Come Back, Africa (1960)

90 or 95 mins | Drama | 1960

Director:

Lionel Rogosin

Writer:

Lionel Rogosin

Producer:

Lionel Rogosin

Cinematographers:

Ernst Artaria, Emil Knebel

Editor:

Carl Lerner

Production Company:

Lionel Rogosin Films
Full page view
HISTORY

After the opening credits, the following written statement appears: "This film was made secretly in order to portray the true conditions of life in South Africa today. There are no professional actors in this drama of the fate of a man and his country. This is the story of Zachariah--one of the hundreds of thousands of Africans forced each year off the land by the regime and into the gold mines." Although the onscreen credits include a 1959 copyright statement for Lionel Rogosin Films, the film was not registered for copyright.
       As noted in a 1967 LAT article, the film’s title was taken from that of the African National Congress anthem. All of the characters have the same name as the actors who play them. Although the main character is spelled “Zacharia” in the opening credits, his name is spelled “Zachariah” in the written statement. Some of the dialogue is spoken in African dialect with English subtitles. Throughout the film, scenes of Zacharia’s fictional plight are interspersed with documentary footage of life in Johannesburg and Sophiatown, contrasting the metropolitan city with the rural, poverty-stricken village. Native music is heard throughout, and in one scene, noted South African folk singer Miriam Makeba, making her feature film debut, sings two unnamed songs. According to a modern source, as a result of Makeba’s performance in Come Back, Africa, Harry Belafonte arranged for her U.S. concert debut and a recording contract with RCA Victor.
       As shown in the film, Sophiatown was a black rural settlement outside of Johannesburg. The town was established in 1904 and quickly became a lively refuge for black South Africans, as well as Indian ...

More Less

After the opening credits, the following written statement appears: "This film was made secretly in order to portray the true conditions of life in South Africa today. There are no professional actors in this drama of the fate of a man and his country. This is the story of Zachariah--one of the hundreds of thousands of Africans forced each year off the land by the regime and into the gold mines." Although the onscreen credits include a 1959 copyright statement for Lionel Rogosin Films, the film was not registered for copyright.
       As noted in a 1967 LAT article, the film’s title was taken from that of the African National Congress anthem. All of the characters have the same name as the actors who play them. Although the main character is spelled “Zacharia” in the opening credits, his name is spelled “Zachariah” in the written statement. Some of the dialogue is spoken in African dialect with English subtitles. Throughout the film, scenes of Zacharia’s fictional plight are interspersed with documentary footage of life in Johannesburg and Sophiatown, contrasting the metropolitan city with the rural, poverty-stricken village. Native music is heard throughout, and in one scene, noted South African folk singer Miriam Makeba, making her feature film debut, sings two unnamed songs. According to a modern source, as a result of Makeba’s performance in Come Back, Africa, Harry Belafonte arranged for her U.S. concert debut and a recording contract with RCA Victor.
       As shown in the film, Sophiatown was a black rural settlement outside of Johannesburg. The town was established in 1904 and quickly became a lively refuge for black South Africans, as well as Indian and Chinese citizens. On 9 Feb 1955, the government forcibly relocated the residents to Meadowlands, Soweto in order to create in its place Triomf, a residential area restricted to whites. Over the following eight years, removals continued until the town was razed and 65,000 blacks relocated, some of whom were forced to separate from their families because of government racial classifications.
       An Apr 1960 Time article described the lengths director Lionel Rogosin had to go to in order to capture film footage in apartheid South Africa: He entered the country in 1957 as a tourist and lived there for a year before obtaining a government permit to shoot a “musical travelogue.” Shooting lasted for three months and was accomplished largely in secret; even the actors were not allowed full access to the script. Rogosin “discovered” Zacharia, a Zulu office worker, at a railroad station. The director financed much of the film’s $70,000 budget himself.
       According to a 1967 LAT article, Rogosin edited the raw footage in London, where he also “dubbed in the dialog,” although much of the film’s dialogue was clearly captured during the production. The Time article also noted that, upon the film’s completion and after its European release, Rogosin was unable to secure an American exhibitor. In response, he bought a three-year lease on the Bleeker Street Theater in New York and ran the film there.
       Come Back, Africa played out of competition at the Venice Film Festival in Sep 1959 and there won the Critic’s Prize. In America, reviews were generally laudatory. Although many critics found the quality of the direction and acting lacking, they widely praised Rogosin’s attempt to portray the plight of contemporary South African blacks and applauded his ability to obtain footage under difficult restrictions. The HCN reviewer, however, reproached the picture for its “prejudice,” calling it “detrimental to the cause of integration and equal rights.” Time magazine named the film one of the top pictures of 1960.
       In May 1978, Box reported that Rogosin planned to reissue Come Back, Africa “in view of the current African situation.” At that point, the film had never been shown in South Africa. A Nov 2004 Var article stated that the film had recently been restored by Italy’s Bologna Institute for South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation, and that this version had its premiere on 19 Nov 2004 in Johannesburg. Although that article stated that Henry Nxumalo, a journalist who helped inform the world about the treatment of blacks in South Africa, appears in Come Back, Africa, Nxumalo died in 1957.

