Back to Index
years of film-making in Zimbabwe
Kedmon Hungwe, Department of Education, Michigan Technological University
of the Film-Making Agenda in Zimbabwe
- The Origins
of the Film-Making Agenda in Zimbabwe
- The War
- The Post-Independence
Agenda in Film-Making, 1980-1999
of film making in Zimbabwe can be traced to initiatives in the United
Kingdom, which was the colonial power over the period 1890-1979. The
British government established the Colonial Film Unit at the beginning
of the Second World War, in 1939, as part of a propaganda initiative
directed to colonies. The unit was directed by the Ministry of Information.
Its purpose was to explain the war to British subjects in the colonies
and enlist their support; England’s ruling elite had great faith in
the power of cinema as an instrument for persuasion when communicating
with the masses, whether the working class of urban industrial England
or illiterates in Britain’s African colonies (Smyth, 1988, p. 285).
At the end
of the Second World War, the film initiative shifted from war propaganda
to development in the colonies. Prior to the war, Britain had a
poor record of promoting development in its colonies, and this record
had been criticised by Germany war propaganda as well as by the
United States. The US, which emerged as the dominant superpower
after the war was keen to promote economic development and political
stability in the Third World, so as to avoid losing the new states
to the Soviet communist bloc (So, 1990).
The use of
film was part of a new developmental initiative in the colonies
and was funded by the Colonial Development and Welfare Act (1940)
and subsequent acts. The initiative stressed adult education. The
experiences gained during the war were to be harnessed to develop
and use film as an educational medium in the colonies. The British
Colonial Film Unit set up four production units that it directly
controlled in East and West Africa. The Central African Film Unit
(CAFU) covered Southern and Northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and
Zambia respectively) and Nyasaland (now Malawi). Forty percent of
its funds came from the British government and the rest from contributions
from the territorial governments that made up the federation (Smyth,
of CAFU spanned the period 1948-63, coming to an end with the dissolution
of the federation. Before the formation the federation (which was
established in 1953), CAFU was administered by the Central African
Council, an interim administrative body that preceded the federation.
When the federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed in 1953,
CAFU became a part of the Federal Department of Information. Financial
support from the British government was phased out in 1956. The
federal government retained an interest in African development that
had been a founding principle of CAFU.
the phasing out of the British government subsidy there was a shift
in priority to making films that promoted the federation overseas,
and encourage white immigration (Nell, 1988). The federation was
a fragile coalition of white interests in the three territories
and its legitimacy was undermined by African resistance. These political
imperatives compelled the government to spend more on promoting
The first executive
producer of CAFU films was Alan Izod, who was recruited from London.
He had previously produced some British propaganda war films during
the Second Word War. His team was entirely made up of expatriates.
Izod described the challenge as difficult:
"We had of course set ourselves a very difficult task, perhaps more
difficult than we realised. I personally was without previous first-hand
knowledge of African life and customs and so were two of the leading
technicians" (Izod, 1950).
for African audiences was informed by a number of assumptions about
the audiences. The primary goal of the colonial government was to
maintain white standards and privileges while promoting limited
African development. The mission of the ‘white race’ was to civilise
the Africans. Some progress had been made, but there was a long
way to go. Development was construed in terms of a relationships
between two races that were at different historical points of evolution,
with no prospect of equality in the near future.
informed the creation of film text directed to Africans. In a 1950
radio broadcast Alan Izod outlined the broad perspective on which
film-making in CAFU was based as follows: The goal was to make educational
films that were presented in an entertaining way, with strong moral
messages. Adult Africans were to be protected from unwholesome messages,
in other words the production of films "affording healthy entertainment."
could serve as one antidote to the undesirable activities which
are such an easy pitfall for people with spare time on their hands.
I am not saying anything new or startling when I say that Europeanisation
has removed his own culture from the African and given him little
in return. This is of course particularly true of the African who
is employed in towns (Izod, 1950). Beyond the problem of creating
wholesome messages, films were to inculcate in the audiences the
necessity for, and the value of hard work, of self-help, and by
that I mean doing things for themselves without payment instead
of doing them only if the Government is willing to pay for them
(Izod, 1950). These values were intended to benefit white controlled
capitalist enterprise, in an environment were economic relations
were unequal and forced labour (chibharo), was a historical
reality for Africans.
