From Robben Island to the red carpet

At the orphanage he runs, deep in the far-flung hills of Mpumalanga province in north-eastern South Africa, Patrick Chamusso is suffering from jet lag.

But he grins with pride at the laughing children playing in the dirt with a little Oscar statuette and a snowstorm paperweight containing a plastic White House. 'You should have seen me in New York,' he says. 'I had my own car and driver! The Four Seasons Hotel! But that is not true life. This is my home and working with these children is what makes me happy. That is not going to change.'

But however reluctant a hero, Chamusso is about to find fame; the remarkable story of his life in apartheid South Africa has been made into a film already being tipped for an Oscar. When The Observer tracked him down to the home he runs for children orphaned by Aids, he had just returned from a tour of North American premieres - Los Angeles, New York, Toronto and Atlanta - where his infectious, unaffected spark made him as sought-after on the red carpets as the stars.

Catch a Fire - shown last week at the London Film Festival and which opens in the UK next year - is set to turn this unassuming, unknown man into an international inspiration. 'I'm an ordinary man,' he says. 'I only did what was right in fighting for South Africa's freedom. Now I am living where I want, here in this township.'

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