The 2016 Documentary Film Action Kommandant explores the legacy and true story of Ashley Kriel, a Cape Town based Anti-Apartheid Activist who was killed by the South African Police in 1987, shortly after he had re-entered South Africa following a period of Military Training with the ANC’s Military Wing Umkhonto WeSizwe (MK).
In Action Kommandant we learn that Ashley Kriel was born in 1967, and that he lived in Cape Town’s Bonteheuwel suburb which was designated ‘Coloured’ under the Apartheid Regime’s Laws.
Despite a challenging family background and difficult personal circumstances which saw Ashley raised in an unstable single parent home, his spirit saw him gravitate towards the cause of Black Liberation in Apartheid South Africa instead of falling into the trap of Criminal Gang activity which was sadly endemic in Bonteheuwel and the Cape Flats.
Ashley was an outstanding achiever at School and his interest in Struggle Politics saw him join the Bonteheuwel Youth Movement at Age 14 where he would address community issues like access to decent family housing.
It was during this time that he became more involved in Student Politics as 1985 saw him become a Founder Member of the Bonteheuwel Inter School Congress.
Ashley Kriel’s zeal and dedication impressed older ANC Cadres who selected him to join Umkhonto WeSizwe or MK, the People’s Liberation Army created by the ANC in response to the violence and repression of the Apartheid State.
Between 1985 and 1987 Ashley Kriel galvanised students on the Cape Flats where he was at the Centre of the Student activism that held Protests and was involved in a storm of violent confrontations with the Apartheid Police in a bid to make the Townships of South Africa ‘ungovernable’ as part of the broader resistance strategy to Apartheid.
By 1987 however, Ashley’s activities had placed him firmly in the crosshairs of Apartheid Police and State Intelligence Services with the result that he could no longer remain in South Africa because the Apartheid government considered Ashley Kriel responsible for all of the Student and Civil unrest in Bonteheuwel.
After establishing a strong underground resistance network in Bonteheuwel, Ashley Kriel crossed the border in order to receive Military Training as part of the next phase in the escalation of his resistance to the Apartheid regime.
Ashley completed his Training and soon returned as a trained MK Operative to his home base in Bonteheuwel where his location was supposed to be kept secret.
According to Action Kommandant, since Ashley Kriel’s departure from Bonteheuwel, the Underground Structures he had built had somewhat detoriated which affected his ability to locate a suitable safehouse.
In the end, he overstayed at his former Teacher’s residence in Athlone.
The residence was soon raided by the Police and its believed that he was chased, beaten and then shot whilst he was in handcuffs.
Even at his funeral, the Police tried to sieze Ashley Kriel’s coffin in order to disrupt the mood. As mourners left the church with Ashley’s coffin, Police opened fire on the Pallbearers hoping they would drop the Coffin.
This served only to strengthen the resolve of the people even further, and despite attempts by the Police, Ashley Kriel’s Coffin was carried to his grave by mourners where he was honourably laid to rest.
In 1994 South Africa obtained liberation, and in 1999 Jeffrey Benzien, the Policeman in charge of the Operation that killed Ashley Kriel was granted Amnesty by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission for his part in the murder of Ashley Kriel.
However in November 2020, the Murder Investigation into Ashley Kriel’s death was re-opened.
Conlcusion: Legacy Of Ashley Kriel
The story of Ashley Kriel in Action Kommandant spoke to me personally as a modern day African who is now experiencing the fruits of the liberation that people like Ashley sacrificed and died for.
In short, the Ashley Kriel story inspired and gave me perspective on the History and nature of the struggle for Black liberation in Colonial and Post-Colonial Africa.
In particular, that the Born Free generation owes a great debt to Men and Women like Ashley who made the sacrifices that have made the opportunities and life we enjoy today possible.
Action Kommandant also paints a convincing and touching personal portrait of Ashley Kriel with an array of intimate glimpses into his past relationships and interactions that portray Ashley Kriel as an ordinary young Man of his time.
Its therefore no suprise that on his release of his from Prison in February 1990, Nelson Mandela acknowledged Ashley Kriel’s contribution to the struggle against Apartheid.
Check out the Trailer and Official Website for the award winning Ashley Kriel Documentary Film Action Kommandant.
An Interview with the Film’s Director Nadine Cloete is also included.