The goal of
agricultural films was to promote good farming methods and prosperity
but this was problematic in a context where government land tenure
policies and agricultural production and marketing policies blatantly
discriminated against Africans. Other films promoted initiative
and community development using heroic figures from the community.
The Wives of Nendi is a film about Mrs. Mangwende, the wife of Chief
Mangwende, who was the moving force behind the development of women’s
clubs. The film A Day in the Life of Rachel Hlazo is about the life
of Mrs Hlazo of Goromonzi, who is a health care worker and has made
a difference in her commuity. Both were made by Stephen Peet as
mission of CAFU films does not stand the test of time. There is
evidence that with time, after the initial novelty had worn off,
African audiences were able to critique them against their lived
experience and political aspirations (Hungwe, 1991). There is also
strong evidence that the colonial film-makers under-rated their
audience, who developed rapidly with successive shows of films,
and began to raise questions about the messages to which they were
exposed, and how those messages related to their economic and political
aspirations (Hungwe, 1991).
relations between film-makers and audiences turned antagonistic
in Zimbabwe after 1965, when the state unleashed a vigorous propaganda
campaign against the African majority in an attempt to thwart their
aspirations for self-rule. A civil war broke out and escalated rapidly,
beginning December 1972 when guerrillas launched an attack on Altena
farm in the North East part of the country. From then on, the guerrilla
offensive was relentless. The government stepped up the propaganda
machine. A new type of war propaganda films were commissioned and
shown in the war zones in order to undermine the support for the
guerrilla armies in rural communities.
The War Films,
to 1962, it had been possible to conceive of some formula for reconciling
the conflicting demands of the minority white government and African
political aspirations for self-determination. The elections of 1962
signalled the collapse of that vision when the Rhodesia Front party
assumed power with a mandate to safeguard unimpeded white rule.
It was to be only a matter of time before a state of war existed
between the state and the majority African population.
unleashed a major media propaganda war. Control of film production
now fell under the Rhodesian Ministry of Information. It is from
there that propaganda war films were produced. The films were directed
to both African and white audiences. Those film directed to African
audiences, and in particular, the so called "war films" sought to
undermine the support of rural communities for the guerrilla armies
that were challenging white rule.
Not much is
known about the production of the war films. The evidence for their
use comes from oral interviews from the war zones, the most notable
source for which is Julie Frederiske’s (1990) None but Ourselves.
The films were produced at a time when Anker Atkinson was head of
the Ministry of Information’s film production unit. Louis Nell who
was a scriptwriter for the unit has described the production of
these films as a "hush, hush" affair. The propaganda offensive involved
some collaboration with white Portuguese who had some experience
with guerrilla offensive and tactics in Mozambique. According to
a Ministry of Information internal memorandum, the goal was to use
the excellent medium of film to broadcast propaganda in order to
win the hearts and minds of the people.
units were deployed to show films in the war zones. In one film
War on Terror a Rhodesian Army soldier is shown tracking ‘terrorist
spoor’ after a ‘contact’. A camera shot shows a close-up shot of
a dead guerrilla. Two Rhodesian soldiers are then shown approaching
a village and setting the homestead on fire. The aim of such films
was to undermine the rural support for guerrilla armies through
terror tactics. But ironically such depictions left the African
population much more resolved to support the guerrillas against
a Rhodesian army perceived to be killing their "sons and daughters."
In another untitled
production that was widely used, the film opened with shots of three
insurgent entering a village where they were fed and given shelter.
As the story unfolded, the guerrillas were tracked and shot dead.
The villagers who assisted them were arrested. In the most horrific
scene the camera shows a hyena on leash rolling itself upon three
real human bodies which are badly mutilated, licking up the brains
of one body, ripping open another to pull out and eat entrails.
