One of our members, and former member of ASG Steering Committee, Ian Ferguson, wrote an article on Winnie Mandela that was published in the paper version of the Global and Mail on Saturday, April 7, 2018.
After South Africa’s first democratic elections, Mrs. Mandela served as Deputy Minister of Culture, a Cabinet-rank position, from 1994-96. At that time, she had been convicted for her alleged role in a 1989 kidnapping involving her bodyguards. She had been separated from Nelson Mandela since 1992. (They formally divorced in 1996.) I had been posted as Minister-Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy (now High Commission) in Pretoria, South Africa since 1992. Canada had been heavily involved in promoting peaceful change, sustaining international pressure against apartheid, and later providing practical and technical support for the democratic transition. As a result, Canada’s standing was high with the new ANC-led government of President Nelson Mandela.
Soon after Mrs. Mandela’s appointment, a new Canada-South Africa film co-production was announced, effectively raising our post-Apartheid cultural relations to a new level and offering scope for other forms of partnerships in the audio-visual sector. South African Director Darrell Roodt was shooting a new version of Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country, set in 1946 and starring James Earl Jones and Richard Harris. Roodt invited Canadian High Commission staff to view some of the filming on historic Church Square in central Pretoria, which provided an authentic architectural backdrop.
Well into the evening’s shooting, Ms. Mandela arrived in a black limousine. She knew how to attract attention. She made a grand entrance wearing traditional African dress with her hair elaborately braided. (She was known in ANC circles for arriving late at events, including funerals, and disrupting programs, so that every occasion somehow became about her.) We were soon seated side-by-side in the type of canvas chairs which used to have “Director” written on them. Making small talk in a pause from shooting, I suggested that, dressed as she was, she might be cast in the film to play the role of a traditional African queen. “My dear”, she said “I don’t have to play a queen, I am a queen.” I never knew if she was dead serious or pulling my leg by playing the diva.
Official cultural relations with Canada took a turn for the worse when Mrs. Mandela learned that, given her legal dossier, she would only be able to travel to Canada on a special Ministerial permit. As she wore any convictions from the anti-apartheid years as a badge of honour, she refused to accept this particular Canadian fashion to exempt her from the usual visa inadmissibility. I don’t believe that we ever saw her again in Canada.
Much later, however, Director Darrell Roodt made a biopic, “Winnie Mandela,” starring Jennifer Hudson and Terrence Howard as the Mandelas. A Canadian co-producer was again involved. The film screened at TIFF in 2011. At the time, the Globe and Mail reported that Mrs. Mandela had asked to read the screenplay in 2010, had been turned down, and then threatened legal action. It is not known whether she ever saw the film, but I suspect she did.