The Other Man: F. W. De Klerk and the End of Apartheid (First Run Features, NR)

dvd other-manIt’s easy to say “to keep everything good for the whites and keep the blacks out of power,” but that would be too facile.



Everyone knows who Nelson Mandela was. In contrast, say “F. W. de Klerk” to anyone who’s not a political junkie, and you’re likely to draw a blank stare. It’s not taking anything away from Mandela to say that de Klerk also played a key role in ending apartheid in South Africa, a role recognized by their joint Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. The Other Man: F. W. De Klerk and the End of Apartheid, a straightforward documentary by Nicolas Rossier, examines the path that took de Klerk from his conservative white South African roots, where the benefits to the apartheid system were assumed, to becoming one of the key players in dismantling that system. As one commentator in this film notes, de Klerk helped create the modern apartheid system, and then he helped dismantle it.

Rossier allows de Klerk time to try to explain, from his own point of view, what the supposed benefits of the apartheid system were. It’s easy to say “to keep everything good for the whites and keep the blacks out of power,” but that would be too facile, and white Americans who benefit from racism, whether they acknowledge it or not, should be careful about casting stones in their glass houses. According to de Klerk, the system of “separate development” was meant to benefit both blacks and whites, providing each according to their needs, a similar justification often offered for the “separate but equal” systems developed here in the United States. De Klerk also said that white South Africans were afraid of fostering the creation of a dictator along the lines of Idi Amin, and felt that the blacks were simply at a lower level of development and were not ready to handle political power.

I would call BS, but fortunately there are voices within this film to do that for me. The Other Man is not a hagiography, and allows other speakers to challenge de Klerk’s statements. De Klerk himself also says that he realizes that the apartheid system was wrong, and apologizes for the wrongs done under it; this may seem like weak tea, but it is more than you will ever hear from the architects of some of America’s segregated systems.

Rossier’s most serious attacks on de Klerk’s version of the truth come following the latter’s statements before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. De Klerk admits that his government committed many violations of human rights, including imprisoning people without trial, but that his government never engaged in assassination of political rivals. In response, a chorus of voices points out that as the head of the government, it was unlikely that he did not know about the assassinations and that it was certainly his responsibility to know. In addition, records show that he attended most meeting of the police counterinsurgency unit C1, which carried out many assassinations, and thus almost certainly did know what they were doing.

Extras on the DVD include several brief featurettes and bios of the filmmakers. The featurettes are “20 Years After Apartheid” (6 min.), which includes interviews with de Klerk, Mbeki, and others about how South Africa has fared since the end of apartheid; “The Quantum Leap Speech” (9 min.), about de Klerk’s Feb. 2, 1990, speech, which announced the political changes that led to the end of apartheid; and “Vox Populi” (5 min.), a series of “man on the street” interviews with a varied group of South Africans about de Klerk. | Sarah Boslaugh

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