Because of Madiba: 10 South African Personalities on the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

South African personalities reflect on the life and legacy of Tata Madiba in honour of Mandela Day 2016.

South Africa’s freedom came at a high cost. We lost loved ones and heroes who fought so that we could be free. And while we continue to face issues of racism and exclusion, we honour Steve Biko, Tsietsi Mashinini, Oliver Tambo, Solomon Mahlangu and the countless others that took part in the struggle and paved the way. Today, we honour Nelson Mandela on what would have been his 98th birthday. For Mandela Day this year, we asked ten South African artists and personalities to reflect on the life and legacy of Tatat Madiba.

Hlubi Mboya Arnold – Actress, activist

Photo: Paul Paunde

#BecauseofMadiba I have the opportunity to make the world my oyster. I have the privilege of being the best that I can be, but I too, and most importantly, have a responsibility to the next generation to motivate, inspire and empower greatness in the African girl-child.

#ThanksToMadiba for giving me an opportunity to be the best person that I can be, for giving me a sense of responsibility and a sense of purpose to my people, to the African girl child and to the African continent.

–Hlubi Mboya Arnold

Boity Thulo  TV personality

Photo: Paul Paunde

#ThanksToMadiba for right now. I am here because of you. And thank you to the people you trusted to aid our freedom; your comrades, your friends and the people that you worked with because you did not do this alone. I’d like to thank you for trusting and believing in the people who did it with you. For all of you guys coming together to give us an opportunity of experiencing what we are experiencing right now; which is solid freedom. We still have a very very long way to go but we’re getting there!

–Boity Thulo

David Kau – Comedian, entrepreneur

Photo: Paul Paunde

Madiba left the legacy of giving, he left the foundations, the work he did when he was still alive. The work that continues, 67 minutes, at least there’s one thing that all South Africans seem to agree on and that’s definitely Mandela Day. #BecauseOfMadiba people take time off from their work and do some charity work. Right now there’s no Bokke, there’s no Bafana Bafana. It’s probably the only thing that blacks, whites, Indians, coloureds in South Africa, Chinese are going to be doing or that they still have in common today in South Africa.

–David Kau

Du Boiz – Artist, son of an activist

Photo: Paul Paunde

#ThanksToMadiba for freedom of speech. There were times where you couldn’t even say his name and that’s not freedom of speech. Today I am able to say whatever it is that I want to say, freedom to be me; to be a black man and be comfortable in my own skin. I have the freedom to be able to walk around in Joburg and not be afraid. The things that he did and everything that he fought for gives me the opportunity to express myself through my music because he made that possible.

#BecauseofMadiba I am proud to be a South African, I am happy to be an African. I have the opportunity to open each and every door that I wanna go into. Because of Madiba the world respects me, the world sees me.

#ThanksToMadiba for everything! Thanks to Madiba for fighting for me, for standing up for me, not only for me but for my brothers and sisters; for the entire nation and we appreciate you!

–Du Boiz

Celeste Khumalo – Former Miss SA Teen, businesswoman

Photo: Paul Paunde

#ThanksToMadiba I can be whoever I want to be in my own country. #BecauseofMadiba I know that no matter how long it takes to achieve something, it can be achieved.

–Celeste Khumalo

Nasty C – Rapper

Photo: Paul Paunde

Whenever I think of all the things he had to go through just to stand for freedom and happiness I’m reminded that I never have to worry about those two things, yet they’re two of the most important aspects of life. This gives me so much space for my imagination to run free plus the urge to be creative, productive and ambitious.

–Nasty C

Ms Jones – DJ

Photo: Paul Paunde

#BeacauseOfMadiba I am free to live the life purposed to me. I’m free to influence and touch people’s lives through my craft. I am open–minded and I am liberated.

#ThankstoMadiba I have the opportunity to work wherever I want to work. I can take a journey to wherever I wish to go. He gave us a lot of hope and that’s the hope I wish to share with the next generation.

