Saturday, September 29, 2012

Anti-hero or lost soul? André Stander

Back in the 1980s, when I was still fairly new to life in South Africa, a colourful character burst onto the movie screen of life. His name was André Stander and he was a white, Afrikaans, police officer, whose own father was a head of the prison services.

Accounts of the time record that when taking part in a riot control incident in Tembisa, an area of Johannesburg segregated for black people and known for its dismal living conditions with all the most degrading results of the apartheid policies, Stander happens to shoot and kill a black youth. This incident affects him deeply, and, already disillusioned with the apartheid government system, he changes his attitude to the service that employs him. Not only this, he develops an 'anti' against the entire system that represents the privilege of the white (Afrikaans) man - and this includes the banks.

One day, reputedly on the spur of the moment, he flies to Durban, goes into a bank ostensibly to draw money, but instead robs it. He then flies back to Jo'burg for an afternoon's work. The thrill of his spontaneous exploit is liberating, and he starts on a series of robberies that are breathtaking in their audacity. In fact, in one reported case, he was the investigating officer at his own crime.

André Stander became something of a folk hero before he was caught and imprisoned, but later (and this is where I came in), his legendary status increased when after escaping from prison with two of his fellow inmates, he embarked on a spree of robberies of quite astonishing proportions. Sometimes, the Stander gang would rob as many as four banks in a day. Their modus operandi was speed: no fuss, no noise, in and out as quickly as possible. The idea was to make the events so mundane, customers would barely notice them.  Despite using guns to threaten, they did not shoot or hurt people, and bank customers were even heard to boast about being robbed by the Stander Gang  - as if this was something to be proud of.

I remember reading the reports in the papers of the time and being fascinated by this man and his friends. They drove around in a yellow Porsche Targa (sign of their gradually increasing audacity), but no one seemed able to catch or arrest them. Stander's family must have been mortified. Here was their son, the image of bright, educated Afrikanerdom, shaming and humiliating them and their system.  For sure, his image has been polished somewhat and, in reality, he probably does not deserve the sort of Robin Hood status he has achieved, but this is what happens when people step out of the mould and do something of immense daring.

Of course, the Stander gang were all caught in the end. The first to go was Lee McCall, who was killed in a police shoot out when the gang's safe house was surrounded. The other two escaped, though. Allan Heyl, the only surviving member, spent some years in a UK prison after being caught there, and then spent another dozen or so years in a South African prison after being extradited. He was released in 2005 and you can read his account of his Stander Gang years here.  You can also read a somewhat different, but equally compelling account about Stander here.

André Stander himself escaped to the US, where he was finally caught after being stopped by police in a road check. He presented a forged driving licence and this event led to him being recognised as the notorious South African. His apartment was surrounded, but he was not in it at the time. He arrived home on a bicycle during the siege of his home, and was unluckily recognised by an officer on the perimeter of the stake-out. Stander was fatally shot in a struggle to wrest the gun from the officer and died before the ambulance arrived.

The reason why this comes back to me now, and also why I have just bought the DVD of the 2003 film made about Stander (hence photo above), is that I was reminded of the 'legend' while chatting to Koos about film funding while having coffee this morning.

I too was involved in Stander's story in the late eighties and early nineties. Apart from being fascinated, and yes, I admit it, rather touched by what set him on the path of crime, my ex-husband and I were the first to try and make a film about the Stander gang. My husband was a script writer, and he had written a really good screenplay. However, making the promo of the movie cost a huge amount of money. In fact, we had to mortgage our house to do so. Sadly, the funds to go into full production never materialised and we lost our investment.

Nevertheless, I became very involved with Mr Stander at the time and was very absorbed in the story and the making of a film about his life. I well remember the excitement of going on location early in the morning and the whole thrilling vibe of being in the film production world. It's just sad for us that it never came to be. Still,  I'm glad someone finally got to do it, and I'm sort of glad the director is a woman. It feels fitting somehow.

I shall now wait for my DVD to arrive and see whether the film matches up not only to the review, but also to my memories of the whole episode. It feels as if I am getting part of my life back, so I hope my expectations are not disappointed...


  1. I would never have guessed your story behind this! Quite a dramatic connection to the story in your life. My initial reaction, seeing the film's cover picture was: "Huh? Val has taken up action films as saturday entertainment?" :)

  2. Haha, Maria, I thought you would be surprised. Yes, the connection was dramatic for me personally, not only in so far as my involvement in the film industry goes, but also for the financial impact it had on us. I remember it all with affection, though. I love the film industry, even though I'm not a great movie watcher. It's the whole production side that's the draw. Exciting, scary sometimes, and hectic...but it can also be quite boring too. I remember my girls sitting on the set with their knitting and yawning even while the action was flashing around them!

