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Victor Dlamini

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Invictus: this Movie Shows why South Africa still Matters

There was a time when South Africans thought the world had forgotten about them, lost interest in their story of transformation from pariah state to one with a moral compass.

This movie should lay their fears to rest; the presence of the likes of Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood and Matt Damon in their country, to make a movie of one of their stories, shows that South Africa’s narrative of transformation remains one of the most compelling stories of our time.

I think the real power of the movie Invictus lies in its timely reminder to both South Africans and the world of how one society overcame its collective fears to build a new society that replaced fear with hope. The last nine years have seen an unwelcome return of deep hostilities on the global stage, many of them based on religion and ideology, and stories such as this one remind us of how much we have in common with those we fear and even hate.

Ii is true that the movie at times seems a little simplistic, but then such sweeping stories require the director to make bold decisions and tell a big story through simple narrative. As a South African I did find some of the storytelling a little suspect, but I guess it is ok to exaggerate a little for dramatic effect. I may not be a rugby nut, but I know enough about rugby to know that it is just not true that the South African rugby team were underdogs. This will annoy those South Africans for whom ruby is more than a sport as it is sacrilege to suggest that the Springboks are not the very epitome of ruby excellence. If anyone has any doubts, they are the reigning world champs, having pulverised the competition in the 2007 edition of the 4 yearly rugby contest..

The best narratives derive their power from the strength and the weaknesses of their characters, and in Mandela South Africa had a man with almost magical, even godlike powers of leadership. But like any other hero Mandela had his flaws too, deep ones, and it is perhaps no coincidence that Eastwood’s directorial hand steers clear of Mandela’s family life as this would undercut the view that he is one of our saints.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about many African leaders is their love for the arcane art of poetry, and the film’s title, Invictus, is a charming reminder of this African idiosyncrasy.

Freeman is one of our great actors, and it is fitting that he should be entrusted with the role of playing one of the most demanding roles on the silver screen. Mandela is no ordinary hero, and even those who claim him as their hero often do not realize what a complex, contradictory character he is, and Freeman pulls this off with admirable verve.

Watching this movie I was reminded of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi in which the great man is brought to life through a series of small private moments. I think Clint Eastwood has made an important film, one that is certain to transcend its genre and provide clues to those who seek to fashion a better, more human world.

We should all be thankful that Eastwood and Freeman have joined forces to make this movie that is certain to revive interest in a country that once feared it had fallen off the radar of world interest.

I first published this in the comments section of the New York Times review of Invictus


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