“What I did prevented a catastrophe in South Africa,” says F.W. de Klerk in “The Other Man,” a new documentary by Nicolas Rossier that explores de Klerk’s legacy as both the President of South Africa who ended Apartheid and a leader who allowed it to continue for much too long.
Rossier says about de Klerk, “To me, de Klerk is the consummate documentary subject: a complicated and misunderstood figure. He is often mentioned by historians as one of the most transformational leaders of our last century, alongside Mikhail Gorbachev. Yet many see him as merely a pragmatist and opportunistic statesman who assured himself a soft landing. I believe the reality is more complicated.”
In a short 75 minutes, Rossier includes interviews with de Klerk himself, filmed in 2011, and with numerous other players in South Africa, as well as archival footage and the occasional shot with narrative to explain the passage of events. The result is a nuanced and balanced look at a man who is virtually unknown to children in South Africa who were born in the 1990’s. These children grew up in a very different country, and many of them are unaware of the role de Klerk played in the differences they enjoy.
The film explores the “uncomfortable” relationship between de Klerk and Nelson Mandela, and the differing opinions about de Klerk. What he did certainly took courage because he negotiated the end of his own system and, in the process, had to break away from most of the people who had supported him politically. Still, there are plenty of people who hold him responsible for the more than 20,000 deaths during the Apartheid era.
De Klerk apologized publicly for Apartheid but continues to assert that he knew nothing of the murders. One interviewee says that newspapers published who they felt were responsible for many of the murders immediately after they took place, and the reporters were never proven wrong. De Klerk was also apparently present at 90% of the meetings where the killings were purportedly discussed. Another interviewee is a former soldier who speaks of the familiar euphemisms used in the orders to torture and kill.
While many wonder how de Klerk couldn’t have known what was happening in his country, Matthew Phosa of the African National Congress says in the film that it has never been the ANC’s agenda to settle scores but instead to fight injustice.
In the words of Rossier, “Despite de Klerk’s controversial record, the transition to democracy remains an oft-cited model of a successful, coup-less regime change and has inspired other societies in transition.”
“The Other Man” opened in New York at Quad Cinemas on February 6, 2015 and will be available on DVD and VOD beginning July 14, 2015.