Films to watch before you visit South Africa

Nothing in this world is easy. South Africa certainly is hard to understand. True, you travel to Cape Town, you travel to Kruger National Park, and you find nice people and exciting wildlife. You can go home and remember it as that lovely place it is. There will be so many questions nagging you. When we visit a place, we like to understand what is going on. We read the papers and facts but also fiction, prose, cookbooks, and all there is to grasp what makes a country. Another good way to get a better idea of places is to watch a film about it.
Nine DVD covers of films that play in South Africa

I put together a list of films to watch before you visit South Africa. Films (stories) set in location offer more than a travel guide ever can. All films are tried and tested. If you watch all of these and travel to South Africa, you will have a better understanding of the country and you will certainly feel inspired to talk to locals to learn more about the past. Watch sad, gripping, infuriating, and uplifting stories about poverty, crime, gang life, the diamond trade, freedom fighters, adventurers, forgiveness, the healing power of sport, irrational hate, and true leadership.


Good reason to watch it: Learn about poverty, crime and gang life.

A film about class differences, poverty, gang life and the emotions of Tsotsi, the boy. It makes you think about a lot of things. For most people, life in townships seems harsh. The film might appear unrealistic from the sofa of your comfortable home. If fate had wanted it, each one of us could live in these conditions. 

All actors, South African Presley Chweneyagae in the role of Tsotsi, convince with their authenticity. They transport the viewer into a world of South African poverty and crime.

Tsotsi, an orphaned teenager, lives in Johannesburg. He leads a bleak life, there is no love, no warmth, no hope, and lots of violence. To make ends meet, he is a member of a gang. One day, Tsotsi hijacks a car. He soon realizes that he accidentally forced the victim to leave her baby in the baby seat in the back. Not much he can do but to take it home with him to his place. His makeshift shack is in a township, where gangs intimidate the community. Tsotsi lives in dangerous and unhygienic conditions.

The film by Gavin Hood, based on the story of the book by South African writer Athol Fugard won the Academy Award for Foreign Language Film at the 78th Academy Awards.

Blood Diamond

Good reason to watch it: Learn about the diamond trade.

Blood Diamond was filmed in South Africa. Did you know that there may be blood on your wedding finger, in case you wear a diamond ring? The story: The time of the Sierra Leone Civil War (1991 to 2001). A Rhodesian born diamond smuggler and a fisherman hunt for the sought-after pink diamond. One believes the money can help him to a better life, the other one hopes to rescue his son and family from war. It is an action film. It includes lots of the judgemental colonial narratives about Africa. Leave all that aside and ignore the from Hollywood created extra drama. Take away the very captivating history about the diamond trade. It will open your eyes.

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Danny Archer, Djimon Hounsou as Solomon Vandy, Jennifer Connelly as Maddy Bowen. If Leo is in it, what can go wrong?

Catch a Fire

Good reason to watch it: Learn about freedom fighters.

A drama and the true story about murder and corruption in Apartheid-era South Africa. The 1980s tell about the brutal oppression of White South Africa. Patrick Chamusso is an oil refinery foreman. He is not interested in politics. Only when he is wrongly accused of carrying out a bomb attack does he become a freedom fighter. He starts planning attacks against the white oppressors. The story goes back and forth through intrigues and lies. Patrick gets a prison sentence for 24 years but gets released early thanks to the end of apartheid.

Starring Tim Robbins as Nic Vos, and Derek Luke as Patrick Chamusso.

Long Way Down

Good reason to watch it: Learn about two adventurers.

The Long Way Down (television series, book and DVD) documents the motorcycle journey by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, from John o' Groats in Scotland through eighteen countries in Europe and Africa to Cape Town in South Africa. Their trip ends in South Africa at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of the African continent.

Starring Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman.

In My Country

Good reason to watch it: Learn about Ubuntu.

Do you know what Ubuntu is? Did you read the Country of My Skull by Antjie Krog? The film is based on her memoir.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to investigate murders and tortures, and all abuses of human rights under apartheid. Hearings, held in 1995 and 1996, allowed victims to confront their tormentors. Oppressors who admitted their guilt were granted forgiveness in return.

In my country: An Afrikaner poet and an American journalist are sent to South Africa to report about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

Watch the film to see what happened during Apartheid und to truly understand what Ubuntu is.

Starring Juliette Binoche as Anna Malan, and Samuel L. Jackson as Langston Whitfield.


Good reason to watch it: Learn about the significance of the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship.

Rugby is a big thing in South Africa. Nelson Mandela worked with the captain of South Africa's rugby team, Francois Pienaar, to help unite their country. The film Invictus tells us this story. At the time, Mandela is the newly elected president. He knows his nation remains racially divided. Large parts of the population believe him to be nothing more than a terrorist still.

Nelson Mandela managed to bring the people of South Africa together through sport. The film is an emotional history lesson. Watch it and understand the importance and significance of the 1995 Rugby World Cup Championship.

Starring Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela, and    Matt Damon as Jacobus Francois Pienaar.

Goodbye Bafana

Good reason to watch it: Learn how to overcome irrational fear and hate.

James Gregory was the censor officer and prison guard of Nelson Mandela. The film GOODBYE BAFANA tells how Gregory's life was profoundly altered when he guarded Nelson Mandela on Robben Island. It is spiritually elevating to watch this film. Racists can change as soon as they start to think about where their (irrational) hate comes from.

Starring Dennis Haysbert as Nelson Mandela, Joseph Fiennes as James Gregory, and Diane Kruger as Gloria Gregory.

Mandela. The Long Walk Home

Good reason to watch it: Learn about true leadership.

Historical Biography Nelson Mandela. This acclaimed documentary special tells the story of Nelson Mandela, exploring Mandela's character, leadership and life's method through intimate recollections with friends, political allies, adversaries, and his fellow prisoners and gaol wardens on Robben Island where he spent 18 of his 27 prison years.

Mandela. Long Walk To Freedom

The film is based on the 1995 autobiographical book Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela. It tells viewers about Mandela's early life, his education and 27 years in prison until eventually becoming President of South Africa.

The story is told a bit too fast and hasty. How can one tell the life story of a personality as inspiring as Mandela in 146 minutes?

Starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela, and Naomie Harris as Winnie Mandela.

From Berlin with love