–Ms Jones

Mashayabhuqe KaMamba – Musician

Photo: Paul Paunde

#ThanksToMadiba for being a true believer, striving for better opportunities and a system that has no hatred.

#BecauseOfMadiba now a young man like Mashayabhuqe KaMamba can be able to build something like Digital Maskandi and have access to the necessary tools that are needed to build this empire.

–Mashayabhuqe KaMamba

Antonio David Lyons – Actor, spoken word artist, musician

Photo: Paul Paunde

#ThankstoMadiba I dream bigger and deeper than I ever would have on my own. Through his example I feel I have a responsibility to not only manifest my dreams, but assist others in doing the same.

#BecauseOfMadiba I’ve had the privilege to live in a liberated South Africa that for me still holds the promise of becoming the most equitable nation on the planet. Let us never forget the sacrifice of those known and unknown that have made freedom possible.

–Antonio David Lyons

MarazA – Musician

Photo: Paul Paunde

#BecauseOfMadiba we are [that] much closer to realizing the dream of a truly unified South Africa. We are [that] much closer to seeing young people reach their full potential while they’re young people.

#ThankstoMadiba I can grow up in a village somewhere in the north coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal and I could grow up to [become] the head of MultiChoice. Because one of the cleverest things that the Apartheid government was able to do was convince us that we aren’t the same people, so thanks to Mandela we’re able to break those things down.


Photo courtesy of Sam Soko.

Interview: Sam Soko is the Kenyan Director Behind Sundance Hit, 'Softie'

We meet filmmaker Sam Soko who has made a stirring documentary about the Kenyan protest leader Boniface Mwangi

Filmmaker Sam Soko didn't intend on making a documentary about Kenyan photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi.

The original idea he had was to make a manual of sorts, a short video guide, on how to protest, the do's and don't's. Soko, himself an activist artist who cut his teeth convincing friends to let him create political music videos for their apolitical songs, knew Mwangi's experience on the streets both photographing protests and staging them meant he had a lot to share with others.

But then came the blood. A thousand litres of it, to be precise. And the pigs. Dozens of them, with words like MPigs written on them. Like the graphic photos Mwangi had become known for taking—it was a sight you couldn't look away from. It was a protest Mwangi organized, in 2013, to decry corrupt members of the Kenyan parliament who had decided to increase their salaries, 2 months after taking office. And at his side, through the thick red liquid of it all, was Mwangi's wife, Njeri, ready to be arrested with him.

"Once I was witness to his relationship, I started seeing him as a family man," Soko tells OkayAfrica. "Because he's planning a protest and all, but when you look at the footage, you start seeing the kids and you start seeing Njeri. That's when it started hitting me, in the sense, that she was with him in such a crazy space."

Soko met Mwangi through the creative and activist hub he created called PAWA 254, as they became part of the groundswell demanding democratic reforms in a country still left scarred from the division sewed between Kikuyu and Luo people by British colonizers. "We had a new Constitution at the time, and there was this hope that we finally could picket without being tear-gassed or being beaten, Like, our civil liberties could be held up." Instead, the government strengthened its police force into a notorious organization condemned by human rights activists. "That's very salient in the film," says Soko. "If you see how the police dress, for instance, at the beginning, it's very different; they become more militant towards the end."

Soko's debut feature-length documentary, Softie, which became the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earlier this year, is at once a love story between Mwangi and his wife and their three children, but also between Mwangi and his beloved Kenya, under president Uhuru Kenyatta. Central to the film is the tussle between how these different loves bump up against each other: what comes first — love of country or love of family?

We spoke to the Nairobi-based director about making the film, which opens in virtual cinemas, starting this Friday, September 18th.

Boniface Mwangi with his wife Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

OA: Early on in the film, we learn how steadfast Boniface Mwangi is — he talks about being willing to die for the ideals he believes in, which made me think of Nelson Mandela and his Rivonia Treason Trial speech. Boniface is someone in the present day who still shares this belief?

