Goodbye Bafana

Goodbye Bafana
Cinema poster
Directed by Bille August
Produced by Roberto Cipullo, Gherardo Pagiei, Kwesi Dickson, Ilann Gerard, Andro Steinborn, David Wicht, Jan-Luc Van Damme
Written by Greg Latter, Bille August
Starring Dennis Haysbert
Joseph Fiennes
Diane Kruger
Music by Dario Marianelli
Cinematography Robert Fraisse
Edited by Hervé Schneid
Release date
  • 11 February 2007 (2007-02-11) (Berlin Film Festival)
Running time
140 minutes
Country South Africa, Italy, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Germany, France
Language English
Budget $30 million

Goodbye Bafana, or The Color of Freedom (US), is a 2007 drama film, directed by Bille August, about the relationship between Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert) and James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes), his censor officer and prison guard, based on Gregory's book Goodbye Bafana: Nelson Mandela, My Prisoner, My Friend. The film also explores the relationship of James Gregory and his wife as their life changes while Mandela is under Gregory's watch.

Bafana means 'boys'. Gregory lived on a farm and had a black friend when he was a child, which explains his ability to speak Xhosa.


The young revolutionary Nelson Mandela is arrested, and it is the task of censor James Gregory to watch him. He has long since moved to South Africa with the family for his work in the prison of Robben Island, and slowly he clashes with the politics and racist culture of his countrymen and the people of his own race. Gregory begins to express hatred for South African apartheid. In time, Gregory challenges his superiors, and seeks to improve Mandela's life until he is released from prison after twenty-seven years of imprisonment, and is elected president of South Africa.


Factual basis

The autobiography the film was based on, Goodbye Bafana: Nelson Mandela, My Prisoner, My Friend, was derided by Mandela's longtime friend, the late Anthony Sampson. In Sampson's book Mandela: the Authorised Biography he accused James Gregory, who died of cancer in 2003, of lying and violating Mandela's privacy in his work Goodbye Bafana. Sampson said that Gregory had rarely spoken to Mandela, but censored the letters sent to the prisoner and used this information to fabricate a close relationship with him. Sampson also claimed that other warders suspected Gregory of spying for the government, and that Mandela considered suing Gregory.[1]

Writing in The Guardian, critic and historian Alex von Tunzelmann, stated that the film was a "dubious tale" of Nelson Mandela's imprisonment, based on his prison guard's memoirs and that it was a story that contradicted all other known accounts of his time in imprisonment. She went on to say that there was no excuse for the "historical negligence in this movie" – stating that its implicit dismissal of the contradictory accounts of Nelson Mandela and others could be seen as insulting.[2]

In his own autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela mentions James Gregory in two occasions. The first was during his imprisonment in Pollsmoor:

"Often, Winnie's visits were overseen by Warrant Officer James Gregory, who had been a censor on Robben Island. I had not known him terribly well there, but he knew us, because he had been responsible for reviewing our incoming and outgoing mail. At Pollsmoor I got to know Gregory better and found him a welcome contrast to the typical warder. He was polished and soft-spoken, and treated Winnie with courtesy and deference".

The second occasion that Mandela mentions Gregory in his autobiography is on the day of his release in 1990 from prison:

"Warrant Officer James Gregory was also there at the house, and I embraced him warmly. In the years that he had looked after me from Pollsmoor through Victor Verster, we had never discussed politics, but our bond was an unspoken one and I would miss his soothing presence".[3]

The Making of Goodbye Bafana, on the Goodbye Bafana DVD, contains an interview with Nelson Mandela where he speaks of James Gregory:

"He was one of the most refined warders. Well-informed and courteous with everybody. Soft spoken. Very good observations. I developed a lot of respect for him".[4]


  1. Mandela: The Authorised Biography, p.217.
  2. "Reel history: Goodbye Bafana". The Guardian. 10 May 2012.
  3. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, Little, Brown & Company, 1994, pages 449 and 490
  4. The Making of Goodbye Bafana, on the DVD.
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