Winston's Boer War leaves SA cold

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The Independent Online
A TELEVISION documentary on the Boer War exploits of Winston Churchill, seen through the eyes of his grand-daughter, Celia Sandys, may be abandoned because South African companies are unwilling to back what is seen as a "politically incorrect" project.

Sponsorship, required - and in some cases promised - for the documentary has been put on hold, because the new generation of post-apartheid business leaders in South Africa say they do not see the historic or cultural relevance of the centenary of a war fought between the Boers and the British.

John Gaunt, a consultant for Standard Bank - where Chur-chill once had an account - said his company was one of a number of businesses asked for sponsorship. "We were being asked for pounds 80,000," he said. "I found the Churchill story fascinating, and prepared a presentation for Standard Bank." But the reception from the bank's hierarchy, many of them from South Africa's new black elite, was "cool". "They saw no merit in promoting Churchill's role in the Boer War at a time when the country was trying to rid itself of colonial roots."

A South African television company, The Shooting Party, was due to begin filming in two weeks. The documentary retraces the steps of Churchill, then a war correspondent, on the battlefields of KwaZulu-Natal. Ms Sandys, daughter of Duncan Sandys, a wartime cabinet minister, and Churchill's eldest daughter, Diana, was to have presented the programme with a young Zulu historian. Her own research into her grandfather's adventures, gleaned from descendants of British and Boer combatants who still live near the battlefields of Spion Kop and Tugela Heights, would have been a central theme.

As South African networks do not have the funds to commission costly programming, it is common for independent film-makers to seek corporate sponsorship. But when The Shooting Party sought help with the cost of the Churchill documentary - around pounds 1.4m - it discovered that in the new South Africa the Boer war is seen as a squabble between groups of land- grabbing colonialists.

Ms Sandys believes the attitude of the business community is short-sighted. "South Africa needs tourists, and I really believe that promoting historic jewels, like their battlefields, is one way of promoting international tourism," she said.

She says she will not abandon the project. "In the centenary year of the Boer War, it is a story that should be told, not because it is about my grandfather, but because of the rich historical value."