Director: Pete Travis.
Starring: William Hurt (Professor Willie Esterhuyse), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Thabo Mbeki), Jonny Lee Miller (Michael Young), Mark Strong (Dr. Neil Barnard), Clarke Peters (Nelson Mandela), John Kani (Oliver Tambo), Derek Jacobi (Rudolph Agnew), Timothy West (P.W. Botha), Matthew Marsh (F.W. de Klerk), Mike Huff (Willem de Klerk), Stephen Jennings (Kobie Coetsee), Patrick Lyster (Sampie Terreblanche), Ramon Tikaram (Aziz Pahad), Danny Scheinmann (Albie Sachs), Porteus Xandau (Christo Brand).
covert discussions that brought down the Apartheid regime in South Africa
South Africa, 1985. A white man drives into a black township. He parks his car and waits. A black woman drives up near the white man's car. She gets out of her car to open up the back door of the car. The white man hops into the back of the truck. The black woman gets into the driver's seat and drives the car out of the black township. The people of the township are staging a demonstration and the South African police are there to control things. The police attack the demonstrators.
The woman driver gets through a police check point. The woman reaches her destination and takes the man out of the back of her vehicle. She takes him into a tavern of sorts. The woman and man sit down and start to listen to the woes of the black people in the township. A little boy tells how some blacks placed his tied-up father in a bag and dropped him over the bridge railing and into the river.
The white man's name is Michael Young. Two thugs come in and are appalled at seeing a white man in the township. The thugs want to beat Michael up, but the woman and some other people protect him. Michael is from the Consolidated Goldfields and came to talk about fund raising for their school's program.
Michael calls into his boss Rudolph Agnew. He says the plan was a failure and they need to aim higher.
18 months later, Connaught Rooms, London. Michael Young attends a meeting. A speaker introduces Thabo Mbeki, the Head of Information for the African National Congress, who represents the ANC president, Oliver Tambo. Oliver protests against the President of South Africa, P. W. Botha, for deploying thousands more of his troops in the black townships. Oliver wants the British companies to stop helping South Africa's businesses by doing business with them. He wants this to stop.
After the talk, Michael Young introduces himself to Oliver. Michael asks Oliver how can his company help him. Oliver says he might just take Michael's offer in good faith. Michael gives Oliver his business card.
Michael now goes to Rudolph Agnew saying he thinks he sees a way forward on their problem.
Cape Town, South Africa. Michael is trying to put together a meeting between key blacks and whites interested in moving forward on South Africa's problems. Two men in a car, perhaps the police, are following Michael. After awhile, Michael becomes conscious of being followed.
Michael says it's best that they hold the talks in the U.K. Michael is getting nowhere with the people he calls to participate in the meeting. Michael decides to sneak out the back and then sneak back to his car to take off and lose the two men following him.
Michael drives to Stellenbosch.
Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Michael goes to talk to a professor at the university. His name is Professor Willie Esterhuyse. The professor tells Michael that his goals are impossible to achieve. He adds: "In this country, those who go public against apartheid acquire the status of a pariah, Mr. Young." He also says these days Botha rules like a medieval monarch. Botha and his advisors are not interested in any political solution. The professor frankly tells Michael that he is not the man for his mission.
Pollsmoor Prison, South Africa. Mandela, the leader of the resistance movement in South Africa, got off of Robben Island and is now here at Pollsmoor Prison. He has a lot more freedom here at Pollsmoor. Two high government officials come to speak to Mandela. One of them is Dr. Barnard from intelligence.
The professor comes home from the university. He had noticed that two men were following Michael Young, but now, here at home, he sees the same two men parked across from his home.
The professor now calls Michael to tell him that he has decided to come to Michael's meeting. And now Michael is in a much better mood about his meeting.
President's Residence, Cape Town. Dr. Barnard tells President Botha that Mandela took the bait.
ANC President's Office, Lusaka, Zambia. Michael is warned that he is neither safe in London or Zambia. The man says: "Car and letter bombs are the weapons of choice of the South African security agents. Welcome to our world."
Michael speaks to his boss: "Every day Botha gets more isolated, the country more ungovernable." The young man warns that when the government goes down, Consolidated Goldfields will go down with it.
The professor is about to head out for the meeting, but Dr Barnard comes to see him. He says that publicly Botha stays true to the hard line, but privately he wants the professor to continue the dialogue for as long as possible. The professor says so Botha wants him to be his spy. Barnard says a better word than spy is a go-between. He says Esterhuyse should play along with the ANC. Barnard warns the professor that if he doesn't cooperate with the government, his position in the meetings will be terminated.
