Twenty-five million blacks are ruled by a minority of four million whites under the brutal Apartheid regime of the Nationalist Party Government. Black people have no vote, no land rights, no rights to freedom of movement, to own a business, to housing or education.
Determined to retain power, whites ban all black opposition organisations, forcing their leaders into exile or imprisoning them for life on Robben Island. James Gregory, a typical white Afrikaner, regards blacks as sub-human. Having grown up on a farm in the Transkei, he learned to speak Xhosa at an early age.
This makes him an ideal choice to become the warder in charge of Mandela and his comrades on Robben Island. After all, Gregory speaks their language and can spy on them. However, the plan backfires. Through Mandela's influence, Gregory's allegiance gradually shifts from the racist government to the struggle for a free South Africa.