Long Walk to Freedom: An Early Review

By Shehnaz

long walk to freedom movie poster

Last night I got to attend the premiere of Long Walk to Freedom in Cape Town. It was really exciting to share in event. Firstly because of the glitz and glamour of a red carpet event, we got to observe rather than rub shoulders with politicians and prominent folks in the SA film industry. And the best part is that they give you free popcorn!

The movie is very good and I think the actors do a really great job with portraying these larger than life characters. The movie is a made for Hollywood movie and so certain important incidents in the history of the liberation struggle are either condescend or left out – but I feel that the film does a good job in getting Mabida’s story across.

There are a few thoughts that the movie sparked that I want to share with you all.

Firstly (and I know I go on about this quite a lot): But I think now if people say things like ‘nothing has changed’ I think they are morons or, if I am kinder, perhaps I could say people are ignorant of SA’s history. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is a still a great deal that must be fixed/changed: We can’t continue to live in a country with appalling levels of poverty and shameful inequality. But a lot has changed. Quite importantly, we now have a different political culture – the current government and organs of state are far from perfect but we no longer have a government that unleashes unbridled cruelty on the majority of the population.

I am often frustrated when overseas visitors who are shocked by the inequality tell me that having a progressive constitution means nothing, and that the negotiated settlement was a sell out. I think big business got away with blue murder. I am, however, not one of those people who thinks that violence would have given us a better, more equal society; in fact, I think it would be been much harder to rebuild a society from the devastating effects of war. I also believe that, though the constitution may not translate into something tangible for someone (Irene Grootboom passed away without getting her house) and though the process is frustrating, slow and painful (especially for those who are poor), it signals a major change, at least now to some extent we all agree that people should have access to quality healthcare or excellent education and we can’t get tortured for holding such a position. We have a lot to do to make these ideals a reality.

And the other pretty awesome aspect of the movie is that although I was watching a epic drama unfold on the big screen it was not some distant tale. I’ve been fortunate to meet some of the people portrayed in the film some happen to be family acquaintances. 

The organisation I previously worked for had a weird culture of breaking things down, which I think is very different from my politics (which is probably why I like interfaith spaces) because it focuses on bridging gaps, connecting people and in short just building. When I worked at my old job, I was often told that my opinions were invalid and this was premised on the bases that I am Indian and middle class. Needless to say my mind was constantly scrambled, trying to figure out where I would fit in. It was like high school all over again. 

For most of this year I have been working as a research assistant on a book about Charlotte Maxeke, and as a result I have been reading and learning about South Africa’s history. And last night I saw part of that history unfold on the big screen. I may not fit neatly into a story that folks wish to hear about South Africa, my parents were not blue-collar workers, and I did not a struggle against all odds to have an education. But this land, the history, the politics have inevitably contributed to who I am, and I shall forever be grateful to those who sacrificed so that I could know freedom.