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The Man Who Drove with Mandela

Nelson Mandela was an anti-fascist leader who actively opposed the stringent apartheid laws in South Africa circa 1960. Mandela is universally recognized and venerated for his organization of and struggle with armed resistance to end the apartheid regime for the purpose of promoting racial equality. He led the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), successfully fighting for multi-racial democracy. Much is known about Mandela’s involvement, aforementioned struggles, and his subsequent service as president of South Africa. However, an important affiliate, who directly assisted Mandela in pursuing racial equality as well as human rights, remains overlooked. Cecil Williams, the man who Mandela chauffeured during the apartheid, not only risked his life for racial equality but also made a significant contribution towards outlawing the discrimination of people on the basis of their sexual orientation in South Africa.

In Greta Schiller’s film, “The Man Who Drove with Mandela,” the audience is transported to apartheid-ridden South Africa in 1962. Cecil Williams is introduced as the White gentlemen that Mandela chauffeured for, but both clandestinely collaborated undercover as freedom fighters. Having Mandela pose as his driver, Williams was able to help Mandela travel around South Africa unnoticed to convene with the ANC, organizing meetings. In addition to Williams’ active advocacy for racial equality, he also served as a great enabler to social equality and justice for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (GLBTQ) subculture at the time. Williams lived and directed theater productions in Johannesburg, South Africa as an implicitly gay man. Though his colleagues were not familiar with the existence of gay South African culture, they recognized that Williams’identified as gay. Subsequently the issues of social justice and equality, specifically discrimination against GLBTQ, became an important part of the overall movement. Post-apartheid South Africa later became the first country in the world to include sexual orientation as a protected, constitutional right.

The tragedy of apartheid can be so overwhelming that often times it may be difficult to find lessons. The uprising against apartheid shows the need for cross-cultural collaboration to end injustice, and the need for coalitions of diverse peoples to achieve equality. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” From the film, “The Man Who Drove with Mandela,” one is reminded of the importance of recognizing the overlap between racial and social equality within social justice. This movie paints a portrait which calls for social awareness and reassessment of myopic attitudes, perspectives. Ultimately, the film serves as a model and an inspiration for the GLBTQ community and for the general public to become allies.

By Stefanie Chin, CMASS writer