Come Back, Africa (1959)

Come Back, Africa (1959)

“The liberal doesn’t want a grown up African.”

A Black South African (Zacharia Mgabi) leaves his poverty-stricken kraal to work in the Johannesburg gold mines, but finds his efforts to work foiled at every turn; meanwhile, his wife (Vinah Bendile) puts her own life at danger while working as a domestic servant.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Africa
  • African Films
  • Racism and Race Relations
  • Survival

The making of this underground film about Apartheid-era South Africa — chronicled in the documentary An American in Sophiatown (2007) — is inextricable from the movie itself, which simply follows a loose script and shows non-actors living out their existence amidst real-life settings.

Director Lionel Rogosin — influenced specifically by Italian neo-realists and Robert Flaherty’s work — wanted to make a “docufiction” film, but told a number of cover stories to people he encountered in order to get this done, primarily insisting he was making a musical (which accounts for the many scenes of various musicians, including the appearance of Miriam Makeba just before she reached international fame):

The dominant theme of the film, however, is of Mgabi’s unsuccessful attempts to find and keep any kind of steady employment. We see his terrible mistreatment at the hands of a bigoted white housewife (Myrtle Berman, who in real life was an anti-Apartheid activist):

… and his short-lived attempts at working as a garage attendant, a waiter, and a laborer. Life is cruel and dehumanizing for Blacks in this setting, and the culminating scene merely brings this home with a sickening punch. While the storyline and acting are as amateur as you might expect from a low-budget venture like this, it remains worth a look simply for the glimpse it provides of a certain hidden era in history.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Invaluable footage of Apartheid-era South Africa

Must See?
Yes, simply for its historical relevance. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Historically Relevant


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