Mandela’s Robben Island getaway (and other weirdness)

It isn’t often that I find myself agreeing with the folk at African Christian Action. Perhaps this is because I don’t do enough drugs, or because I like things to make sense – I don’t know. But when I recently came across their review of Invictus, I thought that we could finally agree on something, seeing as their headline of “Invictus Idolatry” made it clear they didn’t like the movie. Don’t be confused by the title tag of the African Christian Action review, which might cause your browser to tell you that the article is titled “PROLIFE: Aborsie – Die Feite”. The article is instead an account of why Invictus is evil. And this is indeed true, as I’ve mentioned before.

But while I thought it was a crap movie on the basis of being a mawkish, poorly scripted, glacially-paced and poorly acted account of a largely imagined period of South African history, the African Christian Action (ACA) reviewer didn’t like it because Mandela was a “terrorist” who didn’t really even have such a hard life while imprisoned. In fact,

prisoners on Robben Island were allowed to walk freely around the Island during the day and were only locked up at night. No mention was made of the very comfortable warden’s house at Victor Verster (five star) prison where Mandela spent his last years of confinement.

Mandela’s life as a free-range chicken (The Doctor’s quip, not mine) on Robben Island must have really irritated the other prisoners, who apparently didn’t get to wander around as freely, and were instead only allowed to make toys out of stones, that they had to extract from the earth themselves. During these constitutionals, Mandela apparently concocted various nefarious schemes around encouraging crime and weakening the Rand, making ACA wish he’d been kept somewhere a bit more hardcore. Judging by their tone, the fires of Hades might just have been sufficient:

During 46 years of National Party apartheid rule over 18,000 people had been killed by rioters, terrorists, by the police and the army, on all sides, including terrorists, civilian victims, military casualties and police. A total of 18,000 dead during 46 years of conflict. However, in peacetime, under Nelson Mandela, an average of 20,000 to 25,000 people were murdered every year.

Under Nelson Mandela even with no war, no sanctions, no riots, no conscription, and with massive international aid and investment, the Rand plummeted to R8 to the Dollar, and even R10 to the Dollar, then R12 and even to R14 to the Dollar for a time.

The first set of figures, above, seem to be deaths related to political action, while the Mandela-era ones probably include all deaths, regardless of motive. And one wonders whether the death tally pre-Mandela’s release includes those resulting from terrorist action on the part of the Apartheid government? Or, perhaps this is simply bollocks. StatsSA seem to think it is, judging by this graph, which shows a consistent decline in murder rates since 1994:

How embarrassing for StatsSA, who clearly haven’t realised that need to consult with ACA before spreading such misinformation. Economists clearly also have a lot to learn from Hammond, Hodgson and the rest of these loons, as currency valuation turns out to be an incredibly simple business. Those Christians are surely making a fortune on the stock market, which explains Ray McCauley’s bling, I suppose.

Invictus is also (apparently) anti-Christian – not only because the depiction of an inspirational Mandela doesn’t include mention of his being an enthusiastic supporter of pornography and abortion, but also in that the movie “give[s] a very anaemic presentation of the Springbok team kneeling in prayer after their victory, but it is such a lame and limp “Thanks Lord for letting us win the game” that it just doesn’t ring true”. Bloody hell – what do these people want? It’s not a devotional movie – it was meant to be some sort of epic fable of struggle and redemption (of reputations on the playing field), and the fact that there’s any praying in it is more than you should expect.

The “ugly reality”, according to ACA’s review, is that

During the very time covered by the movie many hundreds of white farmers, and their wives and children, were being brutally murdered, actually tortured to death, often by UmKhonto we Sizwe guerillas, many of whom were now part of the South African National Defence Force.

What strikes me as significantly more ugly is the frequent distortions of history, and the racist tone of much of this review. It’s an entirely opportunistic selection of a few details, carefully selected to fit into an existing confirmation bias, and delivered in a hyperbolic and fear-mongering tone. The review does, however, make perfect sense in its closing sentence, which asks: “But surely any sport team’s victory is to the credit of the Manager, the Coach and the team members’ dedication, training, fitness and skill?”

Indeed. But it does makes me wonder why the reviewer makes such a fuss about the lack of praying, as it would seem odd for professional sportsmen to waste their time on such activities moments before a difficult match.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.