A film based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, is being engulfed in a political storm after revelations that it is part funded by a weapons manufacturer.
While the South African government confirmed that R75-million of the film’s R261-million budget is being contributed by the German group Ferrostaal, which has been accused of paying bribes to secure contracts, the company’s successful bid for a multibillion-rand arms deal has haunted South African politics for a decade. The contribution to Long Walk to Freedom is one the deal’s “offset” commitments to job-creating investments.
The production company behind the film, Videovision, described it as “the most ambitious South African film project ever mounted” and the “definitive” Mandela film, comparing his epic struggle to those of Gandhi and Lawrence of Arabia. Tom Hooper, whose CV includes The King’s Speech, The Damned United and the Golden Globe-winning series John Adams, was recruited last year to direct the film by Anant Singh, the film’s producer.
Cloud of corruption
The Democratic Alliance (DA) criticised Ferrostaal’s “sponsorship” of a film about the nation’s most revered political icon. Tim Harris, the DA’s shadow minister of trade and industry, said: “A cloud of corruption allegations hangs over Ferrostaal: they are under investigation in several European countries and their head offices in Germany were raided last year.
“This raises serious questions about the appropriateness of their funding of a movie about a moral giant like Nelson Mandela. Would it not have been relatively easy for Anant Singh to raise funds from less questionable sources, especially for the telling of such an important and compelling story?”
Harris also rejected as “unbelievable” the trade and industry minister Rob Davies’s claim that the film would generate 28,000 jobs. “Aside from the possible exaggeration of the number of jobs created, it is clear that the vast majority of what the minister calls ‘jobs’ would actually be short-term work opportunities.” The DA’s trade spokesperson said he would ask the Nelson Mandela Foundation whether it was aware of the link between the Long Walk to Freedom project and Ferrostaal, and whether it believes such an association is appropriate.
The foundation declined to comment on Tuesday. However, a press release last year from Videovision quoted the foundation’s chief executive, Achmat Dangor: “This cinematic depiction can add immensely to the powerful story of a remarkable human being. We are sure that Anant Singh and Tom Hooper will do justice to Nelson Mandela’s epic tale.”
Mandela has been the subject of several big screen portrayals, including Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman, and the forthcoming Winnie, in which he will be played by Terrence Howard opposite Jennifer Hudson. Casting for Long Walk to Freedom has not been announced. – guardian.co.uk