-- Translation of advance text --
It is a great honour for me to speak to you today.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been here, nor is it the first time I’ve been at the presentation of the German Cinema Award for Peace – The Bridge. I’m not only delighted that I’m here to deliver the citation for a second time but also that the jury has again selected a great film: “Mandela – Long Walk to Freedom” by Justin Chadwick. This is a magnificent film with magnificent actors, produced by the pioneer and visionary of South African film: Anant Singh!
I was at the film’s German première in Berlin and watched it again in peace and quiet at a later point in time. I enjoyed it because it isn’t a sanitised tale of a hero but a film biography which doesn’t shy away from the hero’s contradictions and weaknesses. I particularly enjoyed it because the Mandela portrayed here is much closer to us than the demi‑god in countless other depictions.
I was fascinated by him throughout his life but, unfortunately, I never met him in person.
Nevertheless, I see him nearly every day! The famous photo by Jürgen Schadeberg, the German photographer who documented the anti‑apartheid movement, has been hanging in my office at the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin for many years. You all know it: Mandela in his cell on Robben Island, his elbow on the sill, looking towards the horizon full of energy and hope.
Beside it is Rainer Fetting’s sculpture of Willy Brandt – and that’s no coincidence.
Brandt and Mandela, who was only four years younger, had much in common.
In their own countries and in their own different ways, they gave their nations freedom and dignity:
They fostered peace where others sowed the seeds of hate.
They forgave and asked for forgiveness where others were still out for revenge.
They were tireless in their efforts to overcome borders, walls and ideologies which made enemies out of neighbours. That’s why the portraits of these two great figures of the 20th century are hanging in my office – as role models and as constant reminders.
Justin Chadwick enables us to experience the “Long Walk to Freedom”, including the detours and dead ends! He shows us the seemingly endless road which Nelson Mandela and South Africa had to travel along – from the racist doctrine of an inhumane regime, unimaginable violence, personal persecution and the resistance to all of this which landed him in prison for 27 years – to the first free election of President Nelson Mandela.
It was a road full of setbacks and bitter disappointments. The film shows that they took away everything from him, except hope!
Nelson Mandela took the decisive step along this long road when he offered peace to the white apartheid government. He offered peace to a terror regime which, as a young man, he had fought not only with speeches but also with bombs. To a society which had hunted him down as a terrorist, put him on trial and incarcerated him, which destroyed his life, his family and his love.
Only hope kept him alive when everything fell apart.
Only hope kept him standing upright in the almost three decades he spent in his cell.
Only hope preserved his dignity and strength for the struggle to free South Africa’s outcasts.
No‑one would have had more right to take revenge than he did! But Nelson Mandela didn’t want revenge: “There is only one way forward and that is peace”, he says in the film to his doubting supporters and promises them free and equal elections by secret ballot. This is followed by a painful struggle with those who want to resume the fight with the regime’s henchmen; who are seeking the decisive battle. We suffer with the mature Mandela who is brought to the brink of failure once more by the impatience of young people.
Then a miracle happens. We see black people queueing outside a polling station, impatiently waiting to finally vote. Those who’ve already voted come out cheering and start to dance. This enthusiasm is passed on to those still waiting and finally the whole long queue dances and celebrates to African rhythms.
For me, this is one of the most touching scenes in the film and it should be shown now and again to the notorious non‑voters in our own country!
With Naomie Harris – as Winnie Mandela – and, above all, Idris Elba – as Nelson Mandela – your husband, Justin Chadwick, found the ideal actors for the leading roles.
The statement announcing the jury’s decision rightly says: Idris Elba “allows us to truly experience, understand, love and admire Mandela, the man, about whom everyone thinks they know so much yet who is far away”.
In 1990, just a few weeks after his release following 27 years’ imprisonment, Nelson Mandela came to Germany.
Willy Brandt welcomed him to our country.
Brandt called out to him, “The captive Nelson Mandela was already a symbol of fearlessness for us! [...] The free Nelson Mandela is even more: he symbolises both the spirit of reconciliation and peace.”
Brandt went on to say that Mandela was “entitled to be bitter or at least to be tired and weary of fighting. But here a man has come without hatred, without hostility, without the wish for revenge, but instead with the desire to break the vicious cycle of suppression and violence and to bring together and help heal a bloody country torn apart by racial segregation”.
Mandela isn’t history. We can still learn from him.
I wonder if I should take the DVD of this film with me to Syria, Afghanistan or to Ukraine!
We can only hope that this film finds large audiences in all of these countries! Perhaps it could help to make people stop and think about endless tit‑for‑tat violence.
Let me come back to Willy Brandt: “Peace isn’t everything”, he said “But without peace there is nothing.”
With apologies to Bertold Brecht, let me conclude by saying, “Peace – that is the simple thing which is difficult to make.”
That is the very message of this film. That’s why it deserves this award!