Mandela and De Klerk (1997) TV



Director:     Joseph Sargent.

Starring:     Sidney Poitier (Mandela), Michael Caine (De Klerk), Tina Lifford (Winnie Mandela), Ben Kruger (James Gregory), Jerry Mofokeng (Walter Sisulu), Ian Roberts (Kobie Cotzee), Gerry Maritz (P.W. Botha).

Made for cable movie.


This is the story of the build-up to the decision to abolish apartheid and open South Africa to a racial democracy. Mandela (excellently played by Sidney Poitier) is in prison at Robben's Island off the city of Cape Town. Here we see how he runs the ANC (African National Congress) movement even while being imprisoned. His wife, known as Winnie, visits and carries news back and forth using symbolic talk of how the garden (the movement) grows. Mandela is often moved around in the South African prison system to keep him from communicating with the resistance movement.

We see for the first time that the white ruling party is showing cracks. Some ministers are starting to think that certain accommodations would have to be made with the blacks. This is absolutely opposed by the obstinate, rabid racist, President P. W. Botha, who gains consolation by the support of President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher. But the situation grows worse especially after the application of sanctions against South Africa by the rest of the world.

Finally there is a cabinet revolt against the stubborn Botha and De Klerk (also excellently played by Michael Caine) becomes the new candidate for the party in the upcoming elections. De Klerk becomes the president of South Africa and now the story becomes the growing negotiations between De Klerk and Mandela. De Klerk wants to go very slow and is, like most of white South Africa, very blind to the brutality of the white government. The discussions between Mandela and De Klerk help move De Klerk to realize just how blind he has been, but he is still hamstrung by the whites.

Eventually the two men work together to abolish apartheid and Mandela is released from prison and in the elections becomes the president of South Africa. The theme of personal growth helps make this movie more interesting because we care about both men, Mandela and De Klerk. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie.

A number of members of the ANC, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, are condemned to life in prison.  Winnie Mandela visits her husband who is imprisoned on Robben Island. 

12th year of imprisonment.  Winnie Mandela visits her husband and using certain references tells him that the ANC is getting stronger with more recruits every day.  The government officials begin to call Robben Island Mandela's University.  President Botha tells his cabinet to do something about the man.  They move Mandela to Pollsmoor Prison outside of Capetown, in order to prevent him from "contaminating" the other prisoners.  Mandela is isolated from the other 1,000 inmates at the prison. 

An ANC rally is broken up with the police beating attendees with batons.  Rallies all over Europe and America are held to free Mandela.  Three weeks after South Africa's abortive attack into Angola there is considerable rioting in South Africa. 

18th year of imprisonment.  The blacks of South Africa become more radicalized and the phrase "one settler - one bullet" becomes popular.  De Klerk is not ready to take any action because he takes solace in the "we can't talk with terrorists" refrain.  Mandela has an enlarged prostate gland on which a doctor operates.  The feeling in the government is that if Mandela should die, he would be a martyr and that would be dangerous.  But someone, not the President, must talk to Mandela as the situation in the country is becoming worse.  The Minister of Justice, Kotzia, pays a very brief visit to Mandela as he lies in the hospital recovering from his operation just to start establishing contact with him.  Mandela is surprised to see him.  He is also surprised when they transfer him to his own private cell. 

Prison guard Sergeant Gregory is heading into Capetown and he takes the surprised Mandela with him.  No security measures at all are put into place and for a moment Mandela thinks of escaping, but decides not to.  Back in prison, he is able to meet with Winnie in a private room without any guards being present.  Nelson tells her "It's been twenty years since I held you like this."  The surprises are not finished coming.  Mandela eats with Sgt. Gregory and his family at their home. 

The pressure is mounting on the government.  Minister Kotzia tells his colleagues that the situation is untenable. There are riots and armed resistance.  He tells his colleagues that they need to talk about how to end this situation. 

Mandela wants to talk to President Botha himself, but he only gets the President's aide.  He tells the aide to tell Botha:that:  he is not the head of the ANC and is not authorized to negotiate for them; if we are to continue, we must all share in the risks together; and this is your last chance before it's too late and a war of attrition begins that neither side can win.  Mandela's mates in prison are upset about Mandela's roll because he is not authorized to negotiate for the ANC and the meetings are held in secret.  But Mandela tells them that they must proceed for "We have them on the ropes." 

