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Sage and screen: Jamie Uys as filmmaker part 2: The Mimosa Films phase, 1966-1996

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Jan-Ad Stemmet, Department of History (University of the Free State, RSA). stemmetj@ufs.ac.za

This article was written with the gracious co-operation of Dr Boet Troskie (founder: Mimosa Films) and mrs. Mireschen Troskie-Marx (board member: Mimosa Films).

Abstract

In his career of nearly 50 years, Jamie Uys made more than 40 pictures — feature films, short films, and documentaries. Most of his work appeared before he joined Mimosa Films, and between 1950 and 1966 he launched about a film a year. During his Mimosa Films period (1966-1996), he made only seven films, and these took longer to complete and were more expensive than anything he had done before. All his films of this period were very successful commercially and critically: of his seven full-length movies, five were sensational international successes on a scale that had not previously been seen in the history of film in South Africa. The Gods must be Crazy (1980) remains the single most successful film ever from Africa. This article gives an overview of the period 1966-1996. During the last 30 years of his life, the filmmaker reached his creative and professional peak. This article is not intended to be a thorough critique of Uys’s works: It examines the filmmaker’s creative and professional challenges and processes in making his remarkable contribution to South Africa’s (cinematic) cultural history.

Introduction

In his career of almost 50 years, Jamie Uys made more than 40 pictures – feature films, short films and documentaries. Most of his works appeared before he joined Mimosa Films, and between 1950 and 1966, he released approximately a film a year. Although this productivity developed his film-making abilities tremendously, Uys detested making films just for financial reasons. He longed for the financial security to make movies meticulously. During his Mimosa Films phase (1966-1996), he made only seven feature films. His Mimosa pictures took longer and cost more to make than anything he had done before, and all these films were critical and commercial successes. Of his six features, five achieved international success on a scale unprecedented in the film history of South Africa. His The Gods must be Crazy (Uys 1980) remains the single most successful film ever to come from Africa. This article will chronicle the period 1966-1996 (Uys passed away in 1996), during which time he reached his creative and professional apex. In a time when South African television was booming, and, as a result, the local film industry was waning, he made South African cinematic history.

This article does not intend an in-depth critique of Uys’s works, but explores the film-maker’s creative and professional challenges and processes in making his landmark contributions to South Africa’s (cinematic) cultural history. Jamie Uys was an intensely private individual, and therefore no (auto)biographies, history books, or academic theses dealing specifically with Uys have ever been published. The article therefore relies on newspaper and magazine clippings, and Mimosa Films allowed access to its private archive.

An ace called Uys and the men from Mimosa

In 1965, the small production team, with only a miniscule budget, filmed seven days a week, night and day, winter and summer (without the luxury of sets and studios) to make Die wonderwêreld van Kammie Kamfer (The Wonderful World of Kammie Kamfer) (1965). Al Debbo, Afrikaans all-round entertainer, was in charge of filming. It was one of Debbo’s many movies and the first film from the Free State’s Mimosa Films. Boet Troskie, a young Bloemfontein businessman who dealt in vehicles, had seen Debbo’s Donker Afrika (Dark Africa) (1957) and at a variety show starring Debbo asked Debbo why he stopped making movies. It turned out that financing was Debbo’s problem. In fact Debbo had a script (by seasoned actor Gert van den Bergh), but no financial backing (Mimosa Films 1985). “When Al told me that it cost almost R60 000 to make a film, I nearly fell on my back. Nonetheless, the next day we put our heads together and formed Mimosa Films,” recalled Boet Troskie of the day in 1964 when, together with his brother, Bill, they founded their film company (Stemmet 2011:96). While the Troskie brothers from Bloemfontein were developing their first production, the country’s foremost filmmaker, Jamie Uys, had left his own production house. The Troskies knew Gilbert Gibson, an actor who had played a role in Uys’s Rip van Wyk (1960) and Doodkry is min (1961) (Gibson had also done the translation for Donker Afrika).

Boet Troskie asked and later pleaded with an uncertain Gibson to arrange a meeting. “They [Boet and Bill Troskie] just pitched up at my house,” Uys recollected. “They said they’d made one movie with Al Debbo and wouldn’t I like to join them. It so happened that at that time I was a bit fed up with my distributors [Jamie Uys Films] because they took over my name and put some funny things under its banner. So a week later I phoned them [Boet and Bill Troskie] and said OK” (Mimosa Films 2007a). The country’s youngest production house (Mimosa Films) and the country’s most prominent filmmaker (Jamie Uys) had teamed up. In 1966, Uys became a director of Mimosa Films. Their collaboration spanned 30 years, during which time they would create the most successful films in South African history — and there was never anything resembling a written agreement between Troskie and Jamie Uys. It was all based on trust and camaraderie. The unwritten agreement was staggeringly simple: The filmmaker must make films; the businessman will take care of business. Uys was given the creative safety and financial security to focus on his storytelling. Arguably, he was one of only a few filmmakers ever to work without a narrow budget or timescale. “I’ll never forget those years when I had to make films and agonize over the business side, raising money, paying wages,” said Uys, “[Now] I make the films, they [Mimosa Films] look after the money” (see Mimosa Films 2007a, Sutton 1983, and De Bruin 1983b). The Uys-Mimosa Films alliance kicked off with a double dose: A feature film and a documentary.