ANC Office, Mozambique. Thabo Mbeki puts in a call to the office. He wants to talk to Albie Sachs, an ANC lawyer. Albie is about to get into his car, but the car explodes injuring him badly.
Spring 1988, Mells Park, Somerset, England. The meeting attendees start filing into the meeting room. Mbeki says that the ANC wants apartheid abolished as a prelude to majority rule. Power sharing is not an option. After the meeting the professor has to call Dr. Barnard.
The professor confesses to Mbeki that he has to call in reports to President Botha through Dr. Barnard. Mbeki says the professor is taking a great risk in revealing this information. Esterhuyse says it would be a greater risk for him not to tell Mbeki. The two men are starting to get used to each other.
Barnard has Mandela put in a suit to make him feel more like an equal in their discussions with the leader. Barnard also sets up a meeting with the professor. He is disappointed in the professor because he has gathered very little intelligence from Mbeki.
The professor returns to his home. Terrorists plant a bomb in a shopping center and it explodes.
The men return for more talks about negotiating a settlement of South Africa's problems. The professor gets upset over the recent bombing and doesn't believe Mbeki's explanation that the ANC only goes after military and industrial sites, not civilian sites. Esterhuyse walks out of the talks for awhile.
Barnard says he is ramping up the heat on Mandela. He tells the African leader that Botha is running out of patience. He says that Mandela is the only one that can get the country out of its impasse.
Mbeki now says that the ANC cannot control all its cadres, especially those believing force to be the only way, and they act on their own without authority from Lusaka. He adds that he will do everything in his power to ensure that innocent civilians are not hurt by the main organization's inadequacies. Esterhuyse sees this as major concession on the part of Mbeki.
Someone gives Mbeki a real scare. Two men in a pick-up try to run Mbeki off the road and threaten to kill him with an AK-47, but at the climax of the event, the two men just laugh and drive away. Mbeki was very shaken by the incident.
Victor Verster Gevangenis Prison. Inside the prison Mandela will be living in a nice house. The house even has a swimming pool.
The professor comes home. He sneaks in at night and listens to his messages on the answering machine. People threaten Esterhuyse not to go to the next meeting or something bad is likely to happen to him. The professor leaves a message for Michael Young saying it would be good for Michael to set up the next meeting soon.
Mandela is aware that Barnard is still following his every move. He sees the wires going up into the attic.
Botha has a sudden heart attack. Mandela celebrates his birthday at his prison home with family and friends.
Mr. de Klerk is elected as the new President of South Africa. A new wave of violence sweeps over the country. And now Michael Young invites the new president's brother to be a delegate to his meetings. At least, the brother has condemned apartheid.
The delegates meet again, including the professor. Dr. Barnard is now out of the loop of power. De Klerk ignores him.
The meetings are not going well. President de Klerk is not saying what he is going to do and so the delegates don't know how to proceed. But now the president's brother proves helpful to the delegates. He has spoken to his brother and has information from the president. When would it be possible for the ANC to embark on talks about negotiations with the government? What would be the preconditions for ANC be for such talks? And what agenda would be acceptable? Mbeki now says that there will be no ANC preconditions. They will let the president determine the agenda. Moreover, the ANC will be ready anytime the president is ready. They would cancel all planned acts of violence during the negotiations. When the new constitution takes effect, the armed struggle will be abandoned.
All the men realize that they have just seen a virtual miracle happen before their eyes. The way is opened for real negotiations between the ANC and the government.
Oliver Tambo has a heart attack and is in the hospital. Mbeki comes to see him.
Three months later, February 11th 1990. De Klerk says that his government will immediately and unconditionally release Mandela from prison. The time has come to negotiate. Mandela is released. He and Winnie are together waving to the welcoming crowds. The delegates are happy and proud of what they have accomplished. The professor and Mbeki hug each other.
"It took another four years of negotiations between the ANC and the government before South Africa held its first democratic elections. In 1999 Thabo Mbeki succeeded Nelson Mandela as State President. Willie Esterhuyse became one of his trusted advisors. Oliver Tambo did not live to see democracy in his country. He died of a stroke in 1993. Michael Young left Consolidated Goldfield but is still active in international politics. When the IRA decided to negotiate a peaceful solution to the Irish conflict, they secretly turned to the ANC for advice on how to do it. They are now advising Hamas on the same strategy."
A bit of a complicated story about negotiations to abolish the apartheid system in South Africa. It's not always easy following the ups and downs of the negotiations, but the final accomplishments of the negotiations make it all worth while. William Hurt (as Professor Willie Esterhuyse) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (as Thabo Mbeki) were both very good in their acting roles.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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