Tony agrees: “Our system is still not giving us enough support – we need exposure to different things. It’s terrible not doing what you’re called to do, you can go a year without any work … and it’s not like we can’t do it… we have proven ourselves to the country and the world.”

“The sad thing,” says Deon, “if you’re not in a South African soapie then you’re nothing.” AND he has a really BIG gripe … “there’s not enough time and space given to South African movies… A South African film should be given a dedicated cinema and a minimum of four weeks play… it is the responsibility and duty of the cinema chains.”

Tony adds: “SA is ready to play with the rest of the world … our rugby team is the best… and ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ is even having a private screening at the White House… we are beyond proving ourselves… we should hold the flag of South Africa high!”

Let’s take their words to heart and support the South African film industry. Anant Singh at the helm of Videovision’s ‘Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom’ and ‘The First Grader’ has proven that quality resides at home and South African films have evolved to such a degree that they compete with the best of the best.

Last, but not least, keep an eye out for Deon and Tony in ‘Black South Easter’ – a film which crosses the racial divide and breaks down the stereotypes. Why can’t we have an Afrikaans-speaking ‘black’ person? “As artists we don’t have that divide,” concludes Deon, “… we have always been racially integrated.”

South Africa is meant to be a rainbow nation let’s fulfil Nelson Mandela’s vision and remember his message: “There will be no revenge just reconciliation!”


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