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...