Fresh from the edit; copyright stamps still on the footage, this documentary film made by Mandela’s grandson Kweku arrived just 20 minutes before the showing was due to begin - the ultimate preview indeed. On stage to speak about the man and the documentary were Kemal Akhtar, making his documentary debut, Kweku Mandela himself, Ndaba Mandela, another grandson of Mandela, Dame Janet Suzman, Kathi Scott, Executive Director of The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund (UK) and David Westhead who hosted the evening. All in all a magical evening when we saw footage of one of the greatest figures on the world stage being interviewed by his own family many of whom it seems, knew him much less than we, the audience.
This format was chosen by Kweku who, hoping to add something to a story already widely known, decided to film his grandfather being asked questions by his grand-children, And so we heard from Ndaba who remembered visiting his grandfather in the final years of his imprisonment when he’d been transferred from Robben Island and was now under house arrest. Astonished to find that ‘prison’ life for grand-dad now included a swimming pool, VCR, cartoons of Bugs Bunny and hot chocolate, Ndaba decided that he too wanted to go to prison when he grew up.
Ndaba also disclosed another secret concerning the man we, the general public, ‘knew’. Yes, Kathi Scott agreed talking about the difference in his public and private persona, grand-father Mandela may have had a seemingly ever-present smile and gentle voice but nonetheless, this trained lawyer and tribal Prince was a strict disciplinarian in private.
This film isn't designed to be a history lesson. We all know our history. It's about relationships. Quite simply, it's footage of Mandela. The very concept of the film is just so poignant. The word ‘solidify' was one that came up again and again, as Nelson's struggle to solidify his relationships with his children and grandchildren was discussed. The sad fact of the matter seems to be that he's only really been able to achieve this with his grandchildren, having missed three decades of his children's lives. The fleeting passage of time simply does not allow him, or anyone else, to re-capture lost years. His grandchildren however, through these conversations are able to form more natural attachments to their grandfather.
Clips from the film were followed by panel discussions and Janet Suzman who grew up in Johannesburg and saw the beginning and end of apartheid offering some of the most fascinating insights in my mind including the time when she produced Othello in Johannesburg. As to how she managed to stage a play which is essentially a story about a black man being bullied by a white man? Simple she said, nobody could accuse Shakespeare of being an activist now, could they?
During the debate that followed, a member of the audience asked, "What happens when he dies?", and the panel were unanimous in their answer, that what Mandela has done is just the beginning. That, and of course, forgiveness; the most touching quote of the evening being, "Having to remember and choosing to forgive is more commendable that forgetting." Nothing mentioned of the various controversies of his life, but this wasn't the place for it.
The last we saw of Nelson Mandela on screen was him answering the question, "How do you want to be remembered?" His answer? "I just want to be remembered as a sinner." Who needs saints when we have ‘sinners’ like Nelson Mandela?
Finally, we sang happy (95th) birthday to the man himself into camera, which is to be burnt to DVD and sent to him. Felt good that did.