The camera lingers on this scene for a considerable while.The film
closes with a pitch black screen and the sound of hyenas laughing
(Frederiske, 1990, p. 95).
used and came to be known as the ‘hyena film’ by locals. It had
neither title nor credits. It left audiences stunned, and some of
them sick. In 1980, just before independence, the Rhodesia government
destroyed some of the film stock used during the propaganda offensive.
There is no evidence that the war films programme succeeded in undermining
support for the liberation war. As the war escalated, support for
the guerrillas intensified, and by 1979, the government was forced
to concede that it was losing both the military conflict and the
struggle for hearts and minds. In the words on one informant, responsible
for taking the films to the rural areas:
"The films didn’t
do anything for all these years. This I’m telling you from my own
personal experience. The people didn’t want to see things like that
— guerrillas being killed — for the people were supporting the guerrillas,
though they couldn’t show it publicly for fear of being prosecuted."
In many ways,
the war films were the low point of film-making in Zimbabwe. There
is clear evidence of audience resistance to propaganda messages.
The experience clearly demonstrates the limits of propaganda, when
there is a strong contradiction between the lived reality and aspirations
of the audience and those of institutional film-maker. This is a
salutary lesson for political elites who have historically tended
to over-rate the power of media over the masses (see for example
Smyth, 1988). The war ended in 1980, when Zimbabwe attained independence.
Independence promised an new and exciting chapter in the development
of local film.
Agenda in Film-Making, 1980-1999
the first decade of independence, the state, through the Ministry
of Information, launched an aggressive initiative to promote Zimbabwe
as a film-making centre for Hollywood studios. The country was described
as a "perfect film-making venue" with an excellent climate, a good
and varied terrain, excellent infrastructure, and adequate technical
support base (Government of Zimbabwe, 1987). The reasons for promoting
the country were both cultural and economic (Hungwe, 1992). It was
expected that Hollywood studios would inject money into the economy
and provide training for local film-makers, who would, in turn form
a local film industry. Among the films made in the 1980s were Cannon
studio’s King Solomon’s Mines and its sequel Quartermain.
the objective of a local film industry, the state was keen to invest
directly in film industry. A partnership was struck with Universal
Pictures that led to the production of the anti-apartheid film,
Cry Freedom. The film was not as successful as anticipated, and
the government did not realise a return on its US$5.5 million investment
in the film. Stung by this loss, the government has stayed away
from the production of feature film. It continues to sponsor a limited
programme of film through the Ministry of Information’s Production
Services. These are mostly short documentaries of a cultural and
educational nature. The production unit has faced severe budgetary
constraints and has not made a significant impact locally.
With the failure
of the government project, the initiative has now been seized by
independent film makers sponsored by foreign donors. The primary
thrust of this initiative is message, rather than profit. The agenda
is broadly defined in terms of international development. This new
initiative is mostly informed by what is termed the "rights-based
approach to development" which differs from the old approach to
development, where the needs of the developing country population
were too often defined by government officials or international
institutions without any consultations with the people on whose
behalf they claimed to act. (FCO & DFID, 1999, p. 15).
of democracy, human rights and the rule of law has formed an increasingly
important dimension to the policies of bilateral donors and multilateral
institutions such as the World Bank, the Organisation of Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the European Union (Ferguson,
1999; Häusermann, 1998). Among the rights articulated by donors
are labour rights, protecting the rights of vulnerable groups (women
and children), and more recently the relation between HIV/AIDS and
human rights. In particular, the Beijing Women’s Conference of 1995,
provided an important impetus for the rights of women by confirming
women’s rights as an essential basis for sustainable development.
The high profile given to these rights have been reflected in the
themes of film narratives that have been sponsored by Western donors
The best known
films produced by donor funded filmmakers in the 1990s are Neria,
and Flame, both of which address the problem of women’s rights.