  3. I'm sure the film production was quite an experience! Many actors also mention the boring side in interviews: how much of it is really just waiting.

  4. Oh, how cool to be on location of a film. I have always thought it would be exciting, seeing how it all is put together.
    I hope you enjoy the movie and lives up to all the legend.

  5. Thanks, Grace. It was a special time indeed - one I remember with much pleasure.

  6. Maybe I should add that making the film was fun but not the subsequent disappointment problems....

  7. The André Stander story fascinates me and I can quite understand his reasoning and actions. Kicking against a corrupt society, robbing them of their precious commodity without actual physical violence. Would have been and is to our capitalist societies totally incomprehensible !

    Such a pity that you were unable to make
    the film.
    I have no illusions of the film industry, miles of film that end up on the floor for a fifty second shot is my experience.

  8. Wow, a post that went in a direction i did not expect. You never cease to amaze me, Val, with the things you have done.

    Looking forward to hearing your impressions of this DVD.

  9. This is fabulous, Val! A real life Robin Hood ...I know, the romance of it all is nothing like the reality - of that, I am certain.
    What really has captured me is that you cared enough about the tale to delve into it so deeply and get caught up in it - and to lose in the end? wow
    How exciting for you to see it come to fruition, if even it is someone else's point of view this time. I can't wait for the review!


  10. Mel, you are right about how much film is discarded. Heaps of it! My husband used to make corporate videos too and would film several hours of material for just fifteen minutes of final product. We did a 'paper cut' in those days - before digital -which was the list of sections he wanted just to make sure everything was cut in the right place.

    Anne Marie, it was part of life with a film man, I guess, but the Stander story was the most dramatic for me both publicly and personally. Mostly, my ex made training or corporate films, but I always enjoyed watching the process and helping with the paper cuts. I had ambitions to be a film editor at one time.

    Dale, it was a truly exciting story, and Stander was tailor made for legendary status, so it was not difficult to be inspired. I am very curious to see whether the film reflects the atmosphere Stander created at the time.

  11. What a fascinating post Val, very interesting. I had no idea either of your film making endeavours...I was just reading a script this am...HA! What a story as well. Let us know how the movie is! I too would have liked editing, but also the cinematography...

  12. How cool is this!! Ek se!! I remember this period exptremely well too and also remember how exciting it was to be on set... well except for that morning in that bar in Hillbrow where indeed me and Mo sat around knitting waiting for the art department to finish painting their backdrops and watching endless takes of the actors shooting pool. This whole experience is what made me want to go into film myself, something I still regret not pursuing, sometimes ;-) At least I have theatre now.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post and a reminder of a very interesting time in our family history. I shall look forward to borrowing the DVD from you when you have watched it!

  13. String, the odd thing is that I had actually forgotten about it - the whole Stander story and the film production - until Koos and I were talking about the difficulties of getting funding to make movies. I also enjoy the cinematography, but it's always been editing that has interested me. A good edit can do wonders with poor filming and vice versa. Another thing I'd forgotten is that I also wrote and co-produced two promotional videos for the health insurance company I used to work for. It was great fun, very creative and immensely stimulating, but since I came to NL, my life has changed so much, I'd just packed all these experiences away in my life's storage box :)

    Jo, it seems you'd forgotten it too, hey? Wasn't that an amazing time? And yes, one thing you and Mo have both inherited from that background is a love of film, I know. There is a photo of you two sitting on set with your knitting somewhere. Brilliant. What a picture of blasé youth that was. I wish I still had it :)

  14. Well Koos definitely should do a film, he is brilliant! I like editing as well...have an editor's brain...

  15. Yes, String, Koos could do every part of making a film with great artistry and skill.

  16. I see what you mean. It's an amazing story. And it's made even more amazing by the fact that you pitched a movie version of it. I never new that.

  17. well, how cool Val, you have been involved in producing videos and putting film together.
    You and Koos should have a project together?

  18. Stu, thanks! I suppose I never mentioned it because it's not part of life here in NL. And I'd forgotten about it largely too. These senior moments, you know. There are fewer and fewer gaps between them for memories like this to pop through :)

    Grace, Koos could do it standing on his head, but he's told me himself that he wouldn't really want to do anything on that scale. It's not for everyone :)


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