Mandela personifies struggle. He continues to speak out against global injustice with the extraordinary vigour and resilience of a man who spent nearly three decades of his life behind bars. He has sacrificed his private and family life for his people, and remains South Africa’s best known and most beloved hero. But there is much myth around Mandela. His real story is, in many ways, more compelling than the romantic myth.
Featuring interviews with Nobel Prize Winners Nadine Gordimer and F.W.De Klerk; Robben Island co-prisoners Mac Maharaj and Tokyo Sexwale; Mandela biographers Alister Sparks, Anthony Sampson and Charlene Smith; and Mandela’s friends and family, MADIBA:THE LIFE AND TIMES OF NELSON MANDELA reveals a story unknown to the world beyond his inner circle. Mandela talks of his love of children, how apartheid affected him, facing the death sentence, how he survived prison, won over his enemies, and overcame prejudice.
He also speaks about the pain of his marriage to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, with whom he had two daughters. In an interview, Winnie talks about her first meeting with Mandela, the last time they were home together, and how she survived torture and scandal.
Robin Benger is a producer/director/writer/narrator of television documentaries. Born in England, raised in South Africa, he’s been working in Canadian journalism and documentary filmmaking since 1976. I did this documentary because Mandela is one of the great figures of our times; because I grew up with his story; and because in one’s work one hopes to do good things.
In 1969 I was an 18 year old law student at Wits University in Johannesburg when I was arrested as a member of the University Christian Movement for participating in a mixed race church service. As we were being escorted in the back of a police van from Turfloop University back to Johannesburg, as we drove past Pretoria Central, my companion started to sing Happy Birthday Winnie. She told me “Winnie” was a woman called Mandela who was in solitary confinement at that time. She told me the story of Winnie
and her husband, Nelson, who was on an island for the rest of his life for
fighting for a non-racial democracy in South Africa. From that day on I
was intrigued by the story of the Mandelas.
Two years later I was arrested again and put in a jail cell in South
Africa, a brief experience which gave me enough raw material to imagine
what life was like on Robben Island for Mandela and the other political
When I came to Canada, during 20 years at the CBC, I was privileged to learn how to tell stories about all kinds of things in Canada and around the world. I saw other people and networks tell the story of Nelson Mandela and thought how wonderful it would be if I could do that some day. Mark Starowicz at the CBC’s Documentary unit delivered that opportunity and this documentary is the result.
In the business of documentary production we get to tell a lot of stories about bad and hurtful things. It is in the heart of all of us to try and tell positive stories about good things. When I make my films I think of a ten year old child somewhere in the far reaches of this country and beyond, watching, learning, looking for guidance.
This story about Nelson Mandela is accessible to all but directed to
that ten year old. That there is a way to overcome great loneliness and
marginalisation; to bring freedom and justice and liberation to millions
of people who don’t have it. That’s what Nelson Mandela did.
This documentary is an attempt to show what happened.
Nov 17 2003-April 2004
Im a 52 year old documentary filmmaker. Im currently in London England.
Its Wednesday and apparently George Bush is in town.
In England, nothing goes in straight lines. Take the simple business of repairing trousers. A button on my trousers is gone. Iíve thrown out so many of those complementary travel sewing kits from my toilet bag that, of course, now that one needs one, there are none.
So went into a dry cleaner and asked for one of those travel sewing kits. He didnít have one but went into the back. Looked very meticulously for the giht combination, I supposed. Made up some thread and a needle. Came Back. Gave it over. But no buttons. I thanked him and left, wondering all the time about the button. I went into a bank to cash some Travellers Cheques. An Asian girl with a London accent told me to go cash them at the Post Office. ìIts cheaper thereî,she said. In North America they’d take your business. I’m on my way to South Africa to make a two hour documentary about Nelson Mandela. I got in from Toronto last night. 1030 pm. Despite the Presidential visit, there was absolutely no security at Heathrow that I could see.
all messed up sleepwise. The CBC put me on the day flight. I got the screaming baby and the mum on my row. Took half an immovane. Wasnít sure what I’d missed. The baby finally fell asleep when the pilot announced we were an hour out of London.The hook here is that I grew up in South Africa , a blessed child of white privilege, in the 60ís, suffered the extraordinary reversal of being expelled in the 70ís,(one minute I was tongue-wrestling Ailsa-Violet Thomson-Tulloch at the Debutante’s Ball, next I was lying in jail jonesing for Procol Harem) Like most political exiles I continued to be obsessed by the place as it collapsed and gave way to Nelson Mandela. So since the 70’s I’ve worked in varying guises for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A copy clerk, a radio reporter, a radio documentary producer, a TV producer. I left CBC eight years ago, started producing independently, mostly back to the CBC since then.
But the key here is that I’m going back home to do a story that I’ve always dreamed of doing but for which right now I feel a sense of dread. There are family reasons for that , but it also has something to do with
the story. But more than that. Its more than that. I feel a sense of dread. I can tell you what it is I dread. It ís the interview. I hate groveling. In fact, its worse than that. I have the most inappropriate temperament for what I do. One has to grovel and I hate groveling. I usually get The Big Interview, but, in this case, I don’t really want it. The dread revolves around the fact that Iím going to have to do some major grovelling, and on top of that I dread the expectation that I’m not going to get him, and even worse, that I don’t want to get him. Why?. Well I imagine it goes something like this. (scene the Tuesday Morning Meeting at the Nelson Mandela Foundation offices.)
aide: Madiba there is this aggressive know it all ex south African liberal from Canada whoís going to ask some tough questions about Winnie and AIDS etc. It hasn’t always been that way about the big stories I do. I just get to a place. Find a comfortable base, wired in, but not so wired that some jumpy desk jockey back in Toronto can raise you at will. Of course in most places one can always blame the war ” I didn’t get your email, the power is out again.” Or, that old standby.
” The phones are down. ”
Though with satellite phones this one is going the way of the dinosaur. In the field make sure everyone is as safe as you can possibly make it. I’ve known people who’ve been killed doing this and it is daft
on a vast and irretrievable scale. Like death by car accident. Basically anticipate, gather intelligence, tell people where you are going and whatever they need to hear about what you’ll be doing, even
though you won’t be doing that. And plunge in. I have an eye for detail, what shot will illustrate the story. All cameramen I work with are amazing. Metaphor. My executive producer on this one, Mark Starowicz, has a short meeting with me which he shortens even more by rushing off . If he was a cop he’d put on his siren to go get a donut. Thats okay. Years working together. He knows I can make the documentary, I know he can
do his end. The briefcase and the camera.The meeting and money stuff. He says Interviews in extreme close-up. Re-create the Rivonia trial. And Shoot the Metaphor. I like that. I’m not sure exactly what he means but we both know that. There are birds on Robben Island. Sucking tides. The eternal indifference of gale-force winds.
I couldnít get back into South Africa for 22 years. I had to set up and outdrink an apartheid diplomat to find out why.
I can’t find out why.” His face contorted behind those olive shades in a rooftop bar in Namibia. “Alls I ken tell you as that the Director-General of Immigration deznít larke Robin Binger. Ar don
know wha. Bet he dezzent.” Since Madiba’s release, between family visits and work, I go back every couple of years. The weather ís nice, the golf was cheap for a while and the politics are always cookin’.
