By Staff Reporters

The term “Askari” became part of the South African political lexicon to describe freedom fighters, mostly ANC and PAC members who, through severe torture or voluntary defection, switched over and became the regime’s murderous assassins, who fought against their former comrades. 

This was part of the National Party’s counterinsurgency campaign.


Vlakplaas is a farm 20km west of Pretoria that served as the headquarters of counterinsurgency unit C1 (later called C10) of the Security Branch of the apartheid-era South African Police. Though officially called Section C1, the unit itself also became known as Vlakplaas. Established in 1979, by 1990 it had grown from a small unit of five policemen and about 15 askaris to a unit of nine squads.

The unit functioned as a paramilitary hit squad, which captured political opponents of the apartheid government and either “turning” (converting) or executing them.

Vlakplaas Farm was the site of multiple executions of political opponents of the apartheid government. The unit is known to have carried out the murders of Griffiths Mxenge in 1981 and the “Chesterville Four” in 1986, among many others. C1 officers were also notorious for allegedly routinely defrauding the state, siphoning off government funds to pay agents or for their personal use. 

ASKARI, the movie

ASKARI, is heart-wrenching tale about freedom fighters who were turned to be deadly assassins, double agents, informers, and intelligence analysts for the infamous Vlakplaas during days of apartheid. It premiered at the South African State Theatre (SAST) as a musical in 2021.

Based on true events, ASKARI, the new political thriller about freedom fighters who became double-agents and deadly assassins for the infamous Vlakplaas, was released in Ster-Kinekor Theatres (SKT) cinemas on Friday, 22 April. 

The release of this stage-to-screen film, directed by award-winning Director Sello Maseko who co-wrote it with Mdu Nhlapo, is hot on the heels of two Naledi Theatre Awards nominations (Best Script & Choreography) from its stage debut at the South African State Theatre (SAST), where it was filmed last year.

ASKARI tells the story of men and women who infiltrated organised civic movements and student organisations for recruiting unsuspecting youth and influential leaders. The story interrogates the decisions that led to their choice of turning from insurgencies to counter-insurgencies, from community activists to mass killers. 

The movie delves deep into the personal accounts of these individuals who administered pain, fear and death. These stories, of betrayal and death, redemption and forgiveness, are told through moving dance, music and powerful storytelling.

The production features actors: Soyiso Ndaba, Abongile Matyutyu, Tiaan Slabbert, Monica Muller, Xolani Nhlapo, Kagiso Matlala, Eutychia Rakaki, Tshepiso Madikoane, Gorata Mathebula, Thembi Ngwenya and Muzi Masikane. It is produced by the SAST in association with Mantimakhulu PTY LTD.

Commenting on the creation of ASKARI, Sello recalls: “In 2019, I was invited to be part of the delegation that visited the notorious farm at Vlakplaas. I saw a lonely and quite farmhouse on an empty tract of land, sad outbuildings and the vengeful interrogation rooms and the tearful graves of those who met their end in the hands of the state-sponsored death squad. 

“Four decades ago, the farm housed a group of people called ASKARI. Four decades ago, the farm administered pain, fear, misery, uncertainty and death. The film honours those heroes and heroines whose lives perished in Vlakplaas’s torture chambers.

“As a historian and storyteller, I saw it fit to make my contribution in the Truth and Reconciliation project. The story of these foot soldiers of apartheid, whose job description was to kill, needed to be told and I had to be the one telling it. To deal with souls that are roaming around searching for peaceful rest is not an easy task. This action-packed story is part of the Truth and Reconciliation programme to help communities heal and move on,” said Sello.

ASKARI’s screening forms part of a game-changing collaboration between the SAST and SKT to exhibit theatre content in cinema which started in July last year. The film will show from 22 April to 15 May in SKT cinemas including Newtown, Rosebank Nouveau (Joburg), Musgrave (Durban), Sterland, Brooklyn Nouveau (Pretoria), Baywest (Gqeberha), Boardwalk (Port Elizabeth) and Tygervallei (Cape Town).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *