Meeting with Nelson Mandela”
was a message on my answer machine: “Hugh Hudson has just seen
your work at Sundance; would you like to go and film Nelson Mandela
with him, in a couple of weeks’ time?”
I would have paid to go! And so I found myself on a plane, heading
south to Mozambique, surrounded by about twenty TBWA agency staff.
It seemed the whole office had decamped to shake the great man’s
Up in Business class, with his entourage, was big boss Trevor Beattie
- the wunderkind of the British commercials industry and ad man of
the Labour party, who had persuaded Nelson Mandela to front a UNICEF
Hugh Hudson, the legendary director of “Chariots of Fire”
now in his mid-sixties, flew in a day later from LA. His first words
to me were:
“This place is crawling with
fucking agency; are they all Catholics? Are we seeing the Pope? Waste
of the budget, lets get out of here”.
Nelson Mandela was unwell and so Hugh and I escaped and spent the
first few days in Mozambique, filming B roll in the slums of Maputo.
The Ad agency circus had requisitioned the hotel, seemingly oblivious
to what lay beyond the pool bar.
The big day arrived – we set up in Graca Machel’s house,
(Mandela’s second wife), aided by his bodyguards. They were
a mix of blacks, mainly National Congress, and whites, who I would
later discover were mainly from the police force – the very
symbol of apartheid South Africa. The whites were speaking Afrikaans,
traditionally, the language of oppression.
As I speak Dutch fluently (and can be understood by Afrikaners), I
asked one of them, how he had come to be Mr. Mandela’s’
He explained that his father had been one of the prison wardens on
Robben Island. At Mr. Mandela’s insistence, he had helped to
teach him Afrikaans, – for he felt he must be able to speak
the language of his persecutors. On his release, he had insisted his
son become one of his bodyguards.
It struck me, that only Nelson Mandela would have the profound compassion
and intelligence to embrace his enemies and make them his friends.
Over many visits to South Africa the past twenty years, I have been
lucky enough to witness that incredible ‘sea-change’ transformation,
lead with such inspiration by Madiba.
an hour later, with legendary punctuality, the great man arrived
– frail and aided by the Afrikaner I had spoken to earlier.
Before we started filming, there ensued a discussion with Trevor
Beattie – Mandela insisting with ironic humor, that a donation
should be given to his charity – and that if Margaret Thatcher
(who had done nothing to aid his release) could give him a sizable
private donation, so too could Trevor Beattie, mate of the Tony
Then he turned to me, (snubbing Trevor), rose from his chair, and
said in fluent Afrikaans, “Forget about him, now I want to
meet you – as you are the one who really makes these images”
… shook my hand and winked at me.
We headed down to Johannesburg, were we hoped to be able to film
him for another day. We waited for ten days, but never saw him again
– somehow I wondered whether he had better things to do…
by Tony Miller