Lenora Crichlow discovers the real Nelson Mandela
The man responsible for peace in South Africa is Nelson Mandela. Everyone knows the name but how much do you really know about the man behind the myth and the reality of what he was fighting for?
Being Human's Lenora Crichlow went on a personal journey to South Africa to discover just how important Mandela was and still is today. I asked her to tell us more about the experience....
Lenora, there's been quite a few documentaries about Nelson Mandela, what attracted you to take part in this particular film?
It's a very emotional, personal take on the whole Mandela and South Africa story rather than a factual Wikipedia page of his history. You should definitely get a factual sense of what happened but I'm not a journalist. I do think my attraction to it was that I'm interested in the people and the feel of South Africa rather than the facts and figures.
At the beginning of the film, we see that your own father was imprisoned for fighting for black rights in Britain and that Nelson Mandela was a significant figure in your childhood....
Absolutely and that's why it just sounded like an opportunity too good to be missed. Obviously because of my personal connection to Mandela and having had his story as part of my childhood I knew how awesome he was. it was one of those things that terrified me because the idea of doing anything as me, Lenora and not being able to hide behind a load of storylines and characters terrifies me. But it was a gut feeling that this could be something amazing. And it was.
The experience for me on a personal level was brilliant and I think one that I'll always remember. And I think it is such an honour to be asked to bring this story to different generations and to this country.
I thought I should say yes and ignore all my fears about doing it right and exposing myself. I just thought, you know what? It's not about you for once Lenora! (laughs)
It definitely came across as a very moving journey for you; especially when you went to Robben Island to visit the cell that Mandela was imprisoned in. How did that feel?
Because I knew they did tours of the cell, I felt quite prepared for visiting the actual place. But what really threw me was that I didn't realise that my guide who took me round was actually a prisoner there. He doesn't take people to his own cell but he was sharing his experience with me and there's a story he told me about his father that he hasn't shared with everyone.
There were actually a few bits that I didn't realise that they were filming when we were speaking. So meeting him was a very profound experience for me and very emotional. Mandela is the name, but it really brought home how many people his story and struggle represents. It blew me away and that sort of set the tone for the rest of the documentary because he looked at me and said 'Take our story home with you'. It felt like a huge honour that he shared that with me.
Watch Lenora's visit to Robben Island...
You didn't get a chance to speak to Mandela himself, as he doesn't give interviews these days, but you did meet his grandchildren. How important was that in getting a sense of him as a real, human person as opposed to a mythological figure?
There's nothing like meeting someone's family to get a true sense of them and a reflection of their ethics and personality. It just makes them a more rounded person. It was lovely to be able to meet them, and I think they bring a lot to the documentary in terms of compensating for not actually meeting him.
It wasn't all positive though, when you went to the site of the Sharpeville Massacre you were confronted by people who were obviously still very angry towards Mandela...
Yes for me it was very interesting and actually quite refreshing to hear. Because when we were filming in South Africa I was obviously witnessing huge poverty and a huge divide. You know, we didn't visit a white township. So as positive as everyone is, you do have to kind of think, OK but there's still glaring separation and lots of segregation. And there's still a long way to go and you can't ignore that.
So it was a really important side of the story to explore and represent. It's incredibly inspirational and they've come a long, long way from where they were but of course it's not that simple. South Africa is huge and the people and the history are complex. It's never going to be that simple to move on from something like apartheid.
And finally, what are you hoping that viewers will take away from this programme when they watch it?
I'd like people to take away a thirst for more, to explore this history. I was talking to a lady who's not that much older than me, who was voting for the first time in 1994. This history is not that far away from us and I think it's important for us younger generations to realise how recent this is. It's a hugely inspirational story of change. I hope that it interests people enough that they do their own digging and research and take what they will from it.
Lenora Crichlow presents Who is Nelson Mandela? which is on BBC Three tonight at 9pm.
- Watch more clips from the programme
- BBC News: Mandela's life and times
- More about the Sharpeville Massacre
- Also on BBC Three: WAGs, Kids and World Cup Dreams
- The WAGs' Stories
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Dana Stevens is online content producer for BBC Three online.