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15/06/2018

The recent screening of former British High Court Judge Nicholas Stadlen’s documentary Life is Wonderful in Nelson Mandela Bay has reinforced the national call for the inclusion of such authentic depictions and aspects of South African history into the curriculum.

Life is Wonderful is the culmination of a series of interviews in which the surviving roleplayers, at the time, of the monumental Rivonia Trial recount their experiences. The infamous trial saw the sentencing of anti-apartheid activists – including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and Raymond Mhlaba – to life on Robben Island in 1964.

It features some of the accused – including Andrew Mlangeni, Dennis Goldberg and the now late Ahmed Kathrada – and members of the formidable legal team representing them, led by Bram Fischer, that included George Bizos and the late Joel Joffe.

The documentary was screened to Nelson Mandela University staff and students as well as members of the public on Monday, 11 June 2018, at the Athenaeum, in a joint venture between the Mandela Bay Development Agency and the institution. Film creator Sir Stadlen, who was in attendance, met with a group Mandela University’s Law Faculty staff and students the following day.

The Judge is touring South Africa, with the documentary being screened at various sites across the country, on the eve of what has come to be known as Mandela Month (July) as the world marks the centenary of the birth of the icon.

Mandela University’s Executive Dean of the Law Faculty, Prof Avinash Govindjee, who hosted the Judge on behalf of the institution, said the documentary, and the Judge’s visit, was a significant moment for the University and faculty.

“Being forced to confront our history, in particular the role played by lawyers during the struggle and the huge sacrifices made by a number of people in order to combat the apartheid state, is absolutely crucial to enable us to move forward in a way that accords with the values underlying our Constitution,” he said.

“The Rivonia Trial was a watershed occurrence in our country's history. It placed a select group of defendants and their families, their attorneys and advocates in the crosshairs of the government of the time, and the way they responded is nothing short of heroic.”

Prof Govindjee described the documentary as inspirational, adding that it should be made compulsory viewing for learners and students in the country’s education system.

“From a legal perspective, the film presented by Sir Stadlen is absolutely inspirational and should be compulsory viewing for law students, in particular, and indeed all students, across the country,” he said.

“The documentary and subsequent interaction with Sir Stadlen has given us much food for thought. In particular, how our legal history can be presented to students, as part of the curriculum, in order to contextualise the events of the past and provide a lens through which to view present debates.”

 Life is Wonderful was a project sparked by a newspaper article in which Dennis Goldberg commented on the passing of Nelson Mandela five years ago and honours the unsung heroes of one of the world’s most famous and historic trials.

Intrigued by the numerous news articles, films and documentaries that had flooded global screens in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, Sir Stadlen reached out to Mr Goldberg as one of his surviving fellow accused.

“I was in Cape Town when Nelson Mandela died and I was fascinated by the history, in particular the Rivonia Trial, and the people who knew Nelson Mandela,” says Sir Stadlen. “I then called up the reporter and asked for help with connecting with Mr Goldberg. And they did.”

That encounter led to the journey of revisiting the history of the Rivonia Trial, speaking to and getting the recounts from the surviving accused and lawyers who were central to the trial.

Postgraduate Law student, Nathi Dwayi, hailed the documentary as an important historical film, the contents of which he says are not fully captured or adequately reflected in the current legal history books.

“It would be great for these to form part of the legal and history curricula as it would bring about a great sense of pride and honour in us towards our profession, considering the role that it has played in emancipating the people of South Africa. This, through the examples of the people it features, in particular Bram Fischer, and how, as upcoming legal scholars, we have a great responsibility and duty to continue in their fashion to the extent that we can and should towards ensuring social justice,” he said.

Sir Stadlen said his wish has been to have the documentary aired on national television for all to access it and a deal to that effect is in the pipeline.

Contact information
Ms Zandile Mbabela
Media Manager
Tel: 0415042777
Zandile.Mbabela@mandela.ac.za