Interview with Thomas Allen Harris- page 3 | People & Places | Smithsonian
Current Issue
July / August 2014  magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Interview with Thomas Allen Harris

Director of "Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela"

smithsonian.com

(Continued from page 2)

But I noticed as a kid that there was a certain distance. None of us in that house could understand how he experienced living in a place that we called home, and because he had an accent, how he dealt with certain ignorance in America. Or how he dealt with the fact that he didn't have a passport, so he was considered landless—how that affected his sense of power. And then knowing what was happening at home—people were getting killed and tortured and what could he do? And when could he get back to see his family?

Q. But Lee did finally achieve his dream of becoming a broadcaster when the United Nations opened an anti-apartheid center. Can you tell me when he went to work at the UN and what he did there?

A. He was involved in different kinds of UN activities from the time he came here in the late 1960s. But in 1976 they opened the Center Against Apartheid, and he started working there and was hired full time in 1981. The mission of their anti-apartheid media division was to tell the people in South Africa what was happening around the world in terms of the burgeoning anti-apartheid movement. So they would collectively produce these scripts that would be translated into each of the languages of South Africa—and Lee was responsible for transcribing them and recording the Tswana version of the script. His radio show was broadcast from Botswana into South Africa.

Q. Nelson Mandela was released in 1990 and elected president in 1994. When did Lee go back to Bloemfontein to live permanently?

A. He moved there permanently in 1995. He retired from the UN with his pension and built a house in Bloemfontein.

Q. How many of the disciples from Bloemfontein survive today?

A. When I started filming there were seven. Now there are four.

Q. Lee said, "It's nice to be home, but we have a long way to go." Do you think he felt his mission was incomplete?

A. Well, it's a multi-generational struggle. He passed this vision on to me. That's one of the things I realized in going to South Africa, that I had a job to do. And that was one of the main reasons that when I went back, I didn't just make this a historical documentary. I went back and I hired all these young South African actors from Bloemfontein who didn't have any idea this story existed. And so they took this journey with me, and you have all these people now who are thinking about the next step, about what they can contribute. When these disciples got back home, they were old men. You have to pass the baton.

Q. And when will Twelve Disciples reach DVD?

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus