My best lesson - The power of Mandela's words lives on in film

23rd May 2014 at 01:00

My film students had heard about Nelson Mandela's death, but even though my school is in East Africa I was surprised to find that most of my class had only a superficial knowledge of this great man.

When I was a teenager, I protested against apartheid in London, marched outside the South African embassy, got people to sign petitions and screamed at my mother for buying Cape grapes. And yet these teenagers knew little of the cold days of apartheid when the African National Congress fought for equality. They did not know that Mandela and others were jailed, that students were forced to learn in Afrikaans, that black people carried pass books wherever they went and were beaten by police. They were unaware that black South Africans only gained the right to a vote in 1994, just 20 years ago.

I felt so strongly that this lack of knowledge was wrong that I looked for an engaging way to address it. A good starting point was a photo of an apartheid-era sign that excluded non-white people from a premises, which I used to stimulate a philosophical enquiry.

The response from students was astounding. They vehemently objected to the sign and all that it stood for. They could not believe that such a situation had ever existed. "Why treat others like animals?" they asked. "Why were the whites so racist?" "Why did whites think they were superior?" "Why choose segregation instead of unity?" An energetic debate followed.

We went on to discuss a few clips from Invictus, a film that makes the history of post-apartheid South Africa accessible for any audience. It brilliantly encapsulates the turning point in 1995 when Mandela walked on to the field of Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg wearing a Springboks jersey for the team's victory at the Rugby World Cup final.

We finished with the trailer for the film Long Walk to Freedom (pictured). The lesson had ended but my pupils stood and watched in silence, captivated. I thought to myself how amazing it was that even after his death, Mandela's words immortalised on film have such an impact.

Maggie Miranda is an International Baccalaureate film teacher and the head of creative arts at the Aga Khan Academy in Nairobi, Kenya

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