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From Prison Cell To Red Carpet

Published 5 years ago
By Motlabana Monnakgotla

John Fredericks had a tougher childhood than most. While food in his house was scarce and gang members terrorized him, it was a traumatic rape that convinced him to form a gang. It led to him spending time in the notorious Pollsmoor Prison and his friends later being sentenced to death.

Fredericks, along with his childhood friend, spent three years in prison for trying to steal a radio from a shop. While behind bars, Frederick’s friend was inducted to one of the infamous number gangs and forced to be a concubine. Fredericks, whose storytelling ability was loved by those close to him, managed to stay out of a gang by telling the prisoners captivating tales.

A shot from the film, Noem My Skollie. (Photo supplied)

Today, his story is being told to the rest of the world. Fredericks used one finger to write the script for Noem My Skollie, based on his life in the 1960s in apartheid South Africa.

Based in the gang-riddled Cape Flats, in the Western Cape province, the movie stays true to its roots. Along with Fredericks, the director, Daryne Joshua, and many of the crew are from this area. It’s a film that resonates with many South Africans and summons a tide of emotions.

“I ran out because I was crying, it brought back so many memories, it was hectic,” says Fredericks at the film screening in Sandton, Johannesburg.

The three childhood friends that Fredericks formed a gang with were hanged for killing a taxi driver. In 1968, all four stood trial together; Fredericks escaped the death sentence when his friends told the judge he was not involved. Fredericks is fortunate to be able to tell his tale; he was supposed to be with his friends on the fateful night they committed murder. He missed their rendezvous after deciding to spend time with his girlfriend instead.

His friends were initially persuaded to pin the murder on Fredericks but their brotherly bond proved stronger than their will to live.

Fredericks forgives them for trying to frame him. Before their lives ended, they wrote a letter to Fredericks asking for his forgiveness. They were dead by the time he read it and he still weeps every time he reads the letter.

“On each corner of the page, there are two bunches of flowers with tags which read goodbye with the date of birth and date of death; they knew which date they were to be hanged,” says Fredericks.

While in prison, storytelling was Fredericks’ escape. Reading and writing letters killed time. Years later, as he approaches the age of 70, Fredericks educates youth on the dangers of gangsterism in the Cape Flats, where he still lives. He also teaches reading and writing at Pollsmoor.

The producers of Noem My Skollie, David Max Brown and Moshidi Motshegwa, say they used as few actors and locations as possible as money was tight. Despite the travails that the producers never gave up because the story and script was too strong.

“We made a really big film with 50 cast and 47 locations, everything was bigger than the money and we still found a way to make it work,” says Brown.

The whole film is in Afrikaans to better represent the people of the Cape Flats. Brown also says they tried to make the movie as South African as possible. He hopes the film’s uniqueness will help it win international awards. More than anything though, he hopes it will win the hearts of South Africans.

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Related Topics: #Acting, #Film, #John Fredericks, #Noem My Skollie, #Pollsmoor Prison, #Scripts, #September 2016, #Storytelling.