Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela

In tribute to his late stepfather B. Pule Leinaeng (“Lee”), filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris weaves a riveting exploration of family, exile, and home. In telling the story of flesh-and-blood foot soldiers in the fight for a democratic South Africa, Harris also recounts his own difficult relationship with Lee. In 1960, after the Sharpeville massacre, Lee and eleven boyhood friends left their families in Bloemfontein to build the anti-apartheid movement and gain support for the African National Congress abroad. Known as The Twelve Who Left, they blazed a trail through sub-Saharan Africa to Europe, Cuba, and North America that would be followed by thousands of South African exiles, and even met Nelson Mandela in Sudan. Lee later met Harris's mother, and their Bronx household soon became a center for their many friends and comrades in the New York anti-apartheid and Black nationalist movements. Along the way, Lee documented the struggle, his own role, and his personal life. Audiotapes of his voice, old photographs, posters, newsreels, video, and Super 8 film footage including a young Harris anchor the story while interviews with surviving members and family add depth and texture. “I still long for those days when I had the guts of a lion,” laughs their former teacher, now a member of Parliament. Harris adds another risky and beautifully successful element using young people from contemporary Bloemfontein in collaboration with survivors to perform unscripted dramatizations of the early fight against apartheid. Multiple layers of narrative and meaning come together in this story of courage, exile, reconciliation, and hope.

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