Sello Motloung as Nelson Mandela in An Act of Defiance. Picture: Supplied
Sello Motloung as Nelson Mandela in An Act of Defiance. Picture: Supplied

'Act of Defiance' tells the story of Bram Fischer

By Masego Panyane Time of article published Apr 30, 2019

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Defiance was one of the primary motivators for the anti-apartheid activists, especially because the law was unjust.

An Act of Defiance tells the story of Bram Fischer (Peter Paul Muller) and his family. For those who may not know, Fischer was a member of the legal team for the Rivonia Treason trialists.

The trial began in October 1963 and ended in June 1964 with the 10 accused - Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Ahmed Kathrada, Lionel Bernstein, James Kantor, Dennis Goldberg, Elias Motsoaledi and Andrew Mlangeni.

It is one of the most important events in the history of our country because it was one of the apartheid government’s many heinous acts, but a significant one because it sought to ultimately neutralise the anti-apartheid movement’s activities in and around the country by locking up the leadership.

This film focuses particularly on Fischer as the leader of the defence team and the personal sacrifices he makes as an Afrikaner man and chairperson of the Johannesburg Bar Council to be a part of this defence team, but also as the leader of the South African Communist Party, a banned organisation at the time.

A large portion of it takes place during the trial, with the focus not necessarily being the actual trial, but the lives of the people involved in it, namely Fischer and his family.

One of the most important things to me of a film of this magnitude and historical significance is the accuracy of such films.

I am glad to say this was in the correct region of accuracy, even though it seems perhaps for the purposes of simpler storytelling, certain details were left out.

Another thing I am grateful for is that it’s a film that is properly constructed. While the sound-scape of the film was just enough to not distract you completely, it allowed the action on the film to unfold. 

The shots of the film and how they’re orchestrated are important to keep the timing of the film realistic. It feels like 1963. From the wardrobe, to the cars to the buildings.

While it will forever rub me up the wrong way to have actors that are not South African in the lead roles of local films, I am prepared to concede that Muller’s portrayal of Fischer was quite stellar. 

It also helps that he was flanked by a talented cast of local actors and actresses namely Antoinette Louw who played his wife Molly, and Sello Motloung who played Mandela.

The film tells us at the end that after the trial, Fischer continued his activities as an anti-apartheid activist, and that when he died, he was cremated, his ashes confiscated by the government and to this day, they have not been found.

A film like this is vital on the eve of the celebration of our 25 years of democracy because it reminds us of what it is that we sacrificed as a people to get here today, and to never, ever, allow the distortion of history that aims to whitewash the apartheid era to prevail.

'An Act of Defiance' is a beautifully crafted and moving film. It is a celebration of the triumph of the human spirit and a lesson in how to be a good ally.

The film is in cinemas nationwide.


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