Three wise men (1967) centred on how three different blind South Africans viewed their respective worlds. This was shown in bioscopes in America’s major cities (1968) to critical and popular acclaim, and was then re-edited by Uys to a 14-minute TV-insert, which was screened across the USA — within a single year, it was broadcast by various American TV-stations more than 4 000 times (Stemmet 2011:99). Uys was suddenly regarded by America as master of the short. Only in 1980 was the film withdrawn from circulation (see Anonymous 1968k, Anonymous 1968l, and Mimosa Films n.d.).

Die Professor en die Prikkelpop

In 1966 Uys wanted three months off to do anything that had nothing to do with films. After three weeks he was bored and abruptly started scriptwriting. Uys had been a judge at a beauty pageant in Springs once and the experience had stayed with him (see Anonymous 1966a, and Anonymous 1966b). Die Professor en die Prikkelpop (also released as The professor and the beauty queen), released in 1967, revolved around a beauty pageant. In this film, his first full-length feature with Mimosa Films, a contestant’s gangster-boyfriend tries to make sure his lady will win — regardless of the cost. One of the judges (Uys), a rather disoriented professor and single father to a little boy (Uys’s son Wynand Uys), gets mixed up in the pageant’s dangerous (and funny) intrigues (Uys 1967).

To create a publicity buzz Mimosa Films arranged with newspapers throughout South Africa to hold beauty pageants to select twelve actors who would star as the contestants in the film. The papers loved this idea and hundreds of hopeful starlets entered. Uys crisscrossed the country several times screen-testing the contesters (see Gibson 1966, Anonymous 1966a, 1966b, 1966c, and De Cock 1967) (in the process he discovered Tiny de Lange whose onscreen beauty would mesmerize South Africans). For the theme song Uys had to choose from eight possibilities but ultimately could only select one: Kobus “Dopper” Erasmus wrote “Timothy”, performed by Four Jacks and a Jill, and sung, in the picture, by Carike Keuzenkamp; launching her career. Uys’s only picture focusing specifically on women was a financial success and earned R250 000 in three months, (Mimosa Films 1980).

Dirkie

In some way or another, each one of Uys’s Mimosa pictures provided the spark for the next one. The filmmaker was flying to Namibia, in 1967, to promote Die Professor en die Prikkelpop when he became completely hypnotised by the sprawling red dunes of the desert. As a seasoned cinematic storyteller, he realised that, in spite of its majesty, images of dunes will only mesmerise audiences for a few moments. He had read of a plane crash in which only a small child survived (Mimosa Films 1988). Uys’s script told of a sickly boy (Wynand Uys 1) that is sent by his pianist father (Jamie Uys) to a drier climate for health reasons. The plane carrying the boy crashes, and he is lost in the Namib Desert together with his dog, while the father frantically searches for him (Uys 1969). Initially entitled The Fallen Sparrow, Uys later decided on Dirkie (the English version was released as Lost in the Desert) (Anonymous 1968h). Dirkie’s story might have been a simple premise, but the production was a gruelling epic. 2 Most directors that have filmed in the Namib usually did not venture away from more civilised parts of the country, but Uys said, “We are going to film at even the most inaccessible places” (Stemmet 2011:76). Uys and Mimosa negotiated permission to film at places that are legally off-limits to the public; including parts of Namibia’s confined diamond zone. Uys travelled thousands of miles across Namibia, first by car and then plane, location-scouting (see Anonymous 1968f, and 1968g).

