South Africa & Apartheid Films

The policy of apartheid was in operation in South Africa between 1948 and 1994, although the racial segregation and racist categorisation of citizens had been introduced much earlier during the colonial era. The strength of feeling about the apartheid regime was evident internationally with trade and arms embargoes, economic sanctions, and cultural and sporting boycotts in force for several years. Within South Africa, the tensions and political injustices spilled into violence by white and black citizens. The apartheid years and the global response to them, were formative for several politicians nationally and internationally, most notably Nelson Mandela, future president South Africa, who established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in an effort to reconcile victims and perpetrators of decades of institutional racism and oppression in South Africa.

  • Boycott Apartheid bus: London 1989. Author rahuldlucca (R. Barraez D´Lucca from Carracas, Venezuela) Original source:  Taken from: (], via Wikimedia Commons.


A Dry White Season (1989) Drama starring Donald Sutherland as Ben, a schoolteacher who has been insulated all his life from the horrors of apartheid in his native South Africa. When the son of Ben's black gardener is arrested and beaten as a result of a schoolboy protest in Soweto, at first he imagines the police must have had their reasons. However, the boy is picked up again, and this time he doesn't come back. Ben discovers that the boy was killed simply to gratify the violent urges of Captain Stolz, a 'special branch' policeman. It is a foregone conclusion that Stolz will not be punished, but the situation turns Ben into a radical firebrand, alienating him from his white friends, neighbours, and members of his family. (Directed by Euzhan Palcy, produced by Davros Films and Sundance Films, distributed by MGM.)

At Thy Call (2008) Set in apartheid South Africa 1984, this is the story of a young man whose Afrikaner values are tested as he accepts the compulsory draft into the military and befriends a rebellious Englishman. He must decide to either stand up for what is right or answer the Call to the Republic and his family. (Directed by Christopher-Lee dos Santos, produced by DS Films.)

A World Apart (1987) Set in Johannesburg in 1963, the film examines the abrupt ending of 13-year-old Molly's blithe childhood when her father, a communist and anti-Apartheid-activist, must go into exile and her mother must continue her fight against Apartheid without her husband. Avoided by her white ex-schoolfriends, Molly seeks greater closeness to her mother. The mother-daughter relationship faces a severe test due to intimidation attempts by the military police, then by Molly's mother's imprisonment. The "world apart" of the title refers to both the gap between the woman and the teenage girl--who doesn't understand why her mother is so obsessed by events beyond the comfortable white-suburban world--and the space between that world and that of the (black) majority. Synopsis text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License: (Directed by Chris Menges, produced and distributed by Atlantic Group, DVD distributed by MGM.)

Black Butterflies (2012) In 1960s Cape Town, as Apartheid steals the expressive rights of blacks and whites alike, young Ingrid Jonker finds her freedom in writing. Amid escalating quarrels with her lovers and her rigid father, a parliament censorship minister, the poet witnesses an unconscionable event that will alter the course of both her artistic and personal lives. (Directed by Paula van der Oest, distributed by Tribeca Films.)

Bopha! (1993) Micah Mangena is a black sergeant in South Africa's police force, believing he can serve his own community while still playing a part in the apartheid system. Micah’s son becomes involved in the anti-apartheid movement, and recognises that his father is a part of the system he is fighting against. Bopha is a Zulu word meaning to arrest, or detain. For the oppressive regime, it's an act of empowerment, yet for the swelling crowds of activists battling apartheid, the term is a cry of protest. (Directed by Morgan Freeman, distributed by Paramount Pictures.)

Catch a Fire (2006) Tense political thriller set against the backdrop of apartheid-era South Africa and based on true events. 1981, and Patrick Chamusso is a 31-year-old black South African living an upstanding life as foreman at an oil refinery, football coach, and family man. His calling comes when he and his wife Precious are accused of planting a bomb at the refinery where he works. The authorities so brutalise them in the process that Chamusso does in fact subsequently join the ANC and volunteer for active service in the shape of planting a   bomb in the refinery. (Directed by Philip Noyce, distributed by Universal Pictures.)

City Lovers (1982) An interracial love story between a German geologist and a young black woman. The German is only visiting South Africa when he meets his new love in a shop and hires her as his housekeeper. She soon becomes his lover, infuriating their neighbours who report them to the police. (Directed by Barney Simon, produced by Telepool.)

