1994: The Bloody Miracle

//1994: The Bloody Miracle
1994: The Bloody Miracle 2017-03-06T15:26:15+00:00

Project Description

Our much talked about feature documentary, made with Sabido Productions, explores the dramatic last year of apartheid.  The film was broadcast numerous times on eNCA throughout Africa, as well as by eTV and the Netherlands’ VPRO.

In July 2014, the documentary won the audience award at the Durban International Film Festival.  It also opened the Nobel Peace Laureate Youth Summit, and the Watch Africa Festival in Wales as part of the ‘Freedom Tour’ in the UK.  It was also selected as the closing night film at the Encounters Documentary Film Festival.

1994: the bloody miracle was used as part of the Cypriot peace initiative and Boondogle Films has collaborated with the Nelson Mandela Foundation to screen the film at educational institutions throughout South Africa to initiate dialogue around democracy and the complexity of reconciliation.

Project Summary

PROJECT TITLE: 1994 – The Bloody Miracle

FORMAT: Feature Documentary

LOGLINE: 1994: The Bloody Miracle is an investigation into the resistors who tried to derail South Africa’s first democratic elections, pushing the country to the brink of civil war.

GENRE: Documentary



DIRECTORS: Meg Rickards & Bert Haitsma



EDITORS: Catherine Meyburgh & Luke Younge

PRODUCTION COMPANY: Sabido Productions & Boondogle Films


2014 marked the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994. It seems hard, though, to believe the ‘Mandela miracle’ nearly didn’t happen.

What history forgets is that during the last year of Apartheid, South Africa was on the brink of catastrophe, with certain groups intent on derailing the first free elections.

Now, for the first time, those responsible for countless deaths and widespread mayhem explain how they nearly brought the country to its knees. The film reveals white right wing plans for a military coup, and uncovers a plot to kidnap Mandela and the new leaders-in-waiting and imprison them in neighbouring Angola. Meanwhile the Zulu organisation Inkatha was locked in an ever more violent power struggle with the ANC. In certain areas, this feud turned to full-scale civil war.  The filmmakers speak with eyewitnesses: survivors of massacres and bombings, who still bare the physical and emotional scars of that time.

What’s more – in an exclusive interview behind bars – hit squad commander Eugene de Kock lays bare the role of the Apartheid State in undermining the transition, and the complicity of those in the highest echelons of power.

In rare interviews, former President F.W. De Klerk and current President Jacob Zuma answer questions about the extent of this State complicity.

1994 is a chilling look at how far some hard men went to thwart democracy, but how they have now made an uneasy peace with the ‘Rainbow Nation’ in their own different ways.

Featuring stunning cinematography combined with unseen archival footage, a riveting music score, and narration by Dr John Kani, this landmark documentary will change the way people remember South Africa’s so-called miracle.


Statement by Directors Meg Rickards & Bert Haitsma

It seems that people often take democracy and freedom in South Africa for granted. We wanted to make a film that would confront the viewer with the levels of anger and of fear that existed in the lead-up to the first democratic elections, lest we forget how close our country came to the brink of civil war.  Twenty years on seemed like a good time for looking back, for taking stock.

We learned a lot of things along the way that really shattered our pre-conceptions. We had a notion of the Third Force’s involvement in stirring up violence, but had no idea of the extent of the meddling by the State’s security apparatus. We hadn’t realised that Military Intelligence offered support not only to Inkatha, but also to ANC members, in an effort to stoke conflict and destabilise the country.

One of the most enlightening interviews was with Tienie Groenewald, a former General of Military Intelligence. In the lead-up to the elections he became one of the leaders of the Volksfront, which aimed for the establishment of an independent Volkstaat or Afrikaner homeland. He told us about a complex scheme to kidnap the top leadership of the ANC and National Party in early 1994, to imprison them in Angola in quarters provided by Jonas Savimbi, to force them to listen to demands for a Volkstaat. It sounds harebrained, but the mechanisms were in place. They also planned to throw the country into “controlled chaos” by cutting electricity and water, and by blockading roads. They had members at all the key points. This information has not been made public before.

Another fascinating interview was with Daluxolo Luthuli, the grandson of Albert Luthuli.  He was originally an Umkhonto we Sizwe member, who fought in then-Rhodesia, ended up on Robben Island, was asked to infiltrate Inkatha, and later became part of the IFP leadership in KwaZulu. He was running a hit squad that took out ANC leaders, with a lot of support from Military Intelligence. He gradually realised that he was being manipulated, and that Military Intelligence was in fact supporting both sides.  He decided to return to the ANC, bringing many of his henchmen with him, and was received by Nelson Mandela like a prodigal son. When we interviewed Eugene de Kock, it turned out that he and Daluxolo Luthuli knew each other well, and had collaborated in the dissemination of arms.