When we were working on the edit, and kind of crafting and thinking about what the story was going to be, something that we found that was really, really interesting is, with a lot of the stories, like the story of Nelson Mandela, you'd never see the other side. That's something we see later, up ahead, as a retrospective. We'd hear about Martin Luther King and then we'd read about Coretta Scott in, I think, 1990, like, 'Oh, this his was her struggle.' That sort of thing. But for me, Boniface and Njeri represented a present day reality struggle that showcases what Mandela was going through, what Martin Luther was going through. That was kind of like unravelling the curtain; when you see Martin Luther marching, Coretta's at home, trying to help their kids do their homework. And this is the reality.

OA: And the film poses that question of love for your country versus love for your family, and which one should come first?

Exactly. They see it in different ways. Boniface sees it that if you improve the country, you improve the lives of those who you love. Njeri's like, you have to have your family's back first. And that means everything else comes second. And she's right; she's not wrong. And he's not wrong.

OA: The film really is privy to some really private moments in Mwangi's life — how did you gain his trust?

When we started filming the short video, he was really involved with the protests, and we started doing the protests with him. So we were—quote, unquote—in the trenches with him in the protests, and somehow that's how he kind of welcomed us to his home. When you've been with someone in the streets, and you're tear-gassed together more than once, you already have a common bond. But then I started developing a relationship with him that was beyond the streets. Just checking up on him and asking, what's going on, what's taking place? That sort of thing. I think it took a while. And I think even from Njeri, we kind of developed a kind of camaraderie that was separate from my relationship with Boniface, because I would actually be like, 'Hey, he said that, how does that make you feel?' And not necessarily on camera. But over time, he kind of accepted us to be there with a camera. At some point, I kind of felt like they were talking to me, and not necessarily the camera; like, the camera is kind of this thing that's there, but not there. That kind of trust, again, was built on a respect that I have for them and their values and what they're doing. I think that's something they saw. It made them trust me with their story and trust me with their family.

You're the director of the film, but you're also producer, writer and cinematographer. Did Boniface's own style as a photojournalist influence you in any way?

The film has more than one cinematographer, and a lot of my cinematography is within the intimate moments, because that's when they would only engage with someone they trust. But him being a photographer actually, to a point, made the work a bit hard because he's constantly looking at how you're doing it. He's in your face about the angle. He's like, 'Hey, why are you standing there, you should be there.' But in some places he did help 'cause he's been filming in the streets and filming protests for a very long time. So when you're there filming, he'll easily tell you, 'Dude, don't stand there. They're about to start tear-gassing. Go to the other side.' And it's weird, when you're on the other side and you're filming, and all of a sudden you see tear gas, you wonder, 'How the hell did he know?' You do that 234 times and you start knowing yourself, 'Oh, this is how,' and he was really helpful in that sense.

I can imagine that filming during the protests must have been one of the big challenges of making this film but what else did you struggle with? There were death threats for Mwangi, did that happen to you as well?

It's so funny, when you're filming and when you're in the protests, it's adrenaline talking. So you're not really thinking about whether you're going to be okay. This one time, I got arrested because the cop said I was a spy for the protesters. [We had everything] from cameras breaking to sound equipment messing up, but when it became a more political story, with death threats, it became scary even for editing the film. Because you don't know who's watching you. This one time, I was with him in the car, filming, and we were being followed. So we kind of had to be very careful who we are telling about the story. It was a very deep secret that we were making this film and there are people who are watching it now asking, 'How could you keep this from us from all these years?' Because we had to do that. Especially when the family was in the US. We had to do that for the sake of safety for him, Boniface, for his family but also the film team. I remember doing the pitches with different names. But then we were also lucky that we had our co-producing partner in Canada, Eye Steel Film, so they were able to house the edit there. I went to Canada to edit and that kind of also gives you a kind of freedom to think and work and create. That was the reality, and now I think we have PTSD from the film. I can't film another protest. I'm sorry. I'm out. Like, it tapped me out.