Actual filming stretched from the Kalahari Gemsbok Park (currently the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park) to Etosha to Windhoek to Walvis Bay, Rhehoboth and the restricted diamond zone. The Uys team would drive 11 000 kilometres through the wilderness to make the picture. Challenges abounded: The R250 000 budget did not allow for luxury accommodation, and they would camp far away from civilization (and sometimes water), which made planning for the production an intricate operation. Once a week a plane brought provisions from Windhoek; otherwise the filmmakers were on their own. The small crew of 11 had to obey food and water rations. Temperatures were extreme: The nights icy; the days hot. Tents, equipment, notes, and supplies were constantly blown away by desert winds. The crew tented in the Namib wilderness amidst wild animals. 3 Animals used in the film, ranging from a leopard to a hyena to a baboon to snakes and scorpions, an Alsatian and Dirkie’s pet Cairn terrier, had to be tended to as well (see Pienaar 1968, Anonymous 1968j, Mimosa Films n.d.). Apart from the snakes and scorpions, the other animals were tamed, but not trained, which complicated the filmmaking. 4 Furthermore, Jamie Uys suffered from a unique medical condition: The intense heat made his lips burst into a (painful) bloody mush. When Uys (lead actor / scriptwriter / director / principal cameraman) became incapacitated, the production stopped, sending costs soaring (Mimosa Films 2007a). Uys needed an indigenous child to play a part in the movie, and remembering an old legend, the secluded local tribes were convinced “the white one” wanted to buy their kids as slaves. After gentle negotiations (as well as a change of filming location), the director acquired his, anonymous, actress (Mimosa Films 1988). Dawid, a local Toppenaar, played a Khoi San without ever having seen a movie, which complicated the production even further (Anonymous 1969).
However, the two most treacherous challenges facing Uys were dunes and sand. “At night he has nightmares about those footprints,” Hettie Uys mentioned (Anonymous 1968b). The red dunes (the film’s muse) were nightmarish: Dirkie was supposedly alone in the desert, and when a dune shot demanded a retake, a different virgin dune without footprints had to be found (see Breytenbach 1968 and 1968b). Secondly, the fine desert sand got into the cameras, and it took only a few sand particles to obliterate the delicate film. Uys could not evaluate the filmed material in the desert, and it had to be flown from Namibia to London, where it was developed by Eastman / Technicolor. Only back in Johannesburg could he see the material (making editing a nightmare). If it was damaged or Uys was unhappy with a scene, the whole production team had to trek back and reshoot, prolonging production and wrecking the budget (Mimosa Films 1988). At last — and after a lot of public anticipation and speculation — Dirkie (Lost in the Desert) was released in 1969. It was more than just successful: It set South African box office records. The 13 prints Mimosa Films had made were not nearly enough, which meant Mimosa officials had to travel across the country to deliver copies. Boet Troskie and Mimosa Films brokered a deal for Dirkie’s international distribution with the Columbia Pictures Corporation, which screened it almost worldwide with tremendous success 5, putting Uys squarely on the international studios’ radar.
In between the production process of Dirkie, Uys created two short films, commissioned by the Department of Information, for international showing. Marching to Pretoria (1969) looked at the country’s administrative capital (Uys 1969), while The Great Adjustment (1969) showed how man and animal co-existed (Uys 1969). Animals were his next feature’s theme.

Beautiful People

After the overseas breakthrough with Dirkie, Hollywood wanted another Uys picture. While filming Dirkie in Namibia, Uys was mesmerised by the desert’s fauna and flora. He was to make a full-length feature film about it: with no humans. 6 Although styled like a nature documentary, Beautiful People (1974) was an epic feature, and Uys revealed Southern Africa’s fauna and flora as a lush-dried paradise. He was to capture a rainbow of trees, plants, flowers and seeds, to birds, fish, insects and reptiles as well as herbivores and carnivores, plus his beloved desert, in an imaginative way. Beautiful People showed how the wild kingdom and the human world mirrored each other. Part comedy, part drama, part adventure, part tragedy, part romance, part action, part educational — the picture, essentially, was a combination of all genres (see Uys 1974 and Mimosa Films 2007a).

The most gruelling production of his career of almost 50 years, Beautiful People was beset with practical difficulties. 7 The regions Uys wanted to explore cinematically morphed with the slightest change in the weather — never mind seasons. Nature cannot be hurried; the filmmaker simply had to wait, film, and wait again. The wild is wild: a missed shot was lost forever. Furthermore, he wanted to capture Southern Africa’s natural world almost in its entirety, a rather far-fetched ambition for a man who preferred to work alone. As chief cinematographer, he travelled about 200 000km through the Kalahari, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe in over three years (see Anonymous 1973, 1974b, 1974c, and 1974d). “In spite of the heat, rain, tsetse flies and humidity it was fun for the most of the time,” said Uys (Stemmet 2011:79). “Each change in the weather brought out different animals for me to look at, study and film” (Keil 1974:10). Katinka Heyns (1996:35) remarks,

Iemand wat dink hy was in sy dierefilms verplig om baie aan die toeval oor te laat, of aan dié of daardie bobbejaan se wispelturigheid, neem nie Jamie se legendariese hardnekkigheid in ag nie. Met sy soort geduld kon hy mettertyd selfs die toeval manipuleer.

[Someone who thinks he was obliged in his animal movies to leave much to chance, or to this or that baboon’s fickleness, does not take Jamie’s legendary stubbornness into account. With his kind of patience he could eventually even manipulate chance.]

In the end he had an astounding 804 672 metres of film — he was personally going to edit it to 3 000m. Working non-stop for 18 months, Uys — jetting between his Johannesburg studios and California — edited the labyrinth of film; his overzealousness resulting in cardiac arrest. Rina Venter, from Mimosa Films, said: “He’s overextended and moreover he’s doing everything himself” (see Anonymous 1972a, 1972b, and Mimosa Films 2007a).

