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The Other Man: F.W. de Klerk and the End of Apartheid

Distributed by First Run Features, 630 Ninth Avenue, Suite 1213, New York, NY 10036; 212-243-0600
Produced by Nicolas Rossier, Baraka Productions and Naashon Zalk Media
Directed by Nicolas Rossier
DVD, color, 75 min.
Middle School - General Adult
Apartheid, Civil Rights, Crimes Against Humanity, Discrimination, Government, History, Human Rights, Politics, Protest Movements, Racism, South Africa, World History, Violence, War Crimes

Reviewed by Caron Knauer, LaGuardia Community College, Long Island City, New York

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 8/13/2015

This astutely compelling historical biography offers a primer about the end of apartheid and the complicated and sometimes contradictory legacy of South Africa’s president, F.W. de Klerk, who served from 1989-1994. De Klerk released Nelson Mandela, “the symbol of liberation,” from prison in 1990, unleashing violence through the land. Though Mandela claimed about de Klerk that “that man is not to be trusted,” the two men worked together in forging a successful process of reconciliation, transitioning South African into a democracy. Though they were “uncomfortable partners,” de Klerk for a time was Mandela’s second-in-command.

The film opens in December 2013 with Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa, giving a speech honoring Nelson Mandela on his passing. When he introduces former presidents in the audience, F.W. de Klerk’s name garners loud applause. When interviewed about his legacy, de Klerk claims that he has no regrets, that he prevented a catastrophe in South Africa. He gets credit for being the first president to claim that apartheid was “unworkable”, although, his father was an architect of the apartheid system. And though he denies it, he also gets blamed for not ending the “death squads” of anti-apartheid activists that continued to operate through his regime, claiming he didn’t know about them. His fraught relationship with the African National Congress (ANC) is also explored.

Blending still photographs, news and archival footage and myriad interviews, the film is flawlessly edited. Featuring in-depth interviews with the main players including de Klerk himself, former president Thabo Mbeki, anti-apartheid activists Father Michael Lapsley and Mathews Phosa, Yasmin Sooka (of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Richard Goldstone (who headed the Goldstone Commission investigations into political violence), the film also highlights the influential and transcendent power of Americans against apartheid and the economic sanctions that were put in place. The Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 was a law enacted by the Congress. Activist and founder of TransAfrica, Randall Robinson, led an anti-apartheid protest in 1986 in New York City—40,000 people showed up--and Chester Crocker, who worked under Reagan, are both interviewed.

The documentary deftly traces the arc of de Klerk’s career as well as the complex process of change. It’s a fascinating and beautifully constructed narrative detailing how a society progresses when laws guaranteeing basic human rights are created, and dehumanization and deprivation of these rights are outlawed.