Nelson Mandela plays Creon

From an article by André Brink in the Guardian Weekend Magazine 22 May 1999:

Nelson Mandela in the sixtiesOne year in the late 60s, the play chosen for performance at Christmas by inmates of South Africa's notorious Robben Island prison was Antigone. In Athol Fugard's memorable version of the event in The Island, Sophocles was given a new lease of life, with particular and poignant relevance to the struggle for liberation from apartheid in South Africa. In the Robben Island production, the man who volunteered to play Creon had very little stage experience, his only prior role of some note having been, significantly, that of John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln's assassin, in a college show. That man was Nelson Rolihlala Mandela. Although, like his fellow actors, he primarily identified with Antigone, he brought to the interpretation of Creon what must have been, in retrospect, a peculiar insight:

"Of course you cannot know a man completely,
his character, his principles, sense of judgment
not till he's shown his colour, ruling the people,
making laws. Experience, there's the test."

The Creon Test

Brink continues, comparing Mandela with other candidates for "men of the century". Churchill, De Gaulle, Ben Gurion, Eisenhower, he suggests were great war leaders, "but their achievements in peacetime government invariably turned out to be, putting it generously, less impressive, if not downright embarrassing." Other contenders? Kennedy and Che Guevara were "saved by assassination". Gandhi and Martin Luther King "rose to eminence in their campaigns for liberation against all odds, and then fell victims to violence, their moral greatness intact, without ever being submitted to the ultimate test: succeeding in their struggle and coping with power themselves."

Mandela, he says is unique in facing the "Creon Test" [which Creon himself, one has to admit, failed!] - and doubly so in withdrawing from power at the height of his success and popularity.

Back to Antigone page?  [Previous Page?]