But I’m going back again, to a chipped icon and my shattered family. Like the pots at Nippur, I can only give them an honourable arrangement. But they are shattered. Writing something about one of my shoots is dangerous. I don’t really write about what ends up on television. And I quit writing years ago. I might have preferred to be a writer, as I grew up with books rather than TV, but I saw years ago, from South Africa that stories told to FirstWorlders on this amazing box was an absolute no-brainer for a career. If one could learn how to do it. Little did I know that grovelling was involved. Television is now my canvas, or my blank page,if one can read that without an intake of breath and the glass-grinding of cliche. When I approach experts in any field, say a doctor, and ask them to explain something they have done a thousand times and are very good at,some of them feign great weariness, but proceed to explain and usually very well. I feel the same weariness. Life, maybe God, is in these two things. The details; and the deep eternal truths. The rest is all dreary logistics for which I adopt a very patient and thick skinned benignness. For instance we have Iqbal Meer’s burglaries. We have epochal imbalance, don’t we? And we have all the mechanics of getting 16 cases of equipment to South Africa.
Iqbal Meer is Nelson Mandelaís London lawyer. I call him this morning and he says because of the 6-thousand police guarding George Bush, criminals are burglarizing the suburbs of London without restraint. Its the sort of thing I don’t believe. It’s the sort of royal cocktail chatter conveyed to the guest as his motorcade heads for the Palace. This doesn’t make me think Iqbal Meer is a dishonest man, quite the contrary. It the
kind of conversation that comes off the morning news cast, the kind of story that is generated in a newsroom.(Editor thinking) Let me see. All the cops are guarding the President. That means they are not guarding me. Call the cops. Ask the question and whatever the answer you’ve a story to reassure listeners about their secure and dreary lives. The big picture is Iraq. I was there in July. This is the tipping point of the American epoch. Mandela is a big idea, too. Race and reconciliation, violence versus peace, the forbearance of Jesus,for chrissakes. In an hour I’ll be interviewing Anthony Sampson, Mandela’s official
biographer. I have my list of questions, chronological and , one hopes, revelatory. The trick is to askshort questions that press the right buttons. With Sampson, I wonder why he hasn’t been in other Mandela documentaries. His biography of Mandela is absolutely one of the best political biographies ever written on anybody. My team for South Africa is Maurice Chabot, bearded cameraman par excellence.
Musa Radebe, a soundman I haven’t yet met. Charlene Smith my Johannesburg based fixer. My sister Ann Thomas, a production manager. And Mxolisi Welcome Ngozi my friend, ex Soweto, and Sifiso Ntuli,
music man. We’ll see. Its November the 19th 2003.Nov 21 Morningside Johannesburg,1245. The Quartermain Inn. On Thursday, in London, a meeting with the warm but crafty Iqbal Meer.
Whats your budget?” he asks.
400-thousand dollars,” I say.
How much was the BBC doc?,” I ask.
Three quarters of a million pounds” he says, and we both suspect we are lowbridging.
It occurs to me immediately he has a percentage in mind. Later in SA, Bea Lipman , a South African producer with some ANC connections says access to Mandela is about $$ but that Madiba probably doesn’t know. Whats
that about? [One finds this with Megas like Mandela.They trial these networks of courtiers, ranked in order of wealth, power and loyalty. Those in the middle ranges, which is as close as I get now, know bits of stuff. But in order to distinguish themselves from occasional travelers like me, they sometimes sound surer than they have reason to be. I understand. I’ve done it.] Maybe Mandela has turned into a fundraising machine in an atmosphere of corruption. Dicey. Meer asks me who I’m interviewing. I’m editing myself as I reel off a few of the obvious names, but I’m thinking he is paid to protect the old man’s image and there are some I plan to speak to, like Winnie, duh, that are maybe on some kind of Red List. This is one of the most unfortunate aspects of the grovel. If one does only tame interviews with acolytes one
gets access to the Man, but a limp doc. If one does cracking interviews with controversials, one gets a hot doc without The Man. I give Meer my Mandela video. Meer wrinkles his nose at Sampson and Sparks,
the two big biographers I’ve booked. He gives me his mother’s book, Fatima Meer’s “Higher Than Hope” and pushes her for an interview. “You should interview her”, he says.[later
in SA her adviser tells us she’s not well enough to do tv interviews]
Next day Friday, in London, I met with my wonderful uncle, Alan Doel. He is my mother’s brother, with soft grey hair and the pinkest English cheeks, a devout Methodist and Engineer. This guy is so salt of the earth
it makes me wince. His father, my grandfather, Stanley had the most unbelievably soft white skin and pink cheeks. The line goes mysterious there. Apparently he was raised by a mother who was employed by a landed family, but the woman may not have been his birth mother. I have a picture of him on a camel in front of the pyramids during WW1. And he worked for the Post Office all his life. Alan joins me in the hotel breakfast room after another sleepless night for me. We talked about my parents who have been moved against their increasingly unreliable wills from their home in Cape Town to the frail
care section of a place called Noordhoek Manor.He calls what happened to them a kidnapping.But, England, he gently suggests, is not an option for them.
Life in a box, Robin, and I don’t know how to put this, but with Caribbean geriatric aides working for the minimum.” He tells me to listen to what they have to say before I tell them what I believe. A Recce shoot with Brian Kelly around Westminster Abbey and the Smuts statue in Parliament Square. There’s a black and white picture of Mandela standing here from his secret trip in l962. I look up at Smuts, the bantam stride against the gray sky, and I wonder if Mandela envied him, thought, he doesn’t deserve to be here. I do. And did he think with the same confidence that saw him predicting his own leadership of South
Africa that one day he would be. Dicky Attenborough is planning a statue in Trafalgar Square. Sir Richard, one should say.
The BA flight out to South Africa is crammed. I am sardine-canned and despite taking yet another Immovan, have a fitful seven hours. On arrival, I go to my sisters and watch the greatest world cup rugby final ever.
England beats Australia. There is a God.Wilkinson will get the MBE, minimum. At Ann’s , Angie is there. She’s just come back from her brother’s farm up north, near the Zimbabwe border, and she tells me in the North there are white crosses on the road where farmers have been killed. I’d still like to do a rural homicide detective, but is it Mandela legacy???
This is another thing. Focus. If it ain’t Mandela legacy, don’t waste a moment.
Last night I checked into this safe and plush hotel, the Quatermain Inn. That unbearable loneliness of being. Can’t sleep. All metabolism and middle age. I have gone to sleep at 9:30 after spotting my Sisulu actor on an afrikaans cooking show calling Maak n Los. I wake up sharply, ready for action. The digital clock says 00:36. At 2, I switch on the TV. When I grew up in this country (WIGUITC) there’s
was no television. The sexiest thing I ever saw was Francoise Dorleac at the Art House in Braamfontein. Now on my hotel TV at 2 am no less than three porn movies. I watch agape two spectacularly endowed black men drilling a white woman in a black leather bodice. In South Africa. AIDS, I’m thinking.
Dont sleep. At 4 am, flip open laptop. But the adaptor plug ends dont fit. Take another Immovane at six. Am woken by my own tv programmed 800 wake up. Head thick , can’t find the commander, fall out of bed crawl over the TV. Can’t see. Crawl back to glasses. Stumble to light switch. Back to TV set. Hit stop button. The air conditioner goes on and off, sounding like a Ukrainian kettle. Stumble back on the comfortable plush hotel bed. As soon as I fall asleep the phone rings I reach for the side table. Its not there. Its on the desk against the far wall. I have to fumble across the room to pick it
up..Nothing. Can’t get back to sleep. Have arranged to breakfast with Mo. at 9..Canít move until 1000. Remembering breakfast ends ant ten and its free. Stumble down there. After a few minutes Maurice arrives looking like death. He apologizes and says he felt guilt at missing our 9 o clock rendezvous. He’s from Quebec.
