Nelson Mandela’s life spanned and all the stages of South African history through the 20th century. Of the various portrayals of Mandela on film, this one is most surprising for its believability.

Mandela and de Klerk  (1997)

“I have fought against white domination and

I have fought against black domination.”

 Sidney Poitier opens the film with Nelson Mandela’s famous trial speech stating the principles for which he is willing to die. His delivery in this scene is somewhat stiff and mannered creating the suspicion that the movie will have the same quality, but it will not be so. He is sentenced to life in prison along with fellow ANC rebels and is transported to Robben Island. It is 1962. Winnie visits him there and their relationship is warm and loving. It will not last. P.W. Botha is president in this time. Tall and eagle-like, he is a paragon of old-school white supremacist mentality. Michael Caine plays F.W. de Klerk, a voice of moderation in Botha’s cabinet. Mandela’s prison term skips ahead by decades. He will serve 27 years. Winnie becomes headstrong and abuses her position as the public voice of Mandela. In the late 1960s Nelson’s influence was overshadowed by Steve Biko and the black consciousness movement. He had a little contact until Biko was arrested and sent to Robin Island. This is not in the movie. At some point, Mandela and his compatriots are transported to a more secure prison where they can be further isolated. The 1976 Soweto uprising adds fuel to the independence movement. Tensions grow within the government culminating in the cabinet’s demand for Botha’s resignation. De Klerk becomes president in 1989. By this time, Poitier has grown fully into his role and the transformation is remarkable. Nelson is moved to a more comfortable confinement and begins to negotiate with the government. De Klerk struggles to accommodate, ultimately allowing a free election which he will lose to Mandela, in 1994. In another milestone’s speech, Nelson expresses a new hope for a multiracial democracy. His troubles with Winnie get a surprising amount of attention. They will divorce in 1996. It ends with him sitting at his presidential desk for the first time while a reprise of his opening speech plays in the background. De Klerk is to serve in his government. Both men received the Nobel Prize in 1992. Wiki gives this made-for-TV movie (Showtime) only a cursory write- up and Poitier’s Wiki biography makes no mention of it except for a listing under television appearances. It was filmed in South Africa.

Mandela (1987)
Mandela & De Klerk (1997)
Winnie Mandela (2011)
Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013)

South Africa Related Posts:

Return to Africa Overview