British filmmakers begin work on political drama based on real-life ANC prison break
One of the most daring prison escapes in South Africa’s history is set to be immortalised in film‚ but the hero just hopes it will make it to the big screen – and that its political heart will underscore the film.
Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe is lined up to portray anti-apartheid activist Tim Jenkin‚ the Capetonian who‚ together with Stephen Lee and Alex Moumbaris‚ walked out the front door of Pretoria Central in 1979 after cutting wooden keys in the prison workshop.
The ANC activists‚ jailed on terrorism charges‚ fled to Europe after their escape.
“I will get excited when I am sitting at the premiere about to watch it for the first time‚” Jenkin told The Times on Wednesday‚ laughing a little.
“It could fall through at any moment‚ so I don’t want to get my hopes up too high.”
Jenkin has heard of the Harry Potter films and books that took the world by storm‚ but he has never seen or read them.
“I have never seen the films‚ or read the books. My kids were into it‚” he said.
Asked if he felt Radcliffe was the right man to play him‚ Jenkin said: “I am sure he would. I haven’t seen him in those films‚ so I will have to see.”
He said he would be travelling to London next week to meet with several people involved in the film‚ to go over some issues he has picked up with the script and get to know a bit more about their vision for the story.
“The script is really a guideline that will no doubt change‚ but I am not very happy with it at the moment. The story itself is exciting enough without anyone inventing anything‚” he said‚ chuckling.
Jenkin‚ now 68 and living in Cape Town‚ revealed that he maintains contact with his former prison mates.
“Nowadays we get together on the anniversary of the escape and have a little ‘Skype-party’‚” Jenkin joked‚ saying they remained close after all the years and exchanged emails.
Lee‚ he said‚ had married and lives in England. Moumbaris lives in France.
Jenkin himself married six weeks after the escape in London‚ but was divorced two years later.
He did remarry‚ and had two sons‚ one who lives in Johannesburg and the other who is in the UK learning to farm.
“They’re not terribly interested in my stories‚” he said.
“They have read my book and seen the documentary and so on.”
The movie‚ with British producer David Barron‚ will take its audience through the painstaking work the trio put into making keys for 10 doors out of wood‚ right under the noses of the prison guards.
It is based on Jenkin’s book‚ Inside Out: Escape from Pretoria Prison‚ which was first published in 1987.
The story caught the eye of Hollywood then too and a movie deal was signed.
But two weeks before production was due to get under way‚ he said the deal collapsed because the Hollywood folk were not too interested in keeping the story about the political situation in South Africa in the script‚ but rather saw a chance for a daring prison escape flick.
During apartheid‚ Jenkin and Lee were two of a number of ANC supporters who spread messages through pamphlets and brochures‚ stashed inside homemade devices set to explode at busy parts of the country’s major cities.
In his book‚ he explains how being white had allowed him freedom of movement for years before the dreaded Security Police finally tracked them down.
An article from the Sunday Times in 1978 tells how the families of the two activists were shocked at the harshness of the sentences imposed‚ 12 years for Jenkin and eight years for Lee.
Their loved ones had no idea what their children had been up to.
Moumbaris was serving 12 years on similar charges.
Jenkin said the toughest thing he had struggled with over the years was that he was only ever “that guy who escaped from prison”.
“I have accomplished other things in life‚ it’s not all that I am.”
While in London‚ Jenkin worked for the International Defence and Aid Fund‚ which assisted financially with legal fees for political activists and commissioned many books about the ANC.
Around 1987‚ he was employed full-time by the ANC and developed a coded message system the banned organisation used to communicate‚ specifically around Operation Vula‚ an underground operation that focused on smuggling freedom fighters in and out of the country.
He returned to South Africa in the 1990s to assist the ANC in establishing various electronic systems and its website and started his own business‚ which he later sold.
“I keep busy also‚ to this very day. I do a lot of travelling and work with programmers to get my Community Exchange System‚ a currency-free trading system‚ running smoothly‚” he said.
Jenkin said he hoped above all else the film carried the spirit of the anti-apartheid struggle‚ and told the story right.
“But I am happy it finally seems to be happening.”
- TMG Digital