Cry, The Beloved Country (1995) Zoltan Korda directs and produces this South African-set drama based on the celebrated novel by Alan Paton. Set in a little village in the scorched valley of Ixopo, the story revolves around the family of Reverend Stephen Kumalo (Canada Lee). The Reverend's son, Absalom (Lionel Ngakane), has disappeared and his sister, Gertrude (Ribbon Dhlamini), is ill in Johannesburg. Kumalo leaves his poor village with his life savings in order to go to Johannesburg to try to persuade his sister and son to come home but while there he finds his son has been accused of the murder of the son of a farmer. As both fathers suffer, they slowly become friends. (Directed by Darrell Roodt, distributed by Miramax.)

Cry Freedom (1987) The true story of a white South African journalist’s friendship with Steven Biko, the South African nonviolent hero. The tension and terror of apartheid South Africa is evident throughout director Richard Attenborough's story of how black activist Stephen Biko (Denzel Washington) persuades liberal white newspaper editor (Kevin Kline) to reappraise his views on the world around him. (Directed by Richard Attenborough, distributed by Universal Pictures.)

Dilemma (A World of Strangers) (1962) The filming for Dilemma took place under the pretext of making a documentary on music, as the government at that time would have forbidden this project. The story begins when Toby (Ivan Jackson), a young English businessman, arrives in South Africa to take charge of a publishing firm. He knows little about apartheid and so at first sees no contradiction in developing a relationship with an elite, upper-class white woman and with a woman dedicated to fighting apartheid. But as Toby makes friends with one of the black South Africans (Zaku Mokae), and as he registers both the subtle and more obvious, deep-seated racial prejudices of the minority white population, the truth of the oppression begins to dawn. (Directed by Henning Carlsen, produced by Dagmar Films.)

District 9 (2009) Sci-fi drama widely read as an allegory of the apartheid system. District 9 is a shanty town in Johannesburg housing an alien population who arrived on earth years ago. Initially met with interest, the extra-terrestrial creatures now live in overcrowded squalor and poverty, second-class citizens of the city. When bureaucrat Wikus is exposed to the alien DNA and begins metamorphosing into one of the extra-terrestrials, he begins to recognise the harsh reality of life for the District 9 residents. (Directed by Neill Blomkamp, distributed by Tristar.)

Drum (2004) A hot-shot journalist is swept up in a movement to challenge Apartheid in 1950s South Africa. (Directed by Zola Maseko.)

Faith Like Potatoes (2006) Angus Buchan is a Zambian farmer of Scottish heritage who leaves his farm in the midst of political unrest and racially-charged land reclaims and travels south with his family to start a better life in KwaZulu Natal. With nothing more than a caravan on a patch of land, and help from his foreman, Simeon Bhengu, the Buchan family struggle to settle in a new country. Faced with ever-mounting challenges, hardships and personal turmoil, Angus quickly spirals down into a life consumed by anger, fear and destruction.(Directed by Regardt van den Bergh, procuded by Global Creative Studios.)

Final Solution (2001) The indoctrination of Gerrit Wolfaardt (Jan Ellis) is complete: his family traditions, history, culture even his church have taught him that black South Africans are cancer. Under the eye of prominent members of the government and military, Gerrit develops a diabolical plan to rid South Africa of its black danger. Before his plans can be carried out, he meets two people who will put him on a collision course with his future: Celeste (Liezel van der Merwe), an open-minded university student, and Peter Lekota (John Kani), a pastor who challenges Gerrit’s prejudice. His final solution meets its greatest obstacle when Gerrit himself realises he is wrong. The Persecutor then becomes the Peacemaker and begins to seek reconciliation between whites and blacks. However, in the turbulent last days of apartheid, there are some who doubt his radical transformation. (Directed by Cristobal Krusen, produced by Messenger Films, distributed by Crown Entertainment.)

Forgiveness (2011) This film explores the act of forgiveness through a wide range of stories, from personal to national, illuminating its power, its limitations and, in some cases, its dangers. Forgiveness explores the act of forgiveness through a wide range of stories, from adultery and personal betrayal to the post-genocidal reconciliation of nations. In focusing on specific instances of affliction one family torn apart by abandonment, the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation hearings in South Africa or the memories of 60s radicals coping with their violent acts of protest Forgiveness studies the psychological impetus and impacts of this crucial sentiment. (Directed by Helen Whitney.)

Goodbye Bafana (2007) Based on an inspirational true story, Goodbye Bafana tracks the unlikely but profound relationship between James Gregory (Joseph Fiennes), a racist South African jailer, and his prisoner, Nelson Mandela (Dennis Haysbert). Gregory is ordered to spy on Mandela because he understands Mandela’s native language. No one expected that a friendship would grow between these two very different men. Through Mandela’s influence, Gregory’s world will change forever. (Directed by Bille August.)

