When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 I was 11 years old. It was difficult for me to understand the scope of the event, what it signified in the history of South Africa’s people, and what the impact would be worldwide. Still, despite the fuzziness of childhood memories, Mandela’s face has remained an icon of liberty, a symbol of the breaking of bonds, of reconciliation, and of freedom.
It is only natural then, that Mandela should be counted amongst the Lives That Changed the World in Smithsonian Networks release this month of their 2007 documentary of his life on DVD. Lives That Changed the World: Nelson Mandela is a 45-minute homage to the man who was so instrumental in building peace in the apartheid-torn country of South Africa.
Having inspired countless individuals with his journey from terrorist to Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Mandela’s personal influence on ten people is explored alongside historical footage in this exploration of his life’s impact. Among these individuals are his daughter Zindzi, who spent her formative years apart from her father due to his imprisonment, his former prison guard, a South African musician who was influenced by Mandela’s revolutionary vision, a Canadian schoolteacher who shares about the impact of Mandela’s release on his teaching, and others. Perhaps the most touching however is the testimony of Adriaan Vlok, former minister of law and order during apartheid rule.
Vlok shares his experiences seeking forgiveness and reconciliation for his sins both publicly and privately – the only apartheid-era minister to do so. His humble and heartfelt thoughts on the process of reconciliation brought me to tears.
The DVD features a standard scene selection menu, stereo and surround sound audio options, and optional English subtitles. The compact running time of Nelson Mandela makes it an easy-to-schedule supplementary learning opportunity for Black History Month for junior and senior high students. Younger children may be disturbed by the historical footage of the civil unrest and violent governmental retribution that took place in South Africa.
How can such a man’s life be measured within the span of a brief documentary? Simply put, it can’t be. Nelson Mandela does not touch upon Mandela’s early life, nor does it speak to his relational ties with any apart from those interviewed in the film. As such, the DVD can’t be considered a true biography. What we can glimpse however, is a part of what Nelson Mandela has meant to this world, and pass on his vision of peaceful equality to our own children.