Catch a Fire

Philip Noyce directed this film from 2006 about the awakening of a political activist during the Apartheid years in South Africa.  What makes the story of this film so interesting is that it was written by Shawn Slovo, sister of ‘Red Dust’ author, Gillian Slovo, and daughter of active anti- apartheid campaigners, Joe Slovo and Ruth First.

Patrick Chumusso is a young black man with a wife and two daughters.  His job at the refinery is a good one; his job as a foreman gives him status and more money than many other blacks who work there.  However, when activists attack a railway line his car is stopped and his family see first hand how the regime treat blacks they suspect.  He is thrown to the ground and his relative prosperity, shown by his car and his camera, make the police suspicious.


This does not politicise Patrick Chumosso for he is a family man who contributes to his community by running a football club for young boys.  An important match takes them away overnight and this is where problems occur for him. While away, he visits a woman, not his wife, who gave birth to his son.  The need to keep this a secret leads to problems with the police when his is questioned about his whereabouts.  While away, the refinery was attacked and suspicion falls on him.


In this film, we see the torture used by the regime to extract confessions.  We also see the tricks used, such as taking the prisoner to enjoy Sunday lunch with the family of the security services chief.  This, along with the torture of his wife, leads Patrick Chumusso to confess to something he did not do.  Although, let go by the security chief, the Apartheid regime has successfully created an activist.  Now, full of rage, there is another young man willing to sacrifice his life for the struggle.  He was once keen to avoid politics but now heads off to train for Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC.

Tim Robbins plays the security chief who creates and then has to hunt down what he considers to be a terrorist.  Derek Luke is Patrick Chumusso, the freedom fighter created by the ill judged treatment of a regime that has to watch every shadow.

The film is based on true events and, at the end, we hear from the real Patrick Chumusso.  He tells of his fate under Apartheid and his life since the dawn of a new South Africa.  It is worth watching this story to reach this point as he speaks eloquently about the choices you make and how to forgive.

‘Catch a Fire’ is in my hinterland.  What’s in yours?



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