Boet Troskie, backed by Hollywood, managed a million-dollar production (South Africa’s first), which was quickly depleted by a drawn-out production of Beautiful People. The Americans demanded a film or the money. With the one-man filmmaker in intensive care, the picture had the potential to kill Uys and Mimosa Films. Dr. Troskie persevered and Uys made a quick recovery. Uys again started working on Beautiful People. The film was presented to experts to explain the animals’ behaviour and if “they could not tell me I would work it out for myself” (Keil 1974:10). Uys had to write an absorbing commentary with which to tie-up some 40 sequences 8 (see Anonymous 1973, 1974b, and 1974d).

By 1975, more than 3 000 000 had seen Beautiful People — more than the country’s entire white population. Locally the picture made more than R3 000 000. At just one South African bioscope the film sold more tickets than an average Afrikaans movie grosses nationally. In November 1974, Variety stated: “Beautiful People is an extraordinary African nature documentary, one of the finest examples of its kind and told with a singleness of purpose…” (Anonymous 1974a). When released in the USA, the film’s popularity was fantastic: Within three weeks it made $525 000 in Los Angeles and $450 000 in Dallas. In Hong Kong the film (permanently sold out) caused havoc (Stemmet 2011: 101). Large crowds waited for hours to get tickets. In Bangkok — in 48 hours — it had set an attendance record. It made more than (US) $965 000 at three Tokyo theatres within 84 days; within 33 days Hong Kong’s seven bioscopes sold tickets worth (US) $618 905 — eventually making twice as much as the legendary Star Wars (stemmet 2011: 101). Across South America the movie was thrashing records (see Anonymous 1975a, 1975b, and Breytenbach 1974). By 1980, Beautiful People had earned some (US) $15 000 000. In the same year, Boet Troskie sold the television rights to the American network NBC: 20 000 000 Americans watched it in one broadcast (Anonymous 1980e). 9 By 2009, Beautiful People, bought by Warner Bros., was still shown on television worldwide. Awards proliferated, including America’s coveted Golden Globe for best documentary (Mimosa Films 2007b).

Funny People

“Actually I had my crew just film a couple of comical shots to keep them busy after we had completed Beautiful People,” explained Uys. “When I saw the result, we just left everything and started to work on what would later become Funny People” (Anonymous 1976d). Uys first saw hidden camera-comedies — showing ordinary citizens’ reactions to extraordinary situations — as a schoolboy, and loved the idea (Anonymous 1976g). “It’s fascinating to see how people reveal their personalities in moments of stress,” said Uys (Ferreira 1976). Uys experimented with the concept, of hidden-camera pranks, while making the 1969 short film Marching to Pretoria. Troskie flew to New York to meet with Allan Funt, legendary creator of Candid Camera, to negotiate permission to use the premise (Mimosa Films n.d.). The Uys team compiled a list of almost a hundred sequences from which they chose about 50 to stage. The scenarios had to be planned with precision — catching humorous reactions meant precise timing; camouflaging the cameras and microphones were also tricky. Filming across the country took 18 months. They snared hundreds of South Africans of all ages and races. Uys then sat with five hours of usable material, which had to be edited into a 90 minute picture, taking him six months (see Van Rensburg 1976:35 and Anonymous 1976c, 1976b, and 1976h). Funny People (Uys 1976) was to better the record-breaking success of Beautiful People.

In March 1976, Uys personally took Funny People for its first screening to thousands of South African troops stationed at Grootfontein in what was then South West Africa. Shortly afterwards, he showed it to (almost) all South Africa’s parliamentarians, including State President Nico Diederichs, Prime Minister John Vorster, and a full cabinet — the stern politicians cried with laughter (Anonymous 1976f and 1976j). Public anticipation for South Africa’s first hidden-camera film was ablaze. Nationwide, theatres were sold out for days — even before its release. In some cities, all sessions were sold out weeks in advance. In its first week alone, grossing about R250 000, one in every 19 white South Africans had bought a ticket (see Javis 1976, Greig 1976, and Anonymous 1976e and 1976a). No other film had ever achieved that many sales (Anonymous 1976i). The spur-of-the-moment comedy provoked such a national circus of popularity that Troskie decided to take it to the Cannes Film Festival (the global cinema industry’s most important trade fair). He successfully sold the film for distribution in most countries worldwide 10. International distributors bought the movie without having seen it — the name Jamie Uys clinched the deal (Mimosa Films 1986a). After engulfing South Africa, once more depleting the State’s film subsidy scheme, Uys’s People annexed box offices across the world raking in millions for years 11. While selling Funny People at Cannes, Dr. Troskie was besieged by interest in Uys. Some of the world’s largest film financiers demanded the right to bankroll his next three productions (Slabbert 1976). Uys knew exactly what his first one was to be. In 1975 he already hinted “my next big picture – it takes place in the desert – will be considerably more expensive and more ambitious than Beautiful People” (Van Zyl 1975).

