ENTERTAINMENT

'Mandela: The Myth and Me' Documentary Explores Freedom, Forgiveness And Contradictions Of Mandela's Legacy

12/06/2014 17:06 BST | Updated 12/06/2014 17:59 BST

'Mandela: The Myth and Me' takes the form of an open letter from Khalo Matabane to the man whose name defined his childhood - whether it was associated with terrorism, imprisonment, justice, freedom and, ultimately, forgiveness.

Writer and director Khalo was an idealistic teenager with fanciful ideas about a post-apartheid era of freedom and justice when the great icon of liberation, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison.

nelson mandela

Nelson Mandela is held up throughout the world as a beacon of hope, freedom and forgiveness

In 'Mandela: The Myth and Me', Khalo searches for the meaning of freedom, reconciliation, and forgiveness, while challenging Mandela's achievements in today's world of conflict and inequality.

Pictures of Mandela's idolatry - sharing hugs with world leaders, dancing with pop stars - are put alongside more disturbing pictures of South African violence that came before - acts of torture and barbarism on the part of the white apartheid regime that some say can never be forgiven without the justice that Mandela eschewed in favour of reconciliation.

mandela the myth and me

Filmmaker Khalo Matabane's open letter to Mr Mandela forms the backbone of the film

Some of those left behind remain bemused by the adulation of one man, and betrayed by his refusal to rise to the revolution they thought would be theirs, after years of fear, humiliation, torture and murder.

One woman tells of the choice she was given, to give up the names of her comrades or be forced to swallow poison that would burn her unborn baby. "It was a united struggle," she remembers. "It was not just about one man."

Others want no part in the policy of forgiveness, which they say has let their oppressors off the hook. "If a man steals your watch, he says he is sorry and still wears it..." is how one puts it.

"Reconciliation without justice is another injustice," affirms activist and academic Pumla Gqola - in a spirited renunciation of much of Nelson Mandela's ideology.

mandela the myth and me

Pumla Gqola doesn't think justice has been done in South Africa - for past or present

This complex, thought-provoking picture is balanced by the fire of men who want to walk in Mandela's footsteps - including anti-apartheid campaigner and judge Albie Sachs who lost an arm and the sight in one eye when a bomb went off in his car, but was moved by compassion for the man who turned up one day and admitted it had been him behind the crime.

Other voices in the film belong to Henry Kissinger and the Dalai Lama, but perhaps the most memorable one of all is that of playwright Ariel Dorfman, exiled himself from Chile after the Pinochet coup, whose play 'Death and the Maiden' explores what happens when a victim comes face to face with their torturer.

"That phrase in the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king?" he reflects. "If we can see more, with even a little sliver of our eyes, then we have to be compassionate. Mandela... with all he'd been through, it was up to him."

Dorfman's emotion is contagious and convincing, but so is Pumla Gqola's anger, never mind the tears of a woman who waited in vain for her son's return, making for a complex and thought-provoking whole, and with implications for all viewers in South Africa and beyond.

'Mandela: The Myth And Me' will next be screened at Durban International Film Festival (18th to 27th July) and Open Door - Lucerne in August. Future screenings will be announced soon. Click here for more information. Watch the trailer below...