This morning at 6:45 we knock on Albie Sachs flat door in Melrose. A sunny art enhanced room, palm trees painted on one wall and a wooden coelacanth among the African sculpture. I am severely bagged. Albie goes and fetches coffee. His eyes are still flecked with minuscule shrapnel from the bomb that should’ve killed him in the 80’s. I love him. He delivers. December 25
My father says he is getting frailer by the day. “Your mother’s dotty and I’m half daft.” RHB Benger M.SC (Eng. Lond), MBE, Major (Royal Engineers) 1918-2004. My father loved cricket, the Sappers, classical Music, Scotch Whisky, and one woman, his wife of sixty-one years, Jane. He was born to gruff Charlie Benger, who worked as a bookkeeper at a Lyon’s Tea House. Raised in South London, my father played first team
cricket and football at Southgate High School. He met my mother in a gym slip, then Brenda Doel.
He studied civil engineering at the University of London, transferring during the war to finish at Kings College,Cambridge. He went to officer training and joined the 8th Army in North Africa. On leave on January 9th 1941 Brenda and Roy were married. They went to Wales for a week. Then for the next three years my father returned to war for three years. After helping kick Rommel out of North Africa my father, in the allied invasion of Sicily had to swim to shore when his petrol boat was bombed by Stukas in Palermo harbour. He was awarded the MBE for defusing a German bomb with an unknown fuse beneath a bridge holding up the Allied advance up Italy. He returned to his new wife in London with, I imagine, as Van Morrison wrote, the love light shining in his eyes. For the next 25 years they were as happy a couple could be. In 1949 they had Ann, a beautiful green eyed blonde girl. In 1951 they had me, Robin. Well, thats history for you. Decmber 25th Christmas in Qunu. His place stands alongside the main East London-Umtata highway.A palatial
home has been added to the original Victor Verster-style bungalow. He is chauffeur-driven up to the crowd of about 3-thousand children. His body is rigid with age. A white girl lunges at him and is buried in trhe arms of his security team; Can’t I just hug you, please..she says.
The idea here is that Mandela comes home every Christmas to give gifts to kids who live in these impoverished valleys. Much is made of the fact that he had replicated here the prison warders bungalow where he spent
his last nine months of captivity. In fact it has been subsumed by a building that looks from the outside like a small private university administration building. Last year, with Oprah Winfrey at his side the event attracted an out-of-control crowd of 14-thousand grasping kids. This year, security fencing has been set up enclosing a two acre hillside site, police and private security is out in force, choppers buzz about, one disgorging the obnoxious cockney boss of security,his too-blonde wife and their squealing blonditto-progeny. But only about 3000 kids show up.The kids are broken into about nine groups and assembled around the bases of six nine by nine platforms,on which cavort a truly appalling collection of idiotic corporate mascots. Peanut, Candy, soft drink, crisp products improbably hip-hop above the gawping rural children, the crass choreography of consumerism. This is the lesson of 27 years in prison fighting apartheid. Have a peabut?.The ground is strewn with hundreds of plastic bags of mostly discarded free breakfasts, styrofoam containers thrown down, their contents of baked beans and synthetic weiners uneaten in the baking dirt. A DJ whips and whips and produces little frenzy as Mandela is driven from the house half a mile to the top of the field in his motorcade of BMWs.
The security is both present and non-existent. My cameraman gets up Mandela’s nostrils as he is elbow-guided to a small seating dais with three chairs. The cacophony around him is screeching children and pounding speakers and the hollering DJ. “Our Liberator,Our President, Our Father, Please give a huge Happy Christmas welcome to Madiba..etc. Its part the Dictator’s Dance (Ive seen it with Mugabe, Moi and Mengistu) a Smile-A-Thon and Love the Children. But not unrelated to the equally appaling antics of your average North American political rally. How did Important Politics get caught up in the worst representations of culture. Bad music and cheap hats.
I think Mandela knows that the importance of reaching the children, of giving them some special joy on Christmas Day, transcends the tackiness of all this. Quis ut Deus. Not I. Any Dance for the King, and noise for
a Living God. Mandela has a strange gesture. His smile is one of the great smiles of all time, so broad and muscular. But then he’ll wipe his huge ursine paw down over it to resume that somewhat grim mask that is his face most of the time. It reminds me of a documentary I did on George Foreman, the hardest hitting Heavyweight ever, who smouldered at me with homicidal implication until the little red light on the camera went on..then transformed, he beamed and cajoled and played Americaís big bad black cuddly bear, The Love Bomber. (When he heard I’d interviewed his mom., he asked “How much you pay her?
A Million” I answered.
Whats he gonna do. Hit Me??) Later there ís a lunch for the sponsors, a lunch we are invited to. There I get as close to Mandela as I’m likely to. He asks to shake hands with all the sponsors so, I join a line with the Sopranos from Wonder Bread Company, The Fat Boy from The Mandela Museum, and revolting burping tourists from Belgrade. Come my turn and he grasps my hand in his pillowed mitt.
Iím actually from Canada and I’d like to convey christmas greetings from the millions of Canadians who consider you to be their favourite citizen.”
Oh I see.” he says. His eyes are crinkled and absolutely focused on mine. “Thank-you, thank you” he envelops my hand with his other, great pillowed hands..I look deep into his brown berried eyes and make the
connection, and am about to mention the reason-I’m-here-is-to-get-an-interview but he says
And how is your Prime Minister?”..îI surprises me somewhat but I respond .
We have a new one now..Mr Chretien has been replaced by a Mister Paul Martin”
“ Oh I see . Well please give him my regards” and then , moves me along with the gentlest of movements to the right, next and I am laughing with Graca at the fact I am from Canada. In TV parlance , I’ve blown it. Boxing Day. The Day when the Monarch wraps gifts in boxes for the poor. I have a sleepless night rueing the opportunity missed when I shook Madiba’s hand. I’m doing a documentary. Could we interview you?
Instead, like some minor Commie functionary, I convey fraternal greetings from the peoples republic of Canadia etc etc. As if I’m Canadian enough to do that anyway. I get up. It always come down to this. From the heart. The proportion of mendacity is so overwhelming, the weight of deceit in this media business. I want him in the film. To get him in the film I have to write him a letter. I do. A good letter.
I first thank him for having us to lunch on Christmas Day. I tell him I didn’t think it was an appropriate moment to broach the subject of an interview. I can’t remember what else I wrote , but, as soon as the lads are up, we fly over the corrugated roads the hour and a half to Madiba’s highway mansion. I drive right in. Get out. The back gate is still swinging on its hinges. A Nice Young Man tells me Madiba just drove off to Maputo. 15 minutes ago. I have a letter for him. He gestures to the mansion, take it to Mimi. I walk into Nelson Mandela’s home. A small office tucked to the right of a hallway and chamber reveals a round faced young woman with the most beatific smile and warm manner. Mimi. He has just left for Maputo. You just missed him.î A young man walks in. Hi ! Hi !And you are? Indaba. Indaba? Mandela. Grandson? Yes Nice to Meet you. Im Robin Benger. Im doing a documentary film. Can I talk to you in a minute. ì Sure, Ill be in there.
He points to one of the cavernous rooms. Mimi promises to get my letter to Madiba, but my heart sinks when she says that that means it will be faxxed to Mandelas office, to Zelda. Zelda. Mandelaís pit bull. Mevrou No. The name is the sound of wind sucked out of a slamming door. I thank and shake Mimiís warm and lovely hand. Instead of turning out, I turn in, past the framed Tree of Life which I would have examined,
but for the business of glasses, middle-aged and fumbling. I follow the muted sound of boom-ka-boom hip-hop until I see Indaba, earphones around his neck, eating breakfast at ten. Eggs, bacon, mushrooms, toast, tomatoes, on a glass table, the tinted, one-way windows of panorama of Qunu valley. He has a sweet, droll, long face, more his grandmother, Mandela’s first wife, Evelyn, the nurse, “the sweet country girl”. The
Jehovah’s Witness who left when he was charged with Treason.
