Query: Seeking Film/Movie/Documentary Suggestions on Pre-Apartheid History in South Africa

Gary Marquardt's picture

I'm looking for suggestions on any historically-based films that cover South Africa prior to apartheid. Beyond "The Life and Times of Sarah Baartman"  and the Zulu-based material, does anyone have suggestions on film that covers this period? Film that explores the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance!

Gary Marquardt

Professor of History

Westminster College

Sadly, many of the films you find that cover this period are going to be from either white perspectives, or problematic from a racial sense.
The first that comes to mind are the multiple biopics about Cecil Rhodes, including "Rhodes of Africa" (1936) and the horrendously epic BBC mini series "Rhodes: The Life and Legend of Cecil Rhodes" (1996).
Obviously "De Voortrekkers" (1916) acts as a precursor to the Afrikaner identity politics that would bring about apartheid, but I like to show it to my students when talking about the solidification of Boer identity in the 19th century.
If you want to look into the South African War, "Breaker Morant" (1980) is always a good option, at least to illustrate Boer tactics.
"The Naked Pray" (1965) might be worth showing a clip, if only to show over exaggerated settler fear during the colonial era. It is, however, a ridiculous film, and gives almost zero agency to the black bodies it presents.
Building up to apartheid, "Cry, the Beloved Country" (1995) is a nice film, though why you would show the film and not just have them read the book is beyond me. "A Reasonable Man" (1999) has some similar tropes, but I've only seen select scenes from it.
Those are the ones off the top of my head, and somewhat obvious, but hopefully this is a springboard.
Take Care,

Jacob Ivey
Assistant Professor of History
School of Arts and Communication
Florida Institute of Technology

Hi there jacob;

Given that space is apartheid's primary instrument and that it is recognised as one of the most enduring legacies of apartheid the relationship between race, space, community and identity particularly in the context to forced removals and District Six in Cape Town; relative to the sustained environment and socio-economic poverty in the so-called Cape Flats and coupled with the failure of the ANCgovernment to engage a programme of spatial transformation, grassroots economic empowerment and the general absence of a 'de-colonial' agenda to 'development' - one could use space, segregation, modernity to weave the colonial trope across time.

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