In April 2022, on Freedom Day, a film based on the true story that launched the global “Free Mandela” movement was released. The film Silverton Siege, directed by Mandla Dube of South Africa, is based on a story from 1980, when three members of UMkhonto weSizwe, sometimes known as MK, founded by Nelson Mandela, held civilians hostage in a bank in Pretoria.
The release of Mandela was one of the demands made by the group. Their revolt, which was initially denounced, ended up becoming a turning point in South Africa’s history since it sparked the “Free Mandela” movement, which resulted in Mandela’s release from jail and fundamentally altered the nation.
Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1963 after being charged with treason against the white minority government. While imprisoned on Robben Island, Mandela used the cooperation of fellow inmates and visitors to smuggle letters and messages to his supporters, especially the MK, in order to rekindle the anti-apartheid movement.
Stephen Mafoko, Humphrey Makhubo, and Wilfred Madela, three MK cadres, were reportedly on their way to a planned MK sabotage mission on petrol depots in Watloo, Pretoria, on January 25, 1980, when they noticed they were being followed by the police. They opted to enter a Volkskas Bank branch in Silverton, Pretoria, in their effort to flee. Volkskas Bank is one of South Africa’s main banks.
According to South Africa History Online, when the trio entered the bank at about 1 p.m., they held 25 individuals hostage and put them into a corner cubicle. However, because the siege was on the bottom floor, the bank’s upper-floor employees were able to flee the building. Andre Theron, a bank accountant, remained in hiding. The Police Anti-Terrorist Unit arrived shortly after. Members of the team got access to a neighboring building, where they installed surveillance equipment that allowed them to use a periscope to view what was going on in the Volkskas bank. They used a tape recorder and a microphone to record every sound and, in essence, hear what was going on in the bank.
The troop then began talking with Mafoko, Makhubo, and Madela, who sang independence songs “to maintain their morale and focus.” Two hostages were released with notes stating the trio’s demands. They demanded Mandela’s release, a meeting with South Africa’s president, money, and a plane to take them to Maputo, among other things.
By 6 p.m., the police had gained entrance to the bank’s basement, utilizing a stairwell to reach the first floor and Andre Theron. The police now got a bird’s eye perspective of the hostage scenario. The cops were ready to march in at 6.30 p.m. to break the siege. General Mike Geldenhuys, the Police Commissioner, ordered the area around the bank to be cleared. People who had gathered to witness what was going on were ordered to move back as ambulances approached.
The initial gunshots were heard at 7.05 p.m. It’s unclear if MK cadre Mafoko fired the first shot after discovering the cops had entered the building or if the cops fired first. Makhubo and Madela were slain not long after the shooting started, but Mafoko kept firing. He hurled a grenade, but it was seized and thrown away by one of the hostages. It burst, as a result, wounding some of the hostages.
Mafoko was slain by the police at the end of the day, bringing the Silverton Siege to a close. Along with two hostages, all three MK members died. Mandela was released from jail around ten years after the siege, and he went on to rule South Africa as president, thanks in large part to freedom fighters Mafoko, Makhubo, and Madela, whose Silverton Siege sparked the “Free Mandela” movement.
Dube thinks that his new documentary about the trio will encourage other young people to believe that they can change the world.