We long for the freedom Sarafina sang about

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Khanyo Maphumulo looks back fondly at her chance to sing this Broadway-like ballad in a studio
Khanyo Maphumulo looks back fondly at her chance to sing this Broadway-like ballad in a studio


The 1992 cinematic classic Sarafina! had an equally timeless soundtrack and the crown jewel of this was Freedom is Coming Tomorrow.

The film lives on as the medium that gave us talents such as Leleti Khumalo, Sindi Dlathu and Somizi Mhlongo, in a cast that included Mam Miriam Makeba and John Kani. It also exposed our creative talents to the world with the involvement of Whoopi Goldberg. The musical talents of Bra Hugh Masekela were used on the Sound of Freedom soundtrack.

Sarafina! hit theatres two years after the release of Nelson Mandela and two years before the first democratic elections, and the songs encapsulate the energy of a country yearning for change.

‘Get ready Mama, prepare for your freedom/Freedom is coming tomorrow’
South Africans should know these words just as well as they know where the drums drop in Sister Bettina. Sarafina, a girl born into the shackles of the apartheid regime, grows restless in her nonvocal contempt for those in power. When the law to teach students in Afrikaans was passed, it broke the camel’s back and Sarafina took to the streets.

A real story, as was the case with the Soweto uprising in 1976 opposing this very law.

READ: There’s an art to breathing

Sarafina, played by Khumalo, leads her school mates in a song that sees them dancing on the streets of Soweto in jubilant anticipation of Mandela’s release.

It was an immaculately choreographed march. That and singer Vicky Sampson’s African Dream that sounded like what freedom would mean, once attained.

The song was composed before the script was written and the production erected around it.

The show’s director, Mbongeni Ngema, conceived the song in 1992 after a meeting with Winnie Madikizela-Mandela at her home on Vilakazi Street in Orlando West.

Mama Winnie was the inspiration behind the story of Sarafina. While cooking, she explained to Ngema that she feared the worst was to come when black people decided to balance the scales.

A song to sing while walking to freedom
The film worked as well as it did because it depicted the true life of the African youngsters in South African townships.
The track Freedom is Coming Tomorrow was recorded at the old Gallo Studios in downtown Johannesburg in 1992. The whole original cast and band were in the studio.

The first recording of Freedom is Coming Tomorrow was led by singer Ntombikhona Dlamini, who now lives in New York, US. On the other recordings, it was Khanyo Maphumulo.

We knew about the show, but we didn’t know it was bigger than what it was
Khanyo Maphumulo

Maphumulo, who has coincidently resurfaced in the limelight after a 10-year hiatus, looks back fondly at her chance to sing this Broadway-like ballad in a studio.

“It was one of my highlights. We knew that Leleti and them had gone overseas touring before I joined the production and every kid in KwaMashu wanted to do the same. We knew about the show, but we didn’t know it was bigger than what it was. We thought it was just kids talking about the struggle.”

Her involvement with the production began when she came up to Joburg simply to see the City of Gold and landed a role in the iconic show and later the film.

Maphumulo explains: “Mbongeni Ngema heard me sing and started calling me Gundwane [rat], which puzzled me. Why is this guy calling me that? It turned out that what he meant was he was hiring me to play the role of Gundwane.”

She joined the production and performed at The Market theatre for six months and then went overseas before even recording the song.

READ: I am not holy – Mbongeni Ngema

“We came back to do the film and that’s when we recorded it. To be in the studio doing that song felt amazing. I sang soprano and even alto, and so it was a lot of studio time for me. I was so excited to sing it and I knew it would be remembered forever.”

She still fawns over the reception it garnered and marvels at the wide reach it attained.

Maphumulo recollects: “I was in Gabon on holiday and that song is like a national anthem to them. Everyone was singing it to us in the streets. I had no idea. It was a dream for it to reach as far as it has.”

As for where she’s at right now … catch her doing media runs for her new project, the album Khumbul ‘Ekhaya.

She jokingly recalls: “A friend of mine told me to stop being stingy with my voice. A lot of people had no idea where I was, which is a good thing.”

“This is the right time for the album. The main song is me trying to remind the men who leave home for Joburg to come home and not just disappear. They leave wives and kids who don’t have a father figure. Other kids get the wrong advice from the wrong people, and the song is about that.”


Phumlani S Langa 


+27 11 713 9001
69 Kingsway Rd, Auckland Park

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