Indaba tells me he is taking three courses at Damelin College, a place one goes to catch up on failed high school subjects. I went there in then 60’s, when it looked like I was going to fail Afrikaans. We agree
to meet in January and do an interview about the legacy of Mandela.I leave with fulsome farewells to Mimi and a chat to the guy at the gate. He turns out to be a King-in-Waiting, the grandson of Jongintaba, the
Royal that saved Mandela from a life of grinding nameless poverty. He offers to take us to the Royal Place of Mqekwhezeni. He tells me he takes care of the all the staff at Mandela’s home . But Madiba wont be back until next Chistmas, he says. (all of this for two days..) Past the field where the children played. There are now 500 woman. Today , its for the parents, he says. Another 40 minutes of banging on rocky dirt roads a valley is revealed to us and we are there. Everything is still save for the humming of heat, insects, birds, the occasional bleat of a goat or yelp of playing boys. Maurice has observed
the beauty of this Christmas soundlessness. The absence of music, canned carols, the cacophony of a debased urban Canadian christmas.
We shoot the place where the fatherless Mandela grew up. It is beautiful beyond the writing of it. There’s a boy Mandela’s grand nephew, the same features. He stands in for Mandela, under the huge Council tree.
The old women and children seem to be bursting with kindness. We spend a couple of hours there. A dirt road winds out of the valley. A man crosses a river bed with some goats. Some kids are laughing down
by the river. I love deeply the absence of things. The boy is back in me, with the light, the dust and there’s a prickling behind my eyes. But it lasts as long as the next decision. To leave. The Prince has a face I would serve in an instant, as I did before. I give him one hundred rand for all of them and the Prince is very grateful and dignified. “Of all the people who have come here to take pictures
you are the first to offer this. Thank you very deeply” .
I hear this with mixed gratification. The warm touch , the stroked hand on the slippery slope. Later as the wild wind whips a perfect green corner of a small inland valley, we film real initiates getting the speech that Chief Meligqili gave Madiba in 1934. Welcome delivers, in an unbelievable wind, his words lacerating the future in an inexplicably cloudless sky. The initiates, who are real, hear this speech and I can see the same incredulity in their faces. This will work.
The next day we take Maurice the cameraman to the Umtata airport for his trip back to Canada. His lady has been badly injured in a car accident in Ottawa. He has to go back, a 16 hour flight, for a week. Then Welcome and I drive to Madiba’s birthplace Mvezo, smoking all the way, picking up hitchhikers, shooting the strange abandonned spot where Mandela first saw the light of day, the place his father smoked himself to death, expiring finally from emphysema. He had never seen a doctor.
In Cape Town, my father is also dying of emphysema, although I only learn this as I stand over his skeletal sweating body a week later. He wants a cigarette. The nurse tells me the doctor has said he has lost
95 percent of his lung capacity. When I refuse to get my father a cigarette, he glares at me with his fixed yellow-stained eye. Addiction. My mother, addled with Alzheimer’s stands at the door.“
What are we going to do about father?,”she keeps asking. I don’t tell her .
The truth is, of course, like the many dogs and horses she despatched, that he needs to be put down. His body breathes involuntarily, sucking humiliation, pain and consequences out of every shrinking pore. I have
taken care of his affairs. He can go anytime. I ask the home director what happens when people die. He tells me they contact the executor. I was looking for a different
answer, like this documentary.
Ahmed Kathrada, close to Mandela, has now reneged on a half promised interview I extracted from him on the Island during the AIDS gang bang. “I can’t do it”, he says, over a mobile phone.
What do you mean you can’t do it” I ask, knowingly breaking another cardinal rule of interview grovelling, creating stubbornness.
I just can’t.” It sounds like constipation. So Kathrada joins Tutu, Ramaphosa, Magubane, Mandela (N and W) and Mbeki as turndowns. There’s a pattern here. They are all black. The A-list. Am I not paying?
An experienced Mandela production player tells me I can get Mandela if I am prepared to pay. The slippery slope. Oh yes. And questions in advance. Oh Yes. And Mandela knows nothing of this.
My sister, my SA production manager is down with possible ovarian cancer; my father is dying of emphysema; My mother is being subsumed by Alzheimers; My cameraman’s lady is cast in plaster. December 27th. First day off. I decide to kick the smoking by walking 9 kilometers up the Wild Coast where I will attempt to assuage, sublimate, my desparate need for sex with a massage from a woman called Joy. It is a breathtaking walk. In each bay there is the high path and low way. The high path mounts grassy hills fifty stories high, beaten quarter moon over a thousand years by a million feet and hooves. The low road is quicker, more direct along both sand, rocks and cliff edges. A bit weary of up and down the hills, though the high view was breathtaking, I eye this long,curved bay with very easy access and take the low road. Halfway along , the rocks are covered with crashing waves. Spotting a pathway over the corner of what seemed a small cliff I headed upwards, increasingly finding the footholds better for goats and crampioned climbers than 52 year old two-hundred pounders with spikeless golf shoes. But hey they were Nikes and I had skidded through many a corner. I found myself however neither able to proceed further upward or go back. Looking down, I suddenly realised a slip would result in a broken limb and least, and quite possible death. I fingered my cell phone and figured if I was still conscious I could rustle up a chopper in 30 minutes, but my levity soon turned to a chill in my
stomach and the return of a thousand bad dreams about exactly this sort of terrifying situation. The fact that this is a bad dream I have had convinces me that it is going to happen. That stunned dark ringing thump and then….blood in the shallows. I am stuck on a cliff alone above a crashing ocean. I cannot go forward or back. Whenever I move, shale cascades down the cliffside and further shatters on the wave pounded rocks below. A beautiful place to die, no doubt, but I have a family to save, love and sustain and , above all a documentary to finish, albeit without a Mandela interview. People who know me would dismiss very rapidly any suggestion that I had thrown myself to my own demise because I had failed to get my man. A couple of them , deliriously ludicrous would start the rumour that ‘ Robin Benger, accustomed to getting his man*, died under mysterious circumstances off the Wild Coast of Africa.’
For the next five minutes I know this terror. Convinced any move would send me plunging I was unable to do so. Eventually, inching my way back down I manage to gain a foothold on a rock ledge, the depth of my shoe,
but as I twist my body to place my other foot, I slip on a mortally beady rivulet of water (many a slip twixt cup and lip) seeping out of the cliff and bounce down, gravity released, thwunp, tearing skin off my clutching arm banging my neck and nose, but coming to a thudding hold on the broad back on a vast rock above the waves. I lay there, trembling, thinking of my dead nephew Rupert. My dying father, my cancerous sister, the blue sky, the sounds of life, gulping blue gulps of life and breath, thankful to be alive. I shouldn’t tell anyone about this I thought. I won’t . If I were to read it I would say what an idiot. But then I don’t care.
Its the truth. It happened. That is enough. Million of lives killed by no education. Mandelaís father has never seen a doctor in his life. Its not the Man himself anymore. It is the body of work that has been launched from the body of life of The Man. This life have I given that you may be free, amen.
There’ s strange sore in the bridge of my nose, my teeth ache, my shoulders are clenched like the carapace of the water buffalo in front of us. We are at a private game farm north of Cape Town, in a place so desolate
for its proximity. Calvinia, Inverdoorn, lions and leopards in electrified fence enclosures. My 15 year old daughter from Canada has been here for 3 days. She wants pictures taken against wild beasts. Kudu, Giraffe, hartebeest, springbok, eland and two primeval rhinos on a route taken time and time again. The Cape Mountain Lion have been driven to extinction 100 years ago. But like all of this I knew that before. Tess is wonderful company
I am waiting in the van. Kids wander across the front of the hotel, puffing up plastic bags and sucking them in, sniffing glue. Kids. (this is what Mandela saw. He had stopped and spoken to the kids. After thinking about it, he had decided to donate 150-thousand dollars of his own money and challenged anyone ele to do the same. So was started the Nelson Mandela Childrens Fund) I look at one boy, 8 going on 18, and plead with him with my eyes. Shake my head, say No No No, don’t do this, cold boney body in a doorway by next winter.He looks back at me stone-body against a tree, head cocked to one side, a sweet smile, a come on.