Less

GEOGRAPHIC LOCATIONS
SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
4 Jul 1960
---
Box Office
29 May 1978
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
29 Aug 1963
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
9 Sep 1963
---
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1959
p. 3
Los Angeles Times
5 Aug 1967
---
Los Angeles Times
12 Dec 2000
---
New York Times
5 Apr 1960
p. 45
Time
25 Apr 1960
---
Variety
16 Sep 1959
p. 16
Variety
22 Nov 2004
---
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
The people of Johannesburg South Africa:
+

NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTOR
PRODUCER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Photog
Photog
FILM EDITORS
MUSIC
Mus ed
SOUND
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
Prod staff
DETAILS
Release Date:
1960
Premiere Information:
World premiere at Venice Film Festival: 8 Sep 1959; New York opening: 4 Apr 1960
Production Date:
1958 in South Africa
Physical Properties:
Sound
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
90 or 95
Countries:
South Africa, United States
Language:
English
SYNOPSIS

During a rural famine in South Africa in 1959, farmer Zacharia Mgabi leaves his wife Vinah and children in Zululand to find work in Johannesburg. He is recruited to work in the gold mines, and although he has been promised that this will allow him to find higher paying work in Johannesburg, in truth his working permit allows him only to work in the mines before returning home. Desperate to earn more than the paltry pay at the mines, Zacharia nonetheless labors intensely along with hundreds of other impoverished blacks. Finally, he is able to procure a working pass and a job in Johannesburg as a cook for a white family. The cruel, racist wife calls Zacharia “Jack” and berates him constantly, complaining about his laziness and stupidity. Zacharia, who is overwhelmed by the luxuries and curiosities of the city and feels degraded by his job, commiserates with new friends Eddy and Steven. One day, after sipping some of the couple’s scotch, Zacharia is fired and turns to Eddy for help in finding a new job before his work permit runs out. Eddy brings Zacharia to a bar, where the men laughingly suggest that he become a beggar. A woman tries to seduce Zacharia, but he resists, missing Vinah. After moving in with Steven, he gets a job washing cars, but is forced to kowtow to the white owner. When Zacharia and Eddy take a customer’s fancy car for a joy ride, they are chastised, and soon after, both are fired after Eddy skips a day of work to attend a meeting of the insurgent African National Congress. When Vinah and the children come to Johannesbrug, Zacharia is thrilled ...

More Less

During a rural famine in South Africa in 1959, farmer Zacharia Mgabi leaves his wife Vinah and children in Zululand to find work in Johannesburg. He is recruited to work in the gold mines, and although he has been promised that this will allow him to find higher paying work in Johannesburg, in truth his working permit allows him only to work in the mines before returning home. Desperate to earn more than the paltry pay at the mines, Zacharia nonetheless labors intensely along with hundreds of other impoverished blacks. Finally, he is able to procure a working pass and a job in Johannesburg as a cook for a white family. The cruel, racist wife calls Zacharia “Jack” and berates him constantly, complaining about his laziness and stupidity. Zacharia, who is overwhelmed by the luxuries and curiosities of the city and feels degraded by his job, commiserates with new friends Eddy and Steven. One day, after sipping some of the couple’s scotch, Zacharia is fired and turns to Eddy for help in finding a new job before his work permit runs out. Eddy brings Zacharia to a bar, where the men laughingly suggest that he become a beggar. A woman tries to seduce Zacharia, but he resists, missing Vinah. After moving in with Steven, he gets a job washing cars, but is forced to kowtow to the white owner. When Zacharia and Eddy take a customer’s fancy car for a joy ride, they are chastised, and soon after, both are fired after Eddy skips a day of work to attend a meeting of the insurgent African National Congress. When Vinah and the children come to Johannesbrug, Zacharia is thrilled to see them but worries that he will not be able to provide for them. They visit an aunt in nearby Sophiatown, a rural suburb in which black people live in poverty. Despite the unpaved streets and ramshackle homes, the people of Sophiatown enjoy a vibrant cultural life, and singing and dancing abound in the streets. The aunt allows the family to stay in her house, and soon Zacharia secures a job as a waiter in a hotel. Within days, however, a white guest falsely accuses him of attacking her, and he is fired once again. Vinah refuses to leave Sophiatown and instead suggests that she get a job as a domestic worker, but Zacharia forbids her to because she will have to live at her employer’s house. One day, Vinah catches their son in a fight with other local boys, and later, Zacharia fights with Marumu, not realizing that he is the leader of a dangerous gang. At the bar, a man named Ken explains Marumu’s background and mourns the fact that even among their own people there is lack of communication and inclusion. Ken believes that if people throughout South Africa could talk to one another, they could heal some of the political rift. The other men, however, scorn this optimism, believing that the white man will never stop patronizing the blacks. The men drink all day, and as they become drunk, one European-African man confesses that he feels out of place everywhere, while another states that only art has no national borders. At home, Zacharia, with only seventy-two hours left to find work, is forced to allow Vinah to take a job. He soon finds a position at a mine, but that night, he is arrested for sleeping with Vinah in her employer’s home without permission. One officer threatens to rape Vinah, but another officer stops him. Vinah is terrified of what will happen to Zacharia, but her aunt assures her he will serve only a few days in jail. Just before Zacharia is released, Marumu comes to the house seeking revenge, and upon finding Vinah alone, kills her. When Zacharia returns home, he discovers her body, and explodes in grief.

Less

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

TOP SEARCHES

Citizen Kane

This film's end credits begin with the statement, “Most of the principal actors in Citizen Kane are new to motion pictures. The Mercury Theatre is proud ... >>

Double Indemnity

James M. Cain's novel Double Indemnity was serialized in Liberty magazine. Although Joseph Sistrom is listed as producer in various contemporary sources, the SAB at ... >>

Cheating the Public

The story was originally entitled ... >>

Cover Up

This film's working title was Some Rain Must Fall . According to a NYT news item dated 20 Jun 1948, when Dennis O'Keefe reported for work ... >>

A Change of Seasons

According to a 20 Apr 1979 DV news item, a working title for the film was Consenting Adults.
       The following acknowledgements appear at the end ... >>

The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.