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Traveling to South Africa in the years after the retirement of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president becomes an examination of his legacy. There are paradoxes everywhere. On our 2007 trip, we visited the modest house in Soweto where he lived before his imprisonment. Winnie Mandela had built an eatery nearby to capture a share of the tourist trade. Bishop Desmond Tutu lived just down the street in a very well guarded and well appointed house. Directly across from this neighborhood was a woeful slum filled with rusting shanties. Johannesburg was considered dangerous and a place to be avoided. The highway between the city and the township of Soweto was lined with condos and gated communities. All of these contradictions are embodied in the person of Nelson Mandela who rose above the circumstances of the present to bring a renewed dignity to the human struggle for a equality.

Several actors have accepted the challenge of portraying Nelson Mandela in recent decades. Danny Glover took the title role in Mandela (1987). Sidney Poitier played the part in Mandela & De Klerk (1997) and came closest to hitting the Mark. Morgan Freeman played President Mandela in Invictus (2009).  Mandela died soon after this writing in late 2013. The announcement of his passing was made at the London premiere of Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013), based on his autobiography.

 Books and movies fill in the blanks. Alan Paton’s 1948 novel, Cry, The Beloved Country, which was filmed in 1951 and remade in 1995, anchors the literature on the apartheid years. In the Movie Archive, there is a roster of powerful films that look at these times from a variety of perspectives. A sign of hope from within the ongoing struggle can be found in a new generation of movies reflecting the realities of post apartheid South Africa. Some of them look to the past for better understanding and some look forward to a better day.


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