I battle hopelessly,endlessly and helplessly for interviews with Mandela, Winnie and Mbeki. I phone the Nelson Mandela Foundation for the umpteenth time, asking if Mr Mandela has received the letter I dropped off for
him in Qunu. They of course don’t seem to know what I am talking about. I’ve written emails, sent proposals, made long-distance, mid-distance, cell-phone calls, slipped notes, dropped names, twisted arms, cajoled, begged, groveled and stated my case like a bloodless lawyer. Every mood and nuance of groveling in my arsenal deployed on Gloria, Maeline, John, Ismail, Iqbal, Winnie, Zelda, Zinzi…That’s it . I’ve had it. The worst
part of this business is grovelling. Lying, the mutual locking of lizards tongues. I’m really done with it, no longer being able to justify the grovelling simply because I have usually gotten my man. But this dismissal by the Mandela people. A man made myth by the media. Turning away from it, until it suits him. I write a grovelling letter, with a sting in its tail. I allude to Mandela lawyers’ dollar sniffing, the carrot and threat-ing, the peremptory dismissiveness, all I have done for the cause. There’s a real problem in meeting someone for the first time and interviewing him when you know him so well. I’ve done this for Khadafy, Reagan, Bush snr, Jim Carrey. The only pleasure I get out of it is imagining someone at a media strategy meeting saying “Who the fuck is Robin Benger.” I like that because personally I need these characters like a hole in the head. Professionally I can’t do without them, and vice-versa.The shoot is on hold. My cameraman has returned to Ottawa to visit his severely injured lady, and we are useless until his
return. A crew without a camera, a blinded bull.When he does get back January 7th we are interviewing and recreating 10 hours a day. In the middle of a Robben island cell recreation shoot of Mandela receiving the telegram of his son Thembi’s death, the Telegram, my cell phone rings. I had forgotten to charge it and the chief nurse from my father’s home is on the line..She says emergency, and the phone dies. The costume lady is
showing me ties, the production designer has a question about a sherry decanter, the smoke machine is on hold, the actor is falling on the bed like a truckload of concrete blocks, the scene is still half directed, somebody says SSSHHHH very loudly , and there’s an emergency with my dying father.
Two huge trees positioned goalpost apart in our spacious front lawn and my father, still in tie and braces from the office chipping crosses for me to nod in at the far post. The Sun always. always the sun.
Evenings north of the city only Dad ever enters. The crickets,cicadas, hadedas and cooing pigeons, the dogs half asleep, eyes on the native pathways beyond the gate.
Get on with it. Off you go”
The English in Africa.
Chip, float, bouff. Pass back. Chip, float, bouff. The bevilled whisky glass, the packet of Rothmans, the ones with the blue label. The basso radio commercials, bespeaking jet flights to foreign lands to build bridges with old war pals. Rothmans, see the world, have a drink, Simone Signoret in the moonlight, Coward on the gramophone. Smoke rising.
The English in Africa.
The Portuguese cut their hands off. The Germans massacred. We the British, velvet racists. Philemon, the servant. Sweet, but dim.
The mustard’s stale. How many times have I told you.”
Yes, Madame, Sorry Madame.”
The Afrikaners, blood in the dust, will do the dirty work.
The English in Africa. Everywhere the Sun, the rest of it as far as the eye can see
In Khayalitsha, meaning new home, a township towards the airport outside Cape Town, someone’s spray painted FUCK ANC on a concrete pipe. Thabo Mbeki, who comes from a place where Stalin would be the name of the family
spaniel, is a 150 percent proof African braveheart who chooses to comport himself like the tweedy Public School Socialist who must have taught him at Sussex University. Instead of the vodka he must have seen imbibed in greater quantities at the ANC military training camp on the Black Sea, he prefers fine whisky from Scotland. Thank God for the unheralded minor details of civilized behaviour. The codes learned only from the outside by enemies of the Realm, the Circle, the Davos group. I doubt that he bats an eye at the glue sniffers outside his hotel. I doubt that glue sniffers hang around his hotel, although like fllies around shit they don’t stay away for long. The sniffers are after the fat European tourists anyway.
On the way to an ANC election launch in Pietermaritzburg, Mbeki is quoted in the newspaper as having “noticed the squatters shacks by the side of the road”. In important quarters where there should be in a strong democracy no fear or favour, he evokes fear. The eternal obedience of toadies.
I meet with Dr Neil Barnard in a Cape Town Hotel. Barnard is a figure who has long intrigued me. Surely one of the youngest heads of a national intelligence service at age 29 , he came out of academe at the University
of the Orange Free State, to quickly head the National Intelligence Service during Apartheid’s last spasm. It was his active intervention that built the bridge that Mandela would eventually walk through then-President
PW Botha to FW De Klerk and Freedom. At the time the government was meeting with Mandela I heard about it and my source told me the key player was this young intelligence guy, an academic called Dr Neil Barnard.
After several phone conversations and faxes, he says he wants to meet for minimum of 5 hours. He won’t do an interview. He says, after the BBC, he doesn’t want to waste his time.
On first impressions Barnard is rigid, used to power but awkward without it, suspicious. He is clearly a proud Afrikaner and hates his lack of complete mastery of English. Ours is the discourse of intelligent survivors who know more about each other than either will ever reveal. In the end I break this unstated rule and he is deeply distressed. In a former life, he would have happily run a pencil over my name for doing this, but then I might have been tempted to do the same if I hadn’t taken the path of non-violence. History is harsher than it should be with Saints from Hell. Or as I thought yesterday, playing squash, there are good guys and bad guys. There are just more good guys among the good guys and more bad guys among the bad guys. It often helps, it should be said, to walk away from killing. Merely walk away. Thou shalt not. Let the fools and vermin kill each other until there are less of them.We meet at a small hotel near Parliament. I imagine it was full of mendacious meetings in the apartheid years and a hotel official greets Barnard familiarly. We talk for two hours, and I managed to hew to my own promise to shut up and listen, guiding the conversation with short , openended questions on a vaguely chronological time line. Manners are so important here. Deference, respect, distance, understanding, even empathy and humour, but with this one, a bull with a dozen eyes, not a false note, please. As the waiter removes our long chilled coffee tray Barnard asks me if I mind moving into the smoking area, and he orders some nice crisp white wine. We spend another hour in there. I am amused to see him smoke five non filter cigarettes and swallow 3 glasses of wine in rapid succession.
His face and manner changes from the taut and rangy and circumspect to the flushed and baggy and indiscreet in a matter of minutes. He now consults on security for several African heads-of-state. In reference to a current spy allegation inquiry underway in South Africa as we speak, an apparently useless exercise called the Hefer Commission, he tells me he has declined a request to testify. The commission is focused
on the allegation from a Cabinet Minister that the head of public prosecutions is a spy from the apartheid era.
Barnard informs me stunningly that several continuing Mbeki cabinet ministers were spies, and not only for him, the apartheid spy boss, but for the CIA , and the KGB. He maintains that Mandela would much rather have struck a deal with PW, and it would have been a better deal. A ten year sharing of power. Apartheid Ministers and ANC deputy ministers, a rotating wheel of maximum effectiveness
There was only two problems with that,” I say
Yes?” he says
You had extremely bad press…..and a lot of blood on your hands.”