Meanwhile, in 1976, South Africa finally started a television service. This had a devastating effect on the local film industry: Movie attendances naturally and immediately dropped. In 1976, some 32 local movies were released, the next year there were only 18, and in 1979 only 12 – and it would continue dropping (Garden 1983 and Mimosa Films n.d.). By 1980, Uys was one of a handful full-time filmmakers in South Africa.

Whilst making Dirkie and Beautiful People, Uys had become intrigued by the Bushmen. “A name I haven’t got yet. It’s about a white and a Bushman and will take place in Botswana…” and “It’s a bit of everything — comedy, pathos, tension…” a secretive Uys divulged (Mimosa Films n.d.).

The Gods must be Crazy

Uys first spoke about his Bushman-Coke movie idea and his fascination with these enigmatic desert people in 1976 (Anonymous 1976k). A pure documentary about the Bushmen, as was the case with Beautiful People’s red dunes, was too bland: he needed to intertwine documentary with entertainment. Uys would use the essence of his first picture, 1951’s Daar doer in die Bosveld (Deep in the Bushveld), and from there other themes originated (Mimosa Films 2007a). “There are only 13 000 Bushmen left in the country and I saw as many as I could find,” Uys said, who went on the hunt for his ideal desert hunter (Thomas 1985). Uys drove and flew tens of thousands of kilometres searching for his leading man. “[T]hey live over a vast area…and they don’t have addresses,” the filmmaker described. “I took 50-60 photos of prospects, marking the longitude and latitude where they were located” (Anonymous 1985e) 12. Back in Johannesburg, Uys had to pick one from hundreds of Bushmen. A lot (including a budget of millions) relied on his choice. “When I looked at the photos, one of them stood out” (Anonymous 1985d). Uys said about his star’s X-factor: “There is a word adeldom in Afrikaans that describes him exactly. It’s sort of aristocracy … though that sounds too pompous” (Mimosa Films 1986b). Having found his star and his core storylines, Uys needed something to tie it all together; something so ordinary that everyone will recognize it. “I simply used a Coke bottle because it is such a recognizable form,” Uys spoke of his cinematic eureka moment (Stemmet 2011:103).

“When I make a film, I first work out the dance steps. The dialogue comes later” (Mimosa Films 2007a). Uys found scriptwriting gruelling, but always wrote his own: “Scripts — good scripts — are rare. I would like to once film another guy’s script, but I am too full of nonsense to be pleased. Even with my own scripts the end result is never what I had imagined when I wrote it and then I am really unhappy” (Gous 1983:68). He would write a few lines for ten or so minutes and then play Scrabble or cards. He pondered every word; when finished he rarely changed anything. “There is only one way in which Jamie writes scripts,” Sue Antelme, Uys’s assistant, revealed. “When he works in the garden and spades for all he’s worth, I stand at his side with pen and notepad at the ready” (Anonymous 1979d). The result was The Gods must be Crazy: A Coke bottle falls on a Bushman’s (N!Xau) 13 head. The tribe believes it has been sent from heaven, and soon it disrupts their lives. The gods must be crazy for having given them this thing, and Xi subsequently walks to the end of the earth to throw it away. En route he gets mixed up with a bumbling macho man (Marius Weyers) and his love interest, a school teacher (Sandra Prinsloo). They get involved with the intrigues of a guerrilla group (Louw Verwey played its leader). N!Xau’s character saves the day (Uys 1979).

For The Gods Must Be Crazy Uys, with his six 4x4s, drove 50 000km while location-scouting throughout Angola, Botswana, the Kalahari, Namibia, and across South Africa (Stemmet 2011:102). The filmmaker (as usual doing almost everything himself) and his permanent technical crew of roughly six young men, now embarked on creating the multi-million dollar production. Uys used young apprentices because “it does not help if the people are too smart for their own good and do not do as I say” (Rossouw 1983). Legends abound of Uys’s tenacious perseverance while making this movie. 14 He filmed on a scale of more than twenty to one (more than twenty takes of a single scene). He — unlike his cast and crew — apparently never got tired; whatever it took to realize his vision, he would do it. Any premise of a deadline and budget 15 quickly vanished: nobody knew when the picture would be finished or how many millions it would actually cost. Uys calmly persisted, and Mimosa Films never lost faith. “I am the world’s worst to pin down to a budget and a schedule,” Uys declared. “I need complete freedom to go out and shoot” (Stemmet 2011:77). His executive producer, Dr. Troskie, said, “It is Jamie’s best yet, but he has given me some headaches” (Stemmet 2011:103). Apart from a smorgasbord of production challenges, Mimosa Films could not pre-sell the The gods must be crazy to overseas interests as a delivery date was impossible to set (Hay 1980). In May 1979, Troskie took a specially edited 20-minute segment from the picture to show at the Cannes Film Festival. Irrespective of delivery date, the international movie men went wild for it — 26 countries, from Germany to Israel to Indonesia to Venezuela, offered millions for distribution rights (of the yet unfinished movie) (Anonymous 1979c, 1979a, and 1979b).