Botha is extremely angry.  He is tired of nations such as France, Germany and Japan telling him to negotiate.  He thanks goodness for his only friends: President Ronald Reagan of the USA and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain.  But he agrees that Mandela will be released if he will reject violence as a political instrument.  They ask Mandela for the statement rejecting violence.  De Klerk comments that Mandela is making them wait while the whole world also waits.

The situation in South Africa is characterized by violence, lawlessness and a tide of anarchy.  Botha cites the 1953 Safety Act and declares a state of emergency in South Africa.  Botha approves the bombing of ANC headquarters in nearby countries.  De Klerk tells him that "military victories don't necessarily lead to political ones."

There is a fire bombing of Winnie Mandel's house.  Mandela suspects government involvement and tells Minister Kotzia in no uncertain terms that he should treat his wife humanely.  He also reiterates that the government is trying to stop political unrest that is an irreversible tide. 

Botha is still running on illusions, believing that the terrorists will run out of steam.  But then he learns the news that the Congress of the United States has voted to impose economic sanctions on South Africa and the situation looks a lot darker for him.  Black South Africans burn a suspected police informant.  Winnie justifies it.  Mandela talks to her and asks "have you lost your mind? . . . Our movement is based on the moral strength of our ideas and of our ideals."  She reluctantly agrees to watch what she says.  Mandela undergoes an operation for tuberculosis, which has filled his lungs with fluid. 

24th year of imprisonment.  After his recovery, he is taken to Victor Verster prison where he lives in a private house on the grounds (but he is still surrounded by guards).  Frequent family visits are allowed.  Mandela says "Tell your president to come and visit some time."  Mandela is brought to meet Botha who sits by a swimming pool.  Mandela is expecting a good talk, but after a very brief exchange of pleasantries, Botha rudely leaves saying that for now he only wanted it to be a :courtesy meeting.  Mandela is perplexed.  Walter Sisulu is released from prison.   

Bad news arrives.  A 14-year old boy is found murdered in Winnie's home.  Mandela asks her if she was present at the murder.  No.  Did she know what her body guards were doing to the boy?  No.  He adds that this whole affair is a political embarrassment for him and, worse, it is a tragedy.  "It distracts me from my duties."  He finishes with "Get rid of of your body guards!"

Botha is completely blind-sided by a political coup.  And he is extremely angry.  De Klerk stands up to him saying that he (Botha) has become a liability.  He asks Botha if he will stand down.  Yes, is the answer.  (But he says he is going to go on television and condemn his ministers.)  De Klerk takes over as President.  He opens negotiation with Mandela.  And he makes some immediate changes:  "Apartheid will cease to exist" and all political prisoners will have their cases reviewed and many will be released. There is happiness in the streets in the black communities, while some white Afrikaners swear they will resist the changes.

Inkatha Training Base, Kwazulu-Natal province.  Trouble is brewing.  After 14 months at Victor Verster prison, Mandela is released.  There is an outbreak of black against black violence after a speech by Chief Buthelezi . Inkatha attacked and killed 39 suspected ANC supporters and others, including 24 women. 

Mandela suspects government involvement and demands that De Klerk appoint an independent commission to investigate.  De Klerk tells him that it is ridiculous to think the government had anything to do with the massacre. When the report finally comes out, the conclusion is that the police escorted the attackers into and out of the attacked township.  De Klerk admits that Mandela was right.  To make up for it he pays a visit to the township, but the reception is life-threatening and De Klerk has to beat a hasty retreat.  Mandela visits De Klerk and tells him that he is complicit in his own blindness to the evils of the government.  He adds: "A lost man can never lead anywhere." 

Winnie is charged with kidnapping and assault.  Mandela believes it's an election ploy and defends her.  Walter Sisulu finally tells him that they have discovered a letter (actually a love letter to a man) in her own hand-writing that virtually convicts her of the charges.  When the letter is published Mandela leaves Winnie. 

When an ANC member is assassinated by a white man, De Klerk asks Mandela if he would say something to his people to damp down the resultant violence.  Mandela is angry and criticizes De Klerk for being involved in such atrocities as the Inkatha massacre.  De Klerk has no real defense so he simply says: "I'm asking you to preserve what we have built."  Mandela goes on TV and asks for an end to the violence, which does subside.

18 million blacks begin voting in South Africa.  Mandela wins in a landslide with almost 63 percent of the vote.  At a huge victory rally Mandela says: "We have achieved our political emancipation." 



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