A shutter drops over his eyes. He nods.
Thats right” he says.
In this forty-something rangy Namibian face, at 29 head of one of the dirtiest and most ruthless intelligence agencies of its time, I see the slow motion explosion of my friend Jeanette, one of the many who had
opened a parcel packed in and dispatched from Pretoria, and in his cragged brow the cruel mastery of the prison cell. I won’t tell him this yet, though. He says he’ll think about an interview.
I know I’ve got him.
His hubris, my needs. Even now I know he will be unhappy with the outcome. And he will go to his grave, feeling aggrieved, misunderstood by history. His hobby is shooting wild African buffalo. The easiest of targets, but one missed step, one involuntarily tic, and a great fury is released.
7 days left. I wake up at 3:45 ayem. Call home. Busy again. Songbirds in the courtyard. For those journalism students, a field producer’s hotel room. A room hit by a bomb. Laundry, clean and dirty, files, tapes, playback machine, books, newspapers, laptop, playback machine, VCR, tapes, tapes and tapes, fruit juice, golf clubs, rooibos, kettle, pills, the detritus of my working life, home away from. Father gasping for last breath. Mother , once the Grace Kelly of Mothers, off the rails. Hairtrigger sister, a finger flick from sobbing, a zephyr from catastrophe.
7 days to go. Running out of time on two interviews Nelson and Winnie. Whats changed in my job, is the expectation of payment for interviews. The little red book of CBC policy says no payment for interviews. Its absolute. I love that. But. I had spoken to someone called Gloria a number of times, leaving messages for Gloria. The fourth of fifth time she had said
Yes. You’re the Canadian, right.”
Yes, the CBC…Canadian Broadcasting.”
Are you the letter to the new Prime Minister?”
Pause. Double Pause.
No, I’m not the letter to the new Prime Minister.”
Oh” She sounds mortally disappointed. For a moment I am tempted to say. “Oh..letter to the Prime Minister..yes, yes, of course…The Hon Paul Martin, Dear Sir..congratulations on your accession. Hope you continue
the great Canadian tradition of supporting democracy in South Africa. And I know you and Bono are with me on the terrible scourge of AIDS. Best Wishes..Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.” My letter to Mandela reaches neither him nor the pit bull Zelda. With that sinking feeling I now know I have to play the indignation card.
I send an email directly to John Samuel, the right hand man (so I’ve been told) and receive an almost immediate reply, the first decent humane response I’ve had from the whole bunch of them. Early the next morning
he phones as I’m about to interview the histrionic but persuasive Sampie Terreblanche, a leftist University Professor and ex-Broederbond go-between who will provide my economic analysis. It takes another day of missed calls to connect to this John Samuel. He sounds serious, intelligent and genuinely concerned. Its always like this. You have to put your heart into it , even when your real heart is happy somewhere else, as is Madiba’s..We arrange a meeting back in Johannesburg. The Nelson Mandela Foundation is , like his home, located in the expensive Johannesburg residential suburb of Houghton. As prestigious companies and consultancies abandoned downtown Johannesburg they relocated in homes vacated by big white money that itself fled further out of the increasingly black city, behind electric wire topped walls that reach to as high as twenty feet, or fled overseas to countries like Canada. The building is huge and spacious with fountains, statues and echoing secretary-heel passageways. Its corporate, soulless. A four foot high statue of Madiba adorns the foyer.
I am ushered into the Sisulu boardroom, soon to be joined by the executive assitant to the executive director, a woman whose voice I had become familiar with through my work with the Nelson Mandela Childrens Foundation. She is effusively friendly, we exchange pleasantries about mutual friends in the NMCF. Soon a small man joins us, with a slightly cultured English accent, John Samuel. I pitch , roiling with as much charm and clarity as I can muster, but its a story that comes from the heart and the head and is received with respect and note scribbling on the part of Maeline, the executive assistant to the executive director.At times I visualize Nelson Mandela stretched out on a very comfortable well-earned chaise longue at the Mauritius One and Only, , covers over his damaged eyes, a barely read book by his side, on the cell phone with Sol Kerzner (Are you alright Madiba; Is there anything I can get you: How is the massage lady.) and Graca in a Sarong, her nose twitching at the man bringing drinks, or tea, across the blinding blue swimming pool terrace. I wonder if she ever whistles “It’s a long way from Inhambane, it’s a long way we’ve come”. John Samuel is apologizing for the runaround I’ve been getting for these past three months. They have extreme documentary fatigue , he says, Mandela is getting frail,, but he should be able to get me a 45 minute interview with The Man Himself. But not until mid February or early March (I’m returning to Canada Feb 1).
There are two issues. Firstly I will have to submit questions in advance, and he will not answer questions which he has answered before. He will talk about his legacy, conciliation. Are there any questions he doesn’t want to be asked. No more questions about AIDS, Samuel says. He has nothing more to say about it.. And then. And its our policy here and you have to understand this is what Madiba prefers that there is a donation to one of these orphanages. Its not a payment to him or the Foundation. You will be told when you contribute the name of the institution or school. This has the slow thud of charitable corruption but I must think the best of this man. Mr Samuel then asks me for details about my grievances with the way I have been brushed off,misled, and financially probed by the various gatekeepers.Mr Samuel listens intently and sympathetically, but I feel slightly uncomfortable, as I always have whenever anybody has given me the insiders stroking. The whiff of betrayal. I always smell CIA, or KPMG, Canadian Liberal Establishment, or CBC, or Islamic Jihad, or Mossad, or any one of the massively sleazy big organizations which inevitably come down to a few bright but essentially ruthless people plotting their ways as close to the nucleus of moral financial political or religious power they inhabit, are obsessed by, are turned by. This is what Fame does and Megafame does it doubly. I am the anti-famous. I don’t really have a prayer.
I am disappointed in Mandela and myself. I walk straight-backed out, through the secretary heel- echoing Nelson Mandela Foundation, past the spaced out computer module desks of softly clicking employees who I fear
will be on to less luxurious lives with five years of the passing of the Greatest Martyr of Modern History, past the smokers at the fountain in the terraced garden, the highway echoing steel tires beyond them, the ‘developing world’ lounging of the ‘security’ guards at the gate, all repressing the smugness of one who feels he has pulled something off, but one who knows it will never actually happen. Thabo Mbeki’s media liaison officer is a joke. I’ve written letters and emails left a dozen messages.Some wanker called Bheki Khumalo. The President’s spokesman, eventually calls me, with about two weeks to go. Although I see him quoted in the papers every week since September has the temerity to tell me he has been away from his desk since September. Then he flabber lips about how President Mbeki loves Canada and Canadians and what a critical role Canadians have played in NEPAD (Or Kneepad). Submit questions, he says, shouldn’t be a problem, and yes he will SMS the guy who keeps his schedule to sms me etcblah blah.He does say ominously that President Mbeki
had granted an interview to Peter “Mansbread” in Canada. That would have been very revealing I think. Mansbridge has the interviewing skills of a weary publican.
Doc Pretorius. Doc, he tells me, can get Winnie for me, is an ex security policeman who had a relationship with her. I contact Doc. We meet at a restaurant in a shopping mall. A 30-something afrikaner with thinning
brown hair, brown eyes, soft brown beard, and the sleepy-soft manner of a baby-faced killer raised on the cane. He mumbles a fantastic story about a book he has written. If I can get the book published overseas, Winnie would favour me. He says he will email it to me later that day. He does. I receive it. My laptop can’t download it. He calls that night. Did you read it? Havent had time.Okay. Iím meeting Winnie at this hotel at ten ayem in the morning, join us at 10:30.