Both have been very successful in Zimbabwe and won international
awards. Flame was selected for the prestigious Director’s Fortnight’s
at the Cannes Film Festival in 1996 and was awarded the Organisation
of African Unity special prize at the Southern African Film festival
in the same year. Also included in this output are Consequences
(a film on the problem of teenage pregnancy), Everyone’s Child (a
film on the problem of child abuse, HIV/AIDS, and orphans), More
Time (an HIV/AIDS film), Keep on Knocking (a film on the history
of the trade union movement in Zimbabwe). The release of a film
on the human rights abuses by Zimbabwe army in the province of Matebeleland
for these films are in line with emergent donor priorities for a
rights-based approach to development. Film production has been funded
by individual governments as well as multilateral institutions such
as the EU. The film Flame, for example, was supported by the European
Union to the tune of Z$3 million. Funds for film projects have been
channelled through Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs).
with NGOs is an integral part of the rights-based approach to development.
The 1990s have witnessed the rapid rise of NGOs in Zimbabwe as donor
funded agents of change and development.
have become increasingly disenchanted with the role of the state
as partner in development. In a recent influential report, the Government
of Zimbabwe has been described as
"weakened by a combination of weak macro-economic management, the
state’s incapacity to respond to pressure for more transparency
in governance and the growing impact of globalisation on state control
of policymaking" (Raftopoulous, Hawkins, Amonor-Wilks, 1998, p.
for these problems has been identified as political reform and empowerment
of disadvantaged groups.
As a basis for
political renewal, an effective national response to global order,
the state will need to provide more political space for democratic
debate, and popular empowerment and participation." (Raftopoulous,
Hawkins, Amonor-Wilks, 1998, p. 80). Donors have recognised that
working through NGOs may create political problems in their relations
with Third World governments. As an example, films that promote
political reform or give voices to oppressed or disadvantaged groups
may create a political backlash. Some donors have considered this
problem. As the British government has put it, this means that we
might channel political support and development assistance through
local and international NGOs to promote human rights and to encourage
the prospect of political reform. At the same time we can maintain
staunch criticism of the ruling regimes and their record on human
rights violations. (FCO & DFID, 1999, p. 22)
on donor aid has on occasions become quite heated, fuelled by the
linkage between human rights and foreign aid that has characterised
donor-recipient relations in the post-Cold War era. Donor support
for film has not escaped this controversy. The film Flame is a case
in point. The controversy was fuelled by the War Veterans, the State
controlled press, and some senior civil servants in the Ministry
of Information. Projects with no clear political content have also
been affected. In 1988 the then Minister of Health (Brig. Felix
Muchemwa), stopped the production of a donor funded HIV/AIDS film
(Hungwe, 1992). The film which was to be directed by Edwina Spicer,
was stopped days before shooting commenced, ostensibly to protect
the image of Zimbabwe as a healthy AIDS free country.
Some film makers
have voiced some disquiet over the the influence of donors on film
narrative. As Tsitsi Dangarembga (Dangarembga, 1999) has put it,
film requires money to make, and "those who do not have the money
are debarred from making film" She raised questions about the "gate-keeping"
role of donors, who favoured some directors over others, and some
narratives over others. Although she had directed the film Everyone’s
child, she had yet to find her own unfettered voice as a film-maker.
"Everyone’s child is not the film I wanted to make. I didn’t want
to make another AIDS film on Africa. I was not empowered to make
the narrative that I wanted to make."
The donor funded
film agenda has achieved some positive results by breaking taboos,
for example on the rights of women, HIV/AIDS, and political repression.
However, as Dangarembga puts it, "only certain kinds of taboos are
broken. Other taboos that would empower the peoples of colour are
not broken." She protested that the dominant narrative form on Africa
cast the continent and its people as a problem. There are concerns
that Western dominated donor organisations might inhibit the growth
of local capacity in film-making. There is no guarantee that NGO-directed
film projects can find the authentic voice of the oppressed and
disadvantaged groups. Some of them may in fact represent institutional
self-interest at the expense of local development.
make it clear that we have yet to achieve a satisfactory agenda
for a rights-based approach to development through film. Creating
film narratives that tackle this agenda effectively will require
both money as well as courage, as the experiences with the film
Flame have shown.
