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Nelson Mandela is a global icon of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. But this might not have been if it were not for the heroic fight to save Mandela’s life by a legal team led by an Afrikaner revolutionary, Bram Fischer. This is the story of how Mandela was saved from the death penalty in the Rivonia trial of 1963.
On a winter’s day, July 1963 the police raid a farm in Rivonia on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Nine black and white leaders of the banned ANC and “Umkhonto we Sizwe” (the Spear of the Nation) are arrested. And a tenth member, arrested earlier is added to the group of nine, Nelson Mandela.
More than anything the Apartheid regime wanted to sentence freedom fighters to death: not only as a warning to their fellow activists but also to get rid of some of Apartheids’s most feared enemies; in essense to decapitate the liberation movement.
When the families of the suspects try to find a lawyer to defend the accused, the potential candidates are afraid or unwilling to accept the mandate. Widely respected legal mind Bram Fischer also hesitates. He is the Dean of the Bar Association, counsel for major mining magnates and scion of a prominent Afrikaans family.
But Bram hesitates for other reasons: he has a secret that only a few people and his wife, Molly Fischer, know. Bram should have been the eleventh accused, and it was only by chance that he was not present at the farm in Rivonia when his fellow activists were arrested.
He decides to take on the defence. During the trial Bram not only has to unravel the manipulated evidence by the prosecutor, and expose bribed or tortured witnesses, he must also protect himself from detection by witnesses.
During the trial, Bram sees more and more reasons to move away from his principles of nonviolence and becomes prepared to support violent acts of sabotage and the armed uprising of the people. The death penalty for the accused could be the spark igniting the powder keg, and parallel to the trial, Bram is fervently trying to organise the underground resistance.
Then the secret police uncover Bram’s double role and the State Attorney is forced by the Minister of Justice, Balthazar Vorster, to play this card. Bram has a moral dilemma: does he defend his clients, or take care of the welfare and safety of his family?
The film stars Peter Paul Muller, Alles is Liefde, Gooische Vrowen, as Bram Fischer, Sello Motloung, The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Generations, as Nelson Mandela, Antoinette Louw, Die Laaste Tango, Swartwater, Izel Bezuidenhout, Dis Ek, Anna, Agent 2000: Die Laksman en Morne Visser, Dis Ek, Anna, The Forgiven.
Directed by Jean Van De Velde, An Act of Defiance, won the 2017 Movies that Matter Film Festival – Audience Award in the Hague, Netherlands.
An Act of Defiance is releasing on the eve of Freedom Day. The film’s partners include Richard Claus & Co, Spier Films and Cinema Management Group. It is a South African-Dutch co-production, with thanks and recognition to Richard Claus, Michael Auret, Hugh Rogers, Patricia Van Heerden and Dr. Lwazi Manzi as producers. An Act of Defiance is distributed in South Africa by Indigenous Film Distribution.