By the end of December 1979, Uys had been editing The Gods must be Crazy for months, for 14 to 18 hours a day, without a single day’s rest — in between jetting to America to finish the soundtrack. During this time he suffered a heart attack, his second heart attack. Uys recuperated while a concerned Mimosa Films contracted a top editor from Hollywood to assist the workaholic (Steyl 1980, Anonymous 1980f). In the end, Jamie Uys had slaved over his picture for 4½ years (Mimosa Films 1986b). Following one postponement after another regarding the première, The Gods must be Crazy was locally released on 8 September 1980 (Mimosa Films 1986b).

The commercial success, locally and internationally, of The Gods must be Crazy, is almost impossible to summarize within a single article. The picture took only 96 hours to break all South African box-office records (Christie 1980, Anonymous 1980a). Shortly after release, theatres squeezed in extra screenings and still could not accommodate the demand. At one Potchefstroom theatre, police stood guard as people who could not buy tickets became violent (Anonymous 1980b). Percy Tucker, famed chief of the booking agency Computicket, was amazed, “I have never seen such business… In Pretoria one of my switchboard operators lost her voice” (Christie 1980 and Anonymous 1980c). By the second Saturday that it was on circuit, 99% of all seats of all sessions — nationally — were still sold out in advance (Christie 1980 and Anonymous 1980c). Not only bioscopes were sold-out: drive-in theatres were a spectacle: at outside drive-ins it was common to see crowds (who could not get tickets) standing along the fence to try and catch a glimpse. Frustrated, because they were unable to obtain tickets in cities, groups clubbed together, hired busses and travelled to neighbouring towns’ drive-ins (Anonymous 1980d). Throughout the country, the film’s initial run was repeatedly extended. Even Nelson Mandela, still in jail, saw it (Mimosa Films 1998). The gods must be crazy became the first film to make $5 000 000 in South Africa (Mimosa Films 2007a).
Instead of selling Funny People to American majors for distribution, Mimosa Films sold it from country to country, and The Gods must be Crazy was to be circulated in the same way. Dr. Troskie and a small team of representatives criss-crossed the globe, more than once, with their Coke movie (Mimosa Films n.d.).

The Gods must be Crazy was one of 1981’s Top Twenty most successful pictures in Spain (the King Mother saw it three times). In Japan it grossed $3 000 000 in 12 days (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). By February 1982, some 450 000 Japanese had seen it (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). In the Tokyo bioscope, where it was screened, even standing room was sold out. The film amassed such gigantic amounts in Japan that the economic controllers refused that the Troskie organisation withdrew all its profits from the country. In 1983, 1 000 000 Frenchmen bought tickets — beating Steven Spielberg’s E.T. and becoming that year’s top grossing film in France (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). Even in the Soviet Union — where it showed illegally – it was a smash hit. In Portugal it showed non-stop for a year. In Montreal it beat all Hollywood pictures’ box office business in the course of ten days. Within 7 days, 1 000 000 Swedes saw it (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). In Malaysia it ran for 100 weeks and became the most successful film to show there — ever. In Australia it ran for more than a year (in one Sydney bioscope, paramedics were reportedly called in to help moviegoers who suffered fits from laughing hysterically. In Brisbane, a psychiatrist was said to prescribe tickets to the film for his depression sufferers). When it hit New York City, in 1984, it set new records — becoming the foreign film with the longest uninterrupted run in the history of the Big Apple (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.).
In 1985, The gods must be crazy became the single most successful picture to be screened in Los Angeles; it showed for years in Beverly Hills. In Miami the film ran for five months. By 1984 the film was one of the most popular pictures to show in the USA — nationally. By May 1986 the picture entered its 93rd week on the list of the top fifty grossing pictures in the USA (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.). In the United States, The Gods must be Crazy would become the film with the longest uninterrupted run of all time. From West Germany to India to New Zealand to South America, the South African picture set records. When N!Xau and Uys were invited to visit Japan and France respectively they were received in a way reserved for statesmen and superstars. By 1985, The Gods must be Crazy had already earned $90 000 000. By 2001 it had grossed about R950 000 000. From 1980 to 1989, The Gods must be Crazy was screened uninterruptedly somewhere on earth (Mimosa Films 1986b, 2007a, and n.d.).
Apart from millions of dollars, accolades from across the globe streamed in. This included Switzerland’s Festival International du Film de Comedie Pour: Grand Prix award (1981) as well as the Norwegian Film Festival’s Grand Prix, as well as the London Film Festival’s Outstanding Film of the Year award, both in 1981. Others include the 1982 French Chamrousse Grand Prix award, the 1984 Southern California’s Motion Picture Council’s Golden Halo Award of Special Merit, and the 1985 American Academy of Science Fiction and Horror Films: Golden Scroll (Mimosa Films 2007b).

