I watched Silverton Siege along with my sister’s partner on our dining area TV while they were waiting to get home one night. The movie was an interesting embellished telling of the 1980 incident in Silverton, Pretoria, South Africa, that is credited to have started the movement to have anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela Freed from prison. It seemed something interesting enough to comment on.
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In the movie, a group of saboteurs under the uMkhonto we Sizwe or MK group take cover in a bank following a botched sabotage operation and hold the people hostage as a Plan B. While police try to figure out how to defuse the situation, drama occurs between the hostage takers and hostages. One of the hostage takers later thinks of demanding the release of Nelson Mandela as an ad hoc bargaining ploy. They later decide to release the hostages and mount a dramatic last stand against police storming the bank.
In terms of actors, the biggest name is Mummy antagonist Arnold Vosloo as the level-headed police officer who deals with the situation the best way he can, but is later overstepped by a racist but incompetent brigadier.
In the true story, three male MK members held hostage the bank branch as part of their original plan, not a plan B. The MK group was founded by Mandela himself, so calling for his release was really their job. The hostage drama ended when the police mounted an assault with the hostages still inside, leading to one casualty among the hostages, but the three MK members are killed.
Among the liberties taken by the movie makers is obviously the drama in the bank. The demands for and provision of a helicopter are probably fictitious. The conflict with and death of the pilot later on was probably added to provide some internal conflict for the protagonists.
Also, one of the hostage-taking MK members is made a token female.
In addition, the selling out of the MK members by one of their own, leading to an internal conflict near the end, is also likely a fictitious detail.
Some characters were added to put some emphasis on racism talk. Aside from the helicopter pilot previously mentioned, one hostage is a Black American boxing promoter named Cornelius Washington (there’s a football coach with that name I think), who apparently wasn’t really there if he did exist. Another is this obviously out-of-place whitewashed black woman, probably inserted to demonstrate how oppression could lead to a person trying to blend in with the superior side. I find her more comical than believable.
The lone casualty among the hostages in the movie is the bank manager who turns out to be the daughter of a high-ranking government official in South Africa. She was shot by mistake by a sniper during a negotiation, but that incident is also likely fictitious, along with the bank manager being a government official’s child.
In the early part of the movie, an initial attempt by police to storm the bank is foiled when their shadows are seen through windows in the upper part of the bank. I think the South African police were actually not that incompetent in real life and so it is another fictitious detail.
The last part of the movie, where the remaining saboteurs let the hostages go and hold a last stand, is yet another altered detail.
So we have another conflict between real life and reel life in a movie rendition. But I’m also concerned about the movie’s message. Did the director do all the embellishments to just spice up an incident which is boringly simpler in real life or is he trying to get sympathy for hostage takers?
Paul Chato on Youtube said that movie makers are often on the left side of politics, so if that is the slant of Silverton Siege, it will not be surprising. However, in the movie, an interesting question flies around: what is the price of freedom? The hostage taker says, everything. The racist male bank employee says, it is too much. I tend to agree with the latter.
What really ended apartheid? This, use of force to bring up a point? I’d say this hostage drama did not really contribute to ending apartheid, but stiffened defense against it. If you keep taking hostages or commit terrorist acts, the more we won’t give, say most governments. Case in point, despite all the terrorism that some Palestinians have been carrying out, it has not led to Palestinians having a state or even obtaining improved living conditions.
I would say apartheid was ended by changing attitudes of the times, leading to changes in the attitudes of the Dutch leadership in the later part. Ultimately, they are the policy-makers, so they decide whether to lift their policy or not. For sure some of the white people in South Africa at the time already agreed that apartheid was wrong, so the bank manager having sympathy for the black people under apartheid is realistic (note that important anti-apartheid figure Arthur Goldreich was white). Sentiment from the rest of the world about racism was getting through to South Africans anyway, and I’ll attribute that to the free market of ideas.
If I were to answer what the price of freedom is, it is culture change, sometimes throwing out beliefs and ideas that people cherish. Racism is a product of tribal or national beliefs which the Dutch brought in during the 1600s when they first colonized Africa. These beliefs tell people to hold others under subjugation to keep order or else society would break down. Or it could even be about identity, since identity is a big thing in many societies and racism is borne out of it. And so, another price of freedom could be the giving up of identity (which I’ll discuss in another article). Today, it’s been reported that racist attitudes still remain in South Africa years after the end of apartheid, since some people do stubbornly hold on to their culture and identity.
I hope people take Silverton Siege as more of a cautionary tale and not as a “good example” of how social change is done.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.