In My Country (Country of My Skull) (2004) In 1996, the South African Government established the TRC to investigate abuses of human rights under apartheid. These hearings would serve as a forum for those accused of murder and torture to be confronted by their victims and, by admitting their guilt, be granted amnesty under Ubuntu, the native custom of forgiveness. Covering the sessions are Langston Whitfield (Samuel L. Jackson) and Anna Malan (Juliette Binoche), two journalists who, through their reporting, inspire both the world and themselves with these extraordinary stories about courage, compassion and the redeeming power of love. Based on the book The Country of My Skull, by Antjie Krog. (Directed by John Boorman.)

Invictus (2009) Based on the John Carlin book Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Changed a Nation,Invictus tells the incredible story of Nelson Mandela’s rise to power during the 1995 Rugby World Cup which took place in South Africa. The film stars Morgan Freeman as President Mandela, and Matt Damon as Francois Pienaar, the South African rugby team captain. (Directed by Clint Eastwood, distributed by Warner Bros.)

Long Night’s Journey into Day (2000) This documentary tells four stories of apartheid in South Africa, as seen through the eyes of the Truth and Reconciliation commission. White soldiers who have killed ANC activists, black activists who have killed whites in political attacks: can there be forgiveness when the full truth comes out? (Directed by Frances Reid and Deborah Hoffmann.)

Malunde (2001) In the new South Africa, a young black boy and a middle aged man, a former Apartheid-era soldier, strike up a friendship of convenience. They set out on an amazing trip through the underworld as well as the natural scenery of their beautiful and profoundly changing country. (Directed by Stefanie Sycholt.)

The Power of One (1992) In 1930's South Africa, P.K. (Guy Witcher), an orphan of English parentage, is tormented at his Afrikaaner boarding school. When World War II breaks out he goes to live with a German friend of his grandfather (Armin Muller-Stahl), a musician who is jailed for not registering as an alien. An account of the divisions in South African society which led to the creation of apartheid. (Directed by John G. Avildsen.)

Skin (2008) One of the most extraordinary stories to emerge from apartheid South Africa; Sandra Laing (Sophie Okonedo) is a black child born in the 1950s to white Afrikaners (Sam Neill and Alice Krige), unaware of their black ancestry, who raise their child as a "white girl". But from the age of ten Sandra is shunned by white society, thus begins Sandra's thirty-year struggle to reconcile her heritage and find acceptance in a society torn by race and politics. (Directed by Anthony Fabian.)

Tsotsi (2005) Presley Chweneyagae stars as the title character, a young delinquent who supports himself through a life of crime on the tough streets of Johannesburg. Coming from a brutal and deprived background, Tsotsi thinks nothing of committing acts of violence, but when he murders a woman to steal her car he is forced to confront the consequences of his actions when he discovers the dead woman's baby on the back seat. Unsure what to do, he takes the child home and tries to care for it. As the baby gradually reawakens his buried sense of humanity, Tsotsi is forced to make a momentous decision when he comes across the child's bereaved family during a robbery. (Directed by Gavin Hood.)

Under African Skies (2012) Joe Berlinger's film follows Paul Simon on his return to South Africa 25 years after the release of his Graceland album. The album, which was recorded in part in Apartheid South Africa and introduced Simon's audience to South African musicians such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, it Simon stood accused of breaking the United Nations cultural boycott of the country. As Simon returns to South Africa in this film he contemplates the role and the responsibility of the arts and artists in situations of conflict. 

The Wooden Camera (2003) Two thirteen year old boys play along the railway line in Kayelitsha, a township close to Capetown. A dead man is tossed from a passing train, clutching an attach case. Inside, the boys discover a gun and a video camera. Sipho takes the gun, Madiba takes the camera. Madiba hides the camera within a makeshift wooden box to avoid losing his new toy. Through the lens, his everyday surroundings take on a strange new beauty. Sipho becomes a gang leader, operating out of Capetown, accompanied by Madiba who is more interested in filming luxurious city life than crime. (Directed by Ntshaveni Wa Luruli.)


Film synopses and descriptions for A Dry White Season; Black Butterflies; Catch a Fire; Cry, The Beloved Country; Dilemma; Faith Like Potatoes; Final Solution;Goodbye Bafana; In My Country; Invictus; The Power of One; Skin, and Tsotsi sourced from Amazon UK (  Synopses for A World Apart; Forgiveness; Malunde; The Wooden Camera sourced from Amazon USA (  For At Thy Call; City Lovers; Drum, and Long Night’s Journey into Day, synopses and descriptions from IMDb (

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