over the last 50 years has been dominated by an evolving post-Second
World War agenda for development in the former colonies. Local racial
politics that precipitated the war of liberation produced a particularly
reprehensible brand of war propaganda films. The agenda has been
primarily controlled by outsiders, and in particular the West, initially
by Britain as the colonial powers, and as we come to the close of
the 20th Century, by multilateral and bilateral donor agencies.
agenda is political and ideological. Its educational goal is to
raise consciousness, and mobilise people for action. There are tensions
inherent in such an agenda. The controversy surrounding Flame is
one example of this. The film was vigorously opposed by some males
as a distortion of the war history of the Zimbabwe. The controversial
aspect of the film was that it gave voice to the experiences of
female ex-combatants, some of whom had been sexually abused during
the war. The film survived the harsh criticism from some sections
of the War Veterans association, the Sunday Mail, and the then Director
To its credit,
the Zimbabwe government, as a whole, supported the film and provided
logistical support through the airforce. The story of Flame suggests
that there is no one monolithic Government of Zimbabwe view. There
are ongoing debates, and at various points, some points of view
gain ascendancy over others. This is a hopeful sign for the future
of democratic participation in the construction of film narrative.
of a rights-based developmental framework in Zimbabwe is in many
ways welcome. However the debate has yet to be completely flung
open. There are taboo areas for both donors, local audiences, and
the state. For donors, the challenge is to go beyond a framework
that blames under-development on the deficiencies of the citizens
or the state.
It is necessary
to also critically examine the assumptions in the global system
of economic and political relations and how these can be regulated
in such a way as to foster development in poor countries. As of
now, the unit of analysis remains the isolated state. If the rights-based
agenda is taken to its logical conclusion, we should also see film
narratives that seek to raise consciousness about the problem of
development from a global perspective, directed to local as well
as foreign audiences that have a stake in the development of Zimbabwe
and other poor countries.
in the fifty years under review, an international developmental
agenda that has largely motivated the development of film in Zimbabwe.
The politics of that agenda have evolved over that time. Changes
in narrative have therefore occurred over time, reflecting changing
interests and relations, and shifting geopolitical interests.
D, & Thompson, K. Film Art: An Introduction, New York, Alfred
A. Knopf, 1986.
T. The Art of Film: Breaking Taboos. Notes on talk presented at
the Book Café, Harare, 5 August, 1999.
C. Global Social Policy Principles: Human Rights and Social Justice.
London, Department for International Development, 1998
and C[ommonwealth] O[ffice] & D[epartment for I[international]
D[evelopment], (1999), Human Rights Annual Report 1999. London:
J. None but Ourselves: Masses vs. media in the making of Zimbabwe.
Harare: OTAZI/Anvil, 1990.
of Southern Rhodesia. Southern Rhodesia Facts and Figures for
the Immigrant. Salisbury: Public Relations Department, 1945.
of Zimbabwe. Why you should film in Zimbabwe. Harare, Ministry
of Infromation, April, 1987.
J. Rights and Humanity: A human rights approach to development.
London: Department for International Development, 1998.
- Hungwe, K.
Film in post-colonial Zimbabwe. Journal of Popular Film and Television,
19, 4, 1992.
- Hungwe, K.
Southern Rhodesia Propaganda and Education Films for Peasant Farmers,
1948-1955. Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 11,
- Izod, A.
The film in native development. Radio talk, 1950
- Nell, L.
Images of Yesteryear: Film-making in Central Africa. Collins Harper,
- Peet, S.
Interview with Stephen Peet. Harare, 18 January 1988.
B. Hawkins, T. & Amonor-Wilks. Human Development Report, Zimbabwe
1998. Harare: UNDP, Poverty Reduction Forum & IDS, 1998.
- Smyth, R.
The British Colonial Film Unit and Sub-Saharan Africa, 1939-1945.
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 8, 1988.
- Smyth, R.
The Central African Film Unit’s Images of Empire. 1948-1963. Historical
Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 3, 1983.
- So, A. Y.
Social Change and Development. Harare, London, SAGE, 1990.
be very interested to have your opinions or contribution to the discussion.
Please email email@example.com
Please credit www.kubatana.net if you make use of material from this website.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License unless stated otherwise.