Top 15 Movies to watch before
your trip to South Africa
Films for insight into South Africa
Discover South Africa through the movies.
South Africa is a country of beautiful landscapes and stunning coastlines. It is also a land of conflict between the native tribes and the Dutch and British settlers who came to the southern tip of Africa to find land, diamonds, and power.
These movies tell the tales of warlords, adventurers, politicians, wars and the numerous stories of the horrors and struggle for freedom from Apartheid.
A name that is instantly known and needs know introduction.
The movie follows the remarkable life of South African revolutionary, president and world icon Nelson Mandela (Idris Elba). Though he had humble beginnings as a herd boy in a rural village, Mandela became involved in the anti-apartheid movement and co-founded the African National Congress Youth League. His activities eventually led to his imprisonment on Robben Island from 1964 to 1990. In 1994, Mandela became the first president of democratic South Africa.
A must see before your trip to South Africa. The man is revered across the world and even more in his home country of South Africa.
In 1879, the Zulu nation hands colonial British forces a resounding defeat in battle.
A nearby regiment of the British Army takes over a station run by a missionary (Jack Hawkins) and his daughter (Ulla Jacobsson) as a supply depot and hospital under the command of Lieutenant John Chard (Stanley Baker) and his subordinate Gonville Bromhead (Michael Caine). Unable to abandon their wounded soldiers even in dire circumstances, the regiment defend their station against the Zulu warriors. This is the epic battle of Rorke’s Drift, at which 150 British soldiers fought off 4,000 Zulu warriors.
The movie was shot more or less on location in KwaZulu-Natal. A prequel, Zulu Dawn, about the battle of Isandlwana, was made by Cy Endfield in 1979.
Rhodes is an eight part British television drama series about the life of Cecil Rhodes, a 19th century British adventurer, empire-builder and politician.
You might only associate the name Rhodes with the Oxford scholarship he created on his death in 1902 – The Rhodes Scholarship.
But this was a complex man who was unsympathetic, possessive, suspicious, power driven as well as charismatic and visionary.
Rhodes as an instrumental figure in Southern Africa’s history as the the prime minister of Cape Colony (1890–96) and organizer of the giant diamond-mining company De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. (1888). He also ventured to build a railway from Cape to Cairo Railway. On explorations to build the railway, he ventured north and named the areas after himself – Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
This biographical drama-documentary is about South African political leader, Jan Smuts.
For over half a century, Smuts was a played a leading role on the domestic and international stage as warrior, statesman and counselor of kings. He had major roles in the Boer War, World War I and World War II. He was the only person to sign both of the peace treaties ending the First and Second World wars and there is statue of him in commemoration in London’s Parliament Square.
Leading historians regard him as one of the makers of the modern world and yet he is virtually persona non-grata in his own country of South Africa.
On one of my walking tours, I was told about Jan Smuts how opposed segregation. My guide detailed he lost the 1948 election to hard-line nationalists who institutionalized apartheid in 1958.
The guide posed the question, “What might have been?” if Smuts had been elected with his obvious political power. Would South Africa have gone down a different path of racial equality?
Sandra Laing is markedly different from her parents. Born in 1950s South Africa during the height of apartheid, Sandra, who looks like a light-skinned black girl, has been confirmed as the biological daughter of her mother (Alice Krige) and father (Sam Neill) — who are both white.
In her racially divided homeland, where the government does not know how to identify her, she faces racism at school and struggles to be accepted and understood by her own family.
This movie shows the almost unbelievable laws (only believable as they did exist) implemented during apartheid under the Population Registration Act, 1950. This act classified all South Africans into one of four racial groups based on appearance, known ancestry, socioeconomic status, and cultural lifestyle: “Black”, “White”, “Coloured”, and “Indian”. These classification controlled all aspects of their lives dividing families.
First staged as a musical at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, Sarafina! was the brainchild of Mbongeni Ngema, who wrote the book, music and lyrics, and directed the show.
The story centers on Sarafina, a young black South African struggling for freedom during the apartheid era and the 1976 Soweto Uprisings.
While she has remained relatively silent in her opposition of the racist government in her country, the movement to make the language of Afrikaans the official language in her school leads her to protest in the streets with her fellow students. Her anti-government views become even more intense when her favorite teacher (Whoopi Goldberg) is arrested for protesting.
Cry Freedom is based on the best-selling book by South African newspaper editor Donald Woods and an insight into the horrors under the apartheid regime.
Nominated for three Oscars, the movie is centered around an unlikely real-life friendship between Donald Woods (Kevin Kline), the white chief editor of a liberal newspaper, and a black activist, Steve Biko (Denzel Washington).
The film tells the story of Woods’ attempts to uncover the truth about the arrest and subsequent death of Biko and how he was forced to leave South Africa because of it.
Filmed in the 1980’s, South Africa still firmly in the era of apartheid, so it was filmed in Harare, Zimbabwe and Mombasa, Kenya.
Invictus is based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation about the events in South Africa before and during the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
The Springboks, lead by captain François Pienaar (Matt Damon), were not expected to perform well, the team having only recently returned to high-level international competition following the dismantling of apartheid—the country was hosting the 1995 Rugby World Cup, thus earning an automatic entry.
President Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) used rugby to unite the hearts and minds a country fractured by years of apartheid and activist violence. A heart warming story of both this rugby team and of the South African nation.
Blood Diamond is a political war thriller film about blood diamonds, which are diamonds mined in war zones and sold to finance conflicts, and thereby profit warlords and diamond companies across the world.
Set during the Sierra Leone Civil War in 1991–2002, the film depicts a country torn apart by the struggle between government loyalists and insurgent forces. It also portrays many of the atrocities of that war, including the rebels’ amputation of people’s hands to discourage them from voting in upcoming elections.
The film’s ending, in which a conference is held concerning blood diamonds, refers to a historic meeting that took place in Kimberley, South Africa, in 2000. It led to development of the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme, which sought to certify the origin of rough diamonds in order to curb the trade in conflict diamonds, but has since been mostly abandoned as ineffective
This History Channel documentary recounts the personal stories of key figures in South Africa’s political transformation that culminated in the first free and fair elections in April 1994.
Behind-the-scenes events are described including the negotiations between the ANC and the government, work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the discussions that developed for sworn enemies to create a new “Rainbow Nation”. This is the story of men and women determined to change the country for the best of all who live there.
This film focuses on one of the key figures at the end of the Apartheid era.
F.W. de Klerk was the last President of apartheid-era South Africa. In less than 4 years he went from being Mandela’s jailor to his vice president. Together they changed history for the better and may have prevented a civil war. This film explores the fascinating political journey and legacy of this complicated figure.
de Klerk is a controversial figure being praised for dismantling apartheid and winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Conversely, he is criticized for offering only a qualified apology for apartheid and for ignoring the human rights abuses carried out by his state security forces.
The 2006 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Movie is based on the novel by South African, Athol Fugard written in the 1960’s but published 20 years later.
A young teenager, David, runs away as his mother is dying of a terminal illness and his dad is abusive. Living in the street pipes in the township with other homeless children, David changes his name to Tsotsi (which means “thug” in township patois) becoming the leader of his pack of friends. One day, he steals a car only to discover a baby in the back seat.
The film tells the story of the gritty world of the Johannesburg townships and the transformation of a hardened teen by a helpless baby. The soundtrack also features Kwaito music performed by South African artist Zola
Inspired to visit South Africa?
LOVE IT. SHARE IT. PIN IT.