The gods must be crazy was internationally released as South Africa experienced unprecedented violent political conflict waging over apartheid. Internationally the country was treated as a pariah state. Anti-apartheid groups throughout the world desperately tried to brand the film as fascist propaganda 16, but to little effect — even in countries most vehemently opposed to apartheid, people flocked to see it in record numbers (Nigeria even boasted a Jamie Uys film club). The film spoke for itself: N!Xau was the wise hero of the film while the so-called civilized characters were the ridiculous ones. Uys was (repeatedly) asked why he did not make a film denouncing apartheid or at least addressing the issue. The filmmaker (repeatedly) retorted that he was in the business of humour and there was nothing funny about the system (see Rufus-Ellis 1983, Bright 1985, Anonymous 1985b, 1985a, and 1985c).

While the world roared with laughter at The gods must be crazy, Uys released Funny People 2 (Uys 1983). The Uys team compiled a comical picture from roughly 4 000 ordinary people they filmed in some 80 extraordinary situations (see Du Plessis 1985 and Anonymous 1983b). Repeating his candid-camera recipe, the picture was a fantastically funny hit. After its première on 26 October 1983, it quickly grossed staggering amounts: countrywide never-ending rows at the box-office characterised its release (Eales 1983, Anonymous 1983a). In the film’s initial run it earned a R100 000 per day — breaking The Gods must be Crazy’s local record (and as such, all box office records of all pictures ever showed in South Africa up until then) (see De Bruin 1985 and Anonymous 1983c). Troskie sold Funny People II at the 1983 Milan Film Festival with tremendous success to almost twenty countries and became an overseas hit (see De Bruin 1985 and Anonymous 1983c).

The Gods Must Be Crazy 2

By now Hollywood offered Uys budgets, production teams, cutting-edge technology and super stars — anything the South African wanted the Americans (competing for his creative/professional affections) would deliver. Never without an abundance of ideas, he contemplated some cherished earlier concepts. Already in 1981, Uys wanted to reshoot his Rip Van Wyk (1959) as Rip McDonald in Las Vegas. Or possibly make a picture about a hensopper in the Anglo-Boer War (De Bruin 1981 and 1983a:9). However, the world’s movie moguls demanded a sequel to the Bushman feature. In September 1984, Dr. Troskie announced that Mimosa Films was developing a sequel to The Gods must be Crazy 17 (Anonymous 1984). The follow-up was Uys’s most expensive movie by far. With a budget of between $15-20 million, Uys could afford a huge production team but as always stuck with a tiny team (15) and took charge of almost all aspects (Anonymous 1985f).

“In the sequel I am the equivalent of the Coke bottle which dropped from the sky…” said actress Lena Farugia (Christie 1986). Xi (N!Xau) searches for his lost children. A slick New Yorker (Farugia) and a macho nature expert (Hans Strydom) are in a plane crash and — like the Coke bottle — drop into the wild. Meanwhile, inept poachers get lost as well as two soldiers (of opposing sides). All the aforementioned four stories are knit together — with hysterical results (Uys 1989). As Dr. Troskie sold The Gods must be Crazy 2 amidst tremendous worldwide interest at the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, Uys started filming the actual picture (Botha 1986 and Steenkamp 1986). The expensive sequel, from concept to release, took five years to create; filming on a scale of 60:1. On average, the production team drove roughly 650 km between locations throughout Southern Africa. Uys also did post-production work and optical illusions at England’s legendary Pinewood Studios (Mimosa Films n.d.).

Two days after its release in October 1989, the picture, as was the tradition, had broken all South African movie records. Locally, The Gods must be Crazy 2 was earning +/- R1 000 000 per week by October 1989 (Mimosa Films 2000 and 2007a).

Once more South Africa and the world could not get enough of Uys’s fun fanfare. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, The Gods must be Crazy 1 and 2 had earned more than $500 million (more than R5 000 000 000) collectively (Mimosa Films 2000 and 2007a).
Both the The Gods must be Crazy films were so successful that it spawned three illegal Chinese films: Crazy Safari (1991), Crazy in Hong Kong (1993) and The Gods must be Funny in China (1994) (McLennan-Dodd and Tomaselli 2005). The success of the original films, The Gods Must Be Crazy and The Gods Must Be Crazy II, however, also came with vehement criticism, and claims that the films were racist (see Nicholls 2008 and Tomaselli 2006).

