“I cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” (Nelson Mandela)
“The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela” tells the story of the man behind the myth, probing Mandela’s character, leadership and life’s method through intimate recollections with friends, political allies, adversaries, and his fellow prisoners and jailers on Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 prison years.
It’s a two-hour biography filled with insights: from Mandela’s ‘royal’ upbringing in the rural Transkei where old chiefs still remember him as a young boy and where his values and attitudes were shaped by tradition and royal prerogative–to old colleagues’ anecdotes about his self-discipline, guarded privacy and quite early sense of his own historic destiny.
A major part of “The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela” probes how Mandela transformed himself in prison from an impetuous, risk-taking radical into a mature leader and statesman. On Robben Island he became the master of his own prison; through intelligence, charm and dignified defiance he bent to his will even the most brutal prison officials.
The program also examines Mandela’s electric relationship with Winnie Madikizela Mandela–a love story tragically tempered by the political ambitions of its two larger-than-life protagonists. And, it chronicles Mandela’s negotiations with the increasingly embattled white rulers.
The documentary illuminates not only what separates Mandela from ordinary men–his singular pursuit of his life’s mission, his unwavering moral certitude, his own sense of his destiny– but also, what makes him like the rest of us: his vanity, his anger, his stubbornness.
“The Long Walk of Nelson Mandela” concludes with scenes of a historic moment for both Mandela and his new nation. At the start of the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final in Johannesburg, Mandela donned the jersey of the national team and came out on the field as tens of thousands of mostly white fans roared–“Nelson, Nelson.”
The event was one of the most remarkable pieces of political theater ever staged. The white players say they won the game for Mandela. It unleashed a flood of emotion that swept over every corner of the country. “It was the crossing of another Rubicon. Only Mandela could wear an enemy jersey.” says ex-political prisoner Tokyo Sexwale. “The liberation struggle of our people was not about liberating blacks from bondage, it was about liberating white people from fear. And there it was, fear melting away.”