TOPICS: Apartheid, Resistance, Theology
USES: H, U, G.
This is one of the few films which deals with the problems of the colored South African community. The story is told through the experiences of the Rev. Alan Boesak. Boesak was a colored minister in the apartheid-supporting Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) who ministered to a colored community.
Boesak talks about the new Tricameral Parliament (inaugurated in 1984) which incorporated Indian and colored South Africans into selected state structures, but which excluded blacks. The non-racial United Democratic Front (UDF) was established to oppose this new system. Boesak was elected as one of the UDF Patrons. He talks about the institutionalized and physical violence of apartheid and the dilemma of state violence and how to respond to it. The key to peaceful change, he says, is in the hands of whites, not blacks (because they have the power).
Narrated by James Earl Jones, this film is made for American audiences, and thus simplifies certain issues. The film, however, is well structured for this audience, and implicates Western and US interests in propping up apartheid through economic cooperation and the Reagan Administration's policy of `constructive engagement.' Boesak points out that after the world outcry against the killing of Biko, no one died in detention. But with the election of President Reagan, people, once again, started to die. For Boesak, this is the meaning of `constructive engagement.
A key influence on the Afrikaans-speaking Boesak was the Rev. Beyers Naud'e, a former Broederbonder (Afrikaner Brotherhood) who broke with Afrikaner Nationalism, but tried to reconstitute the DRC from within. He persuaded Boesak to follow suit in the DRC Mission Church, the colored arm of the DRC. Boesak realized that the reform tradition does not de facto support racism. He believed that his Mission Church could take the lead in liberation.
Boesak and Naud'e tried to get apartheid declared a heresy. This was accepted by the World Alliance of Churches. Boesak was then elected its president. White DRC members found it difficult to agree with Boesak even when the International Alliance, of which the DRC was an affiliate, denied the moral justification of apartheid as argued by the DRC.
Boesak and Naud'e are made out to be saints in this film. But where Naud'e continued serving the cause of justice, Boesak became embroiled in adulterous relationships and was accused of embezzling funds from Norwegian churches and spending the money on a lavish lifestyle rather than for the development projects for which they were intended. The African National Congress (ANC) tried to stand by him because he was at this time the leader of the ANC in the Western Cape (one of the two of nine provinces the Congress lost in the general election of 1994) . The ANC-dominated government then offered Boesak the South African ambassadorship to Geneva. The government, however, eventually was forced to withdraw its offer because of the allegations relating to fraud. These allegations were supported by the accountant of Boesak's Foundation for Freedom Justice, who was himself convicted of fraud. Boesak then went to Canada where he ministered, and returned to South Africa in April 1997 to face a host of charges, including fraud and embezzlement, laid by the Norwegian Churches and the South African Attorney General. Boesak was given a hero's welcome by his supporters and some members of the Cabinet. Boesak dismissed the charges against him as `struggle accounting.' But what this alleged fraud points to is the manner in which Boesak led the struggle while at the same time allegedly enriching himself after victory, thus muddying the very cause for which he was previously prepared to sacrifice his life.
(Written by Keyan Tomaselli, 1997. Edited by Carmela Garritano, 1998)