There are similarities to the Black Lives Matter protests here in the US, against police brutality and violence but the slogan takes on a different resonance in places like Kenya, where the police force is particularly heavy-handed. How do you see these protests as being similar but also different?

There are two things that you learn with the film. One, our voices can never be silenced. They will try, but I think humanity is like a pressure cooker. The more you boil us, the more you put that heat, the more explosive we become. And through people like Boniface's life, you see that there are human beings who exist, who do extraordinary things.

The other thing is the idea of activism doesn't necessarily just speak to the person who's on the street. It doesn't necessarily speak to the person who's holding the placard. An activist is someone like Njeri and her life, and her family. And Khadija [Mohamed, Mwangi's campaign manager]. She's such a strong and powerful activist in her own right. She was Boniface's campaign manager for free. The work they did was so powerful. And you have these other people in the background who are doing such incredible things. The sum total of what they've done is [to] instigate… We have an election next year, but I am so sure that we are going to have so many candidates who are going to be like, 'We want you to donate to our campaign. We have these values and beliefs; this is what we want to do.' That is how we need to go about change or add on to the conversations of change.

The same thing that's happening with the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, there are people going to the street and we should keep going to the street. But we need to push people to engage in policy and make sure these policy changes are made.

We need to stand for what we believe in, as filmmakers in spaces where we feel oppression exists. Like the rules that have come out with the Academy Awards, these are rules that should be celebrated because they add on to that conversation of diversity and representation. All these things—that sum total—is what makes the difference. It's going beyond the streets and going beyond our Tweets, going beyond our Facebook messages, making films and sharing films. We just need to keep pumping up the volume, keeping the heat up, keep pushing. It's gonna take a while, but we'll get there.

Photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

That's where you as a filmmaker come in—this film was the first Kenyan film to get into Sundance, where it won a special editing prize.

There's another film I'm producing and, and, yes, I had my film at Sundance, that's great. But there's this other filmmaker who's making another film, and it's so cool, and this is the thing—we need to keep bouncing off this energy and this light and this vibe, and just keep pushing and making sure that the wheels keep turning. That's what we're all about.

How do you renew your strength, as a filmmaker but also as a Kenyan and as an African?

Being a Kenyan is hard. I think being an African is hard. Like, it's hard. There's a line I heard Boniface say once: 'I love my country, but I am afraid of my government.' But the way in which, personally, I find energy is when I meet new filmmakers, or you know, people who are like starting out and they want to make films that sound totally crazy. And they believe that they can do it. And I'm like, 'yes, yes, keep going!' We are planning to do a premiere. We have not confirmed the date yet but we're thinking it's around going to be early October in Kenya, because Kenyans haven't watched it. The government gave us an adult rating.

This is the same government that banned Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki because of its homosexual theme…

Exactly, that's what we're getting but the lemonade that we've made out of all this is, 'Guess what? This is cinema!' We're going to take it to a cinema. People are going to come to watch it in a cinema or watch it at home or watch it in the best way possible. And the people who've watched it have appreciated it as a film and a story, and their story. They've seen a reflection of themselves. That gives me so much joy because the Kenyans who've watched it, when they give you feedback, they say, this is truth; this is our truth. And they don't see just an activist. They see a couple struggling with love. They see our history in the last 10 years. And they're like, 'What the hell, we lived this?' and they see the things that are unresolved — and many things are unresolved. Seeing that reaction gives me so much strength and hope. But it's hard. It's very hard. Because, you know, you have to wake up and see the policeman getting a bribe. And you're like, 'Homie??'

"SOFTIE" Movie Poster

Watch the trailer for Softie here.

Softie | Official Trailer | A film by Sam Soko www.youtube.com

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