Informers it seems to me have been Winnie’s bete noir. After The War, in Paris, they stripped them naked and paraded them through the streets. Lacombe, Lucien, and tar and feathering. In South Africa when I was arrested it turned out that my name was one of 25 given over to the security police by a friend. He was playing tennis when they came to get him. His brother had been a member of the Communist Party and had been hounded into exile, to the UK. His father had died and his mother was nursing a weak heart. The plainclothesman walked onto the tennis court and took him down to the station in his “whites.” He placed a telephone in
front of him and said something along these lines.
Who’s telephone number is 34789?”
“ Well I am going to call her and tell her that you have been detained for 180 days.” My friend, believing the news would kill his Mother gave the cop 25 names. What do you do then, in the townships , when in order to get ahead, get some mali (money) you say that so and so in ANC.
And so and so who is or is not ANC is taken away and later found dead? What do you do. Over the years , even as early as the very year Nelson started his 27 year incarceration, Winnie Mandela has had relationships with men who have then turned around and reported to their paymasters, the South African Security Branch. Talk about sleeping with the enemy, or the devil. In The Cry of Winnie Mandela, Njabulo Ndebele surmises on the motives of those men and others. Something incredibly arousing about making love to the women loved by the Man. Betrayal of the flesh but not of the heart. All our hearts belong to him forever and he’ll die inside anyway. Poor Winnie, they say, sliding their arms around her, dying inside too. I sometimes think that her madness was her sacrifice to this austere man, screaming as she did to an empty sky. He is the peoples leader. There is no other. He will return.
She is at the Park Hyatt in Rosebank. I had been there three hours earlier at 7.30 for a meeting with Alan Fine, head of public relations for Anglo Gold, the flack for Bobby Godsell. Godsell, CEO of Anglo Gold, had been a player in the capitalismization of Nelson Mandela and therefore the ANC. Fine was chummy and canny and vague when he needed to be. He had been a fine financial journalist through all the crap, and had only held this job for the past 18 months. He was better giving me leads on Sol Kerzner than Bobby Godsell. At one point e had to take an urgent call on his mobile. China is the only other country in the world where people are so conjoined to their cell phones. As he talked, huddled away from me I noticed most of the business people having breakfast in this big open atrium were interrupting their meetings to talk urgently into their little silver appurtenances. Perhaps they were talking to each other. I’m sure some choreographer has done this already. He’s done, turns back with the customary perfunctory apology. Phone rings again. The third time I said “I know. Its probably pick up the kid at 3 or meet me for a drink at 6.30”
No its actually a golf game on Sunday. Can’t play the game but have
to ..in this job.”
When I interview ex President de Klerk I ask him about golf, as I had last tracked him down and shot him at some celebrity pro-am event when he was President and wasn’t gran ting people like me one-on-one interviews.
I take my cameraman to the location but as we enter the hotel atrium, with its palms and archways, where I had earlier thoguht he might position himself, I see Doc and her through the big sad-eyed leaves at an outside
table and we are instantly made by the over the shoulders glances of two black leather jacketed plainclothesmen, clearly with Winnie, clearly on the ball, clearly well-dosed with a lifeís worth of professional
paranoia.The thought occurs that they were more likely to have learned this from the apartheid crew than MK, but perhaps its just township. I join them at 10:30, but its too early. I take up a chair near the one
plainclothesman, gesture him over, flip him my plastic CBC id. (no-one ever notices that it expires April 31st. Why, wouldnít they think? Beyond that I am unsecure?) I have a glass of water which my jacket tips over as I join them, splashing on to my trousers. Winnie thinks it is hysterical. ìWhat will your wife think you have been doing with meî I remember the last time I did that for an important job interview 23 years before, I got the job. There have been some appalling photographs of Winnie in the paper of late, looking like sheís on tranks or scotch or both, her hair like some bad dread-mop. Up close she is still beautiful, the skin a lovely soft brown, the eyes dancing with interest, the hand touching my sleeve rather more than I would have expected. A security man hands her a cell phone that looks like a small electric car. She wanders off into the palm filled atrium.
The Judge got off.” She sits down,looks at me. “I got him off.” She wants me to know. I tell her I am not doing that but a TV documentary on the Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela. To tell the story without your
input , I tell her, is an injustice to her and the audience. I am going to be using several available interviews with her but I would rather have her speak now for herself.
What interviews are you using.” I tell about the interview the day her husband was sentenced to life, how composed she is, how wedded to the struggle through the man, how beautiful young and innocent she looks. Her eyes melt. I mean it, but of course I want this affect. I had asked my cameraman Maurice for advice as he has, as they say, a way with women. He thought for a while and then said. ìComplement
her, and then listen to her.î This is very good advice. I wish I heard it in my twenties.
But it is a remarkably brave and composed interview.It is clear she was already a diamond for the fight ahead. The other interview is the one Peter Davis did with her at Brantford when the government sent her into exile.
Her eyes narrow at the mention of the word. She, like Mandela on Christmas Day, gives me her absolute attention. I am aware for a wobbly moment that I am communicating incredibly smoothly with this women, a heroine
who absolutely subscribes to The Stranglers “No More Heroes” school of hero worship, and the word murderer passes , as she must have seen it do a hundred times, between us, but I wonít miss a beat because this
political argument was solved in blood, and solved because of her as much as him.
Winnie: “As you know I donít co-operate with things like this, because I cannot and will not ever talk about the domestic personal with him; in fact I will not talk about him at all.”
It is important to note him is said without rancour.
Also they always turn out with him the peace-loving humanist and me the violent revolutionary.”
I then tell her my own story, briefly, just so she knows I’m from here.I got kicked out in the seventies.Her eyes wince.
Those were the dark days, my dear”,she says, touching my hand again. “Terrible years.”
Oh I was alright. You were in such danger, terrorized.”
A friend told me she was in solitary confinement for 18 months, naked the whole time her menstrual blood caked, cigarettes put on her. She talked to the insects. I told her I thought the 80’s were much worse.
“ At least the ANC existed, fought back then”,she said.”In the 70’s we had been wiped from the face of the earth…except you” I said.
I tell her how the squatters at the foot of her road had bemoaned the lack of money housing and jobs. The ANC and Mandela, she said, have betrayed the poor. Only she still cared.
Thats why I still live there, with them, and not here, (head indicated the business people inside) with them.” Then, as with the I-saved-the-Judge comment, letting me know. Those twinkling
eyes suddenly darkening to coals, a star-less night drawn over her brow. She leans towards me conspiratorially and almosts whispers.
I am the ANC.” leaning back regarding me, nodding slightly . “I am the ANC. The ANC is my Opium.My Cr-r-rack.”
The Winnie who brooks no dispute or dilution. (Winnie. Such an inappropriate silly Victorian slave name. Methuselah would be better, Gudrun.) This is the 150% proof swallow in the eyes of the seaman; the shuddering inhalation of a bottleneck of ganja in a Jamaican hill shack. But now, dear Winnie it doesnít matter. The ANC is a BMW and a laanie hotel in Rosebank. She asks for my name, email , cell phone number, beckoning the other security blade, the one with the date book and phone book, folding it out for me on the table. She says shes happy to do the interview talking ìjust the way were are talking here she says. But you have to call my lawyer. She gives me his name and number. I stand up. Eyeing my pants Ishe laughs, easily, “See, the water’s gone”……She thinks its hysterical.
Call me”she says. I go inside, feeling I’ve got her but knowing its unlikely. I couldn’t sit with her and not ask about Him, about the Murder, the 21 convictions buzzing around her like homeless wasps. Maurice is beside me, soundless as silk. “That was good”,he says.
Do we have her?”
I have to call her lawyer.”
Oh-Oh. Thats money”he says.
