We spoke to Rapulana Seiphemo, star of SA hit film Gangster’s Paradise – Jerusalema, which will be showing at various cinemas in London from July 9.

Jerusalema follows the story of Lucky Kunene (Rapulana Seiphemo) from his poverty-stricken childhood in Soweto through an increasing involvement in crime to his reincarnation years later as a ‘businessman’ in Hillbrow. He seizes control of the flatlands – seriously upsetting a drug lord and a senior policeman in the process…

Jerusalema tackles some serious subjects, but you end up feeling uplifted. How did they manage that?
 It’s highly entertaining. It’s also compelling and engaging.

The film shows South Africa as a fairly dysfunctional society still. How did people react to that portrayal?

People have to understand that we have to be realistic. The majority of people in this country have been systematically disadvantaged for a very long time. To address that is going to take a while. I suppose that in a weird and entertaining way Jerusalema addresses those issues through one individual.

You get the sense that Lucky was a good man at heart…

In his mind he is not breaking the law – he found a loophole and he’s exploiting that and he’s trying to use that to redress all the other things that were horrible in black people’s lives – reducing their rent, cleaning up the buildings, banning the drug dealers. So in his mind, he is sort of a Robin Hood.

Do you think the film was based on any real characters?

There are people who have been in situations like. Where they find themselves desperate to survive – where they do things not through choice but because they have no choice. They think fine ‘they will do something they can get away with, without hurting other people, without killing anyone, without inflicting pain on others.

What did South African audiences make of the film?
It was very popular. I suppose for a long time, South African audiences would go to the cinema to watch a South African film and they were always about pain. Now we have Jerusalema, which is based on the realities of South Africa but is also action-packed. People enjoyed it, it had twists and turns – people in the streets often ask me ‘when is Jerusalema II coming’?

What do you hope UK audiences will make of the film?

Number one, I think it showcases South Africa from a perspective that no other film has, because you go into Hillbrow – you see what it is. You look at those buildings – they used to be beautiful. They are dilapidated but there are people living there and it’s ALIVE. I think it is time we start showing the world that regardless of what is happening in South Africa, there are nuances that even we haven’t seen.
I am hoping they appreciate the kind of struggle that we are going through at this moment to rebuild.


Interview: Susan Miller