Initially we planned to interview only the “resistors” who wanted to stop the elections by any means necessary – to tell the story from the extremes, as it were.  Those who tried to derail the transition do indeed play a major role in the story, but we ended up also interviewing victims of the ensuing violence – many of whom lost loved ones or are in wheelchairs. These people were not planning or orchestrating from safe havens but had to live with the direct consequences of the violence, and in some cases also resorted to using extreme violence themselves. Right and wrong gets messed up when you’re in the middle of it. 

What we decided right up front was that we wouldn’t interview any “experts” – academics, historians, journalists or political analysts. We stuck to our guns on that one, however tempting it was to find an expert voice to make sense of everything. We think what makes 1994 special is that the story is for the most part told from the perspective of the characters. We were constantly taken aback by the openness and eagerness with which so many people told us of their experience. Many of their stories have been denied for too long.

The great privilege of making 1994 has been the licence to enter others’ lives momentarily. The moment we, as film makers, went out of our “comfort zones” to film in, for example, the hostels on the East Rand, or in the tiny village of Mahehle in KwaZulu Natal, a new world opened up for us.  The East Rand is home to almost three million people yet seems so cut off from the rest of Johannesburg.  It’s so easy to ignore the existence of these places – be it Khumalo Street or Mahehle.  Being able to film there was a humbling experience. The division between rich and poor in this country is sickening and simply untenable.  We believe that addressing inequality is the most important challenge facing South Africa going forward for the next twenty years. We might have achieved political freedom in 1994, but economic freedom for most South Africans lies far out of reach.  If we do nothing, certain conflict lies ahead.

What the Audience Said

I was so moved by what you’ve put into the world. It is a remarkably even-handed portrait of a fanatical chapter in our history, apart from its sheer enjoyability and its professional merits. How strange that such a nasty, brutish piece of history could have produced a documentary that left me encouraged and uplifted — it’s quite beyond my understanding, and very much to your credit.

Anonymous, Audience member

I have many vivid childhood memories from that time, but had never seen them woven into their historical context until last night, nor really appreciated how they related to the tangible but unexplained tensions around me.  A beautiful documentary, an education, and a fresh perspective on both then and now!

Anonymous, Audience member

Your film has extraordinary scope and depth. I’ve been revisiting images and moments ever since seeing it. The visual style and design opens up the story really beautifully. I loved the way you mixed new footage and archive, and the integration of the interviews. Which are bloody excellent by the way. Not easy people to access and mostly very media savvy I imagine. But you got them and you got something fresh out of them. Eugene de Kock is a standout. You managed to make a very complicated story accessible and engaging. It’s really a landmark. Well done!

Anonymous, Audience member

I was sitting at the edge of my seat for the entire 90 minutes, I laughed, I cried and I held my breath. And I know I was not the only one. There are many scenes which have stayed with me and are playing over and over in my head. What a great choice of characters and what strong mothers and daughters you put on the screen! I am not a fan of re-enactments but they worked beautifully.

Anonymous, Audience member

I’m no film critic, but I wanted to tell you I thought it was great and really gripping. For somebody who takes an interest in the ‘history of the present’ I thought to trod a perfect line between stuff we know and new, even unexpected material. A narrative like this can easily lapse into liberation platitudes, but I thought the film treated the material with a real acuity and incisiveness. It managed to avoid being partisan, sentimental or didactical.  It trod deftly. I thought the epic narrative told through small tales was fantastic: Wolfaard’s daughter, the complex Daluxolo. And the Robert Altmanesque intersections between them really tied it together: Daluxolo, Bop policeman, chillingly candid APLA guy. Even the ‘great men’ of history (Zuma, bloated and pockmarked De Klerk etc, indefatigable Buthalezi, landed Viljoen) weren’t overwhelming, they illuminated specific parts of the narrative. It made me think of the the randomness and capriciousness of history: a transition paid for in blood. Even the moments of concluding levity managed to avoid being cloying, the smile that flashes across De Kock’s face (what did you say to him?), the pragmatic ex-ISU policeman on his bike, the dutifully gun-totting parishioner…

Anonymous, Audience member

Well done. It was a well told story with very compelling characters, considering how huge the story was. You found the right characters to drive and convey the narrative, although it was hard to look at Zuma and Maharaj in isolation to how far they’ve fallen. Judging by the tweets of the broadcast tonight, you guys reminded us of an almost forgotten story. It was a reminder of having to sneak at dawn to attend schools in suburbs from townships to avoid our school transport being bombed. Also a reminder of the weekly threats our school received from right wing organisations.

Anonymous, Audience member

This film – in a powerful way – tells an inconvenient yet crucial truth. It presents an alternative reading to an often ‘glossed-over’ reality. It was especially touching for me because my older brother – died in that pre-election ‘94 Alexandra violence – so it scratched an old wound. We are here – and grateful and even more mad at the rot that pervades our everyday existence.

Anonymous, Audience member