I know.” And I cant do money
In the CBC we don’t do money. Its an absolute.Well, its an absolute point of departure. I love what I do. The telling of story in pictures which will be a choice in a million living rooms of a country like Canada. But the business has become too payola for me. Big political stories are now on the market. The Mandelas I’m told have a price. 50-thousand US dollars each. I can’t stand this. The money part. The grovelling. I can’t stand that part of it. I will not make documentaries that involve this any more.
Wiinnie’s lawyer says call another lawyer. I call the other lawyer. He is angling for money. I give him the little CBC policy Book lecture, the slippery slope paragraph. Heís not interested, but he says he’ll
get back to me. Overnight I think about this.I decide to pay her 5-thousand dollars out of my own company and not tell the CBC. I call the lawyer back the next morning and leave a message to that effect. Later that day, after interviewing the bobbing Bobby Godsell (who is terribly nice and evasive and reminds me of Barbara Frum’s dictum that very interviewee is probably lying), we go out to Winnie’s house in Orlando(the mendaciousness will wear you down, but as Mandela says. It is not the numbers of times I fall it is the numbers of times I pick myself up again, and I pick myself up because I believe the truth demands it. Muhammad
Ali stand above me. The truth is he is better than me and he is going to knock me out. But I must get up to know the full measure of this truth) For the fourth time, to Winnie’s Soweto walls. The guards say she’s not here. Tell her Robin is here. He goes inside, waves our van in. We walk, Maurice, the soundman Musa and I into the front door past a vast dining room crammed with gifts of every description from foreign acolyte. To the left two security men are on computers. We are waved into an overwrought living room, packed with colour, gifts, kitschy statuary, an overall sense, regrettably, although not the reality
of over-priced velvet paintings. After ten minutes, Winnie and her daughter descend into the adjoining dining room and through to us. They both float, are dressed in floating fabrics. Zinzi has a riot of tiny light golden ringlets. Winnie greets me like a long lost comrade, hugging me tightly for seconds on each side and planting a big kiss on my mouth. I respond with the gratitude of one who watched her fight from my safe haven for 22 years.
She smells like baby powder and I am physically grateful for the deep softness of her body. I feel Iíve been comforted by Mother Africa, and I am briefly undone. Come unto me all ye wretched of this racist earth and I will fill you with love and rebellion. We talk. I think Musa and Maurice are a little gob smacked.
She asks me again exactly what I would ask her.I go over the same territory. I think she wants me to say again how young and beautiful she looed in the Rivonia interview but I resist. I remember her beating up a security policemen on TV on a highway.I’d ask her about her fury.“ First we had stones. Then we had Molotovs. Then we had AK-47s”. We talk for half an hour. I tell her the story of when I driven past Pretoria Central and sung happy birthday after my first arrest, for being a Christian in a black Church. The fact that she must have heard thousands of these stories doesnít lessen the intensity of the bond she acknowledges,
particularly when I mention my companions name that night. Jeanette. When Zinzi asks if it is the Jeannette from Norwood Winnie and I both fill her in about the bomb that blew her up in Luanda.
Once again it is a convivial positive meeting.
Until I say I would (waving an imaginary match in my left hand ) ask her about the famous necklacing speech . The cloud hoods her eyeslike a python. I blather about how most canadians couldnít imagine having
to go that far. Its a step in the truth direction. Zinzi then says there would have to be some kind of approval of the final script. I know its slipping away but I have to remind them.
I am absolutely happy to let you see the script but I have to tell you that I can only gaurantee listening to your objections.” And then I add fromn god knows what ludicrous but necessary dark pocket of Journalism
ethics 101 from the training I would never have wasted my time taking..”I have to tell you that neither God, nor Nelson nor Winnie Mandela, nor the KGB nor the CIA nor David Beckham himself can tell me what I can or cannot
say as an objective documentary filmmaker.”
There is the brief stiff silence of one hard ass revealing himself to another. She smiles slightly and Zinzi says
And David Beckham, they say,is more popular than Jesus.”
All laugh. John Lennon spins in his dryer. She says she will do the interview. Call the first lawyer.
I forget how we leave. I wait an hour. I call the lawyer. He is in Lesotho. He says he will see me in his chambers the day after tomorrow. I miss my family dreadfully. It has been more than 2 months. With three days to go, I am told I have Nelson; Winnie says I have her; and I just
need to arrange a meeting with the composer who I had hired in December.
I go to see the lawyer. A tight man with a runaway train as a client. After listening noiselessly and inscrutably to my pitch he offers me a grape. He is wearing a shirt with a miniature Don Cherry collar. In a world weary way he says he has instructed Winnie not to grant any interviews until her appeal on May 21st on embezzlement charges. He blathers on like lawyers everywhere about his clientís innocence. I point out that the case is not touched upon in my film, and my concealment of his smallmindedness is as transparent as his excuse, Mendacity the Mosquito buzzes deafeningly in the room. Through the window behind him the courthouse where a death squad killer walked free.
“Now they try her in magistrates court, before a stupid white magistrate, an Afrikaner, and a white jury. Just like the old days.”
Suddenly Don Cherry and his grape is spitting African Cobra. I am fatigued, I want to hug my children. I am impeccably warm and polite. As I leave he says. ìMy client is desirous of doing an interview with you. In June, after the appeal.Please send us a proposal on doing her film, and we will workshop it.
Workshop it. My God. As I cross to the van I wonder whether we could shoot the workshop.That late afternoon my musician composer calls in a prima donna-ish froth from Cape Town. He has received so many offers
he doesn’t think he can do my film. I am furious but contain it. He is frothing on the phone like a fucking worm on a pin. Awful man, but terrific musician. I shut him off with an impossibly tight goodbye, like the woman on the Weakest Link, I call the Houghton Golf Course. This is my therapy.They have an opening at 7:38. They played the PGA there the weekend before , should be in good nick. Driving to the course I always remember Houghton was too rich too Jewish and too private for me to play when I was a boy.I used to play the nearby public course for 25 cents all day. At least I have Madiba I think , reflecting on the irony of him being a resident of the Houghton that was socially beyond me in my youth. I play the course.It is very difficult, the holes are long, the fairways narrow, the rough gnarled, the greens like billiard saucers. I double
bogey one and two and miss all but two fairways for a 53 on the first nine. I take a caddy, which I never do.He is an unhappy middle aged very black man called Jackson. He is wordless which suits me fine. Interestingly enough I hit three good shots on that nine and he complements me each time. He has seen a lot of golf. I have rented a pull cart for him and he does no caddying for me,giving the wrong putting line once when asked. On the second nine my patience and timing pays off. I hit a 250meter three-iron with the wind between two bunkers on the tenth. I par the last four holes for a 43.
I sit down at the clubhouse for a steelworks and a chicken mayo on toasted white a mantra right out of my teen age years and check my messages. My sister has received a fax from John Samuel regrettably turning down my request to interview Mr Mandela, who is swamped.
In a day I have lost Winnie; my composer; and Madiba.
Within 24 hours, Winnie has called me and promised an interview the day before we leave: I have found a musician who I am assured in better than the prima donna; and the fax from the Mandela Foundation is a response to the request I had faxxed them on December the 9th, weeks before my meeting with John Samuel and his promise of an interview in mid- or late february.
24 hours later. I have spent the whole day in my hotel room waiting for the promised call from Winnie. But I have fleshed out the two hour structure for the documentary and it will serve the Canadian people
an incredible true story of political and human transformation, which under the circumstances, does the job.April 7, 2004 in the edit suite. some time last week Murray sat at a piano in Cape Town and recorded some quiet,slow versions of a few bars of Nkosi Sikelele Afrika. Murray Green the editor is cutting it into the end of the Rivonia Trial sequence. The actor is no good, the writing is flat, he says.