While most people are well aware of the years of civil unrest which led to the demise of Apartheid in 1994, not as many know about the secret talks that simultaneously transpired for almost a decade between the South African government and the African National Congress (ANC), the political party spearheading the independence movement. Since the racist regime officially opposed the notion of negotiating with terrorists, President P.W. Botha (Timothy West) couldn’t let the white minority know that he had, in fact, dispatched an emissary to England to meet with a representative of the outlawed ANC.
A series of clandestine meetings were set up by Michael Young (Jonny Lee Miller) an executive with Consolidated Goldfields, a British mining company with financial interests in the region and thus a big stake in a smooth transition to majority rule. So, Young enlisted Professor Will Esterhuyse (William Hurt) to serve as an intermediary between the two warring factions. Esterhuyse reluctantly accepted the assignment and would play a pivotal role in getting ANC leader Thabo Mbeki (Chiwetel Ejiofor) to speak on behalf of imprisoned Nelson Mandela (Clarke Peters) while Dr. Niel Barnard (Mark Strong) did the same for the Boer-Afrikaners.
The ensuing intellectual confrontation is the focus of Endgame, a powerful docudrama directed by Pete Travis (Omagh) and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor in a golden Globe-nominated performance. Given that the movie revolves mostly around discussions, don’t expect much n the way of action and you won’t be disappointed. The picture is nonetheless fairly intriguing, especially when presenting the contrast of what politicians were saying in public at a time when they were simultaneously so desperate to cut a deal.
For instance, F.W. de Klerk (Matthew Marsh) is shown arrogantly dismissing Mandela’s words as “existential ramblings about universal suffrage,” despite being frightened by the escalation of attacks on whites, such as the bombing of a shopping center in Johannesburg which claimed the lives of a number of civilians.
But Mbeki kept his pedal to the medal, making no concessions on equality, insisting that “only when we can fully participate in a democratic process will armed struggle become obsolete.” The popular movement ultimately prevailed, of course, which proved to be no mean feat, given that Apartheid enjoyed the military backing of the United States, particularly over the course of the Reagan administration.
Yet, Mbeki, who would later follow Mandela as President, sought reconciliation rather than revenge once the hostilities ceased, saying “If we are to truly win our freedom, we must first banish bitterness,” An inspirational tale chronicling the contributions of a few unseen players in the South African struggle for independence.