Still, Uys’s imagination was a kaleidoscope and soon he was exploring various ideas. By 1996, Jamie Uys (75) was the country’s undisputed sage of the silver screen: he was unsurpassed in acclaim, in commercial success and technical knowledge. In South Africa only one filmmaker could break Uys’s records — Uys. By January 1996 he was busy scriptwriting when he suffered his third and fatal heart attack (Mimosa Films 2007a).

When the laughter died

“I can’t write poetry — so I make movies.” Jamie Uys (1921 -1996)

Jamie Uys’s Mimosa Films phase represents his creative and professional apex. In his three decades with Mimosa Films, Jamie Uys’s immeasurable creative mind and vast professional experience climaxed. Boet Troskie supplied the financial security, and boundless time, for Uys to tell his stories the way that he had dreamt of. Their unique professional understanding and genuine friendship resulted in the collaboration creating the most popular pictures to come from the continent to date. In the process, Uys’s creative genius and Troskie’s corporate know-how spawned a business entity spanning the globe. Tellingly, Deon Meyer, in an article on filmmaking software (2005:77) claims,

Vandag se PC’s [persoonlike rekenaars of “personal computers”], toegerus met ʼn bekostigbare grafiese versnellerkaart en minstens 256 megagrepe vrye toegangsgeheue (RAM) [“Random Access Memory”], draf redigering ook lag-lag kaf. Veral danksy ʼn nuwe generasie programme wat jou in ʼn oogwink kan laat ontpop as die nuwe Jamie Uys.

[Today’s PCs [personal computers], equipped with an affordable graphic accelerator and at least 256 megabytes of Random Access Memory (RAM), makes editing much easier. Especially thanks to a new generation of programs that in an instant can make you emerge as the new Jamie Uys].

In other words, anyone can now supposedly become a world-renowned filmmaker, unlike Uys, who painstakingly edited his rolls of film. Note also that Meyer suggests someone can become a Jamie Uys, not a Steven Spielberg or Riddley Scott. Katinka Heyns (1996:35) said the following of Uys,

Almal wat selfs maar net op ʼn afstand met hom saamgewerk het, weet hy was veeleisend, moeilik, perfeksionisties tot by ʼn punt waar almal om hom begin selfmoord oorweeg, verbaal gestremd, verstrooid, geniaal, met niks tevrede nie, en — so absurd as wat dit ook mag klink — lief vir alles om hom en maklik om lief te hê. Hy was ʼn bietjie soos daardie Switserse mes met die baie goeters: skêr, blikoopmaker, els, naelvyl, saag, skroewedraaier, noem maar op.

[Everyone who even just at a distance worked with him, knows he was demanding, difficult, perfectionist to a point where everyone around him started contemplating suicide, verbally disabled, a scattered genius, satisfied with nothing, and — as absurd as it may sound — loved everything around him and easy to love. He was a bit like that Swiss knife with many things: scissors, can opener, awl, nail file, saw, screwdriver, you name it.]

When Uys joined Mimosa Films, new voices within the Afrikaans artistic community painted a wholly different picture of South African society than that which Uys was famous for. Breyten Breytenbach (poetry), André P. Brink (prose), Jans Rautenbach (films), P.G. du Plessis (dramas) showed a South Africa that was worlds apart from the somewhat pleasantly quaint depictions of Uys. Uys, totally aware of these shifts, did not adapt his style or approach. While with Mimosa Films, he excelled at creating unique cinematic moments void of messages that could (and would) become dated.

Uys’s captivating imagery left lasting impressions on millions spread across the globe. Furthermore, he introduced Southern Africa’s overwhelming natural beauty to global audiences in a way that has never before been done (the impact, directly or indirectly, it assuredly had on international tourism to the south of Africa is of course not quantifiable). During a time when South Africa’s film industry was crumbling, Uys’s pictures proved there was hope. In the Mimosa Films phase he succeeded in establishing the local film industry within the global arena. Time and again, he proved that a tiny picture could compete with Hollywood’s star-studded majors, albeit not in terms of budget but in imagination and ingenuity, and that that was in fact all that counted. Heyns (1996:35) notes that Uys accomplished this success “sonder Hollywoodsterre, sonder Amerikaanse geld, sonder seks of bloed of geweld of peperduur spesiale effekte” [without Hollywood stars, without American money, without sex or blood or violence or expensive special effects].
Jamie Uys reached his international grandiose success at a time when South Africa was globally a pariah. His films succeeded in transcending age, race and ideologies. Arguably his greatest achievement was being the embodiment of Walt Disney’s famous saying: “If you can dream it — you can do it.” Jamie Uys never stopped dreaming and never stopped doing: spectacularly so; “Hy het sy intuïsie gevolg en sy intuïsie was onfeilbaar” [He followed his intuition and his intuition was infallible] (Heyns 1996:35).

Bibliography

Anonymous. 1966a. “Jamie Uys soek S.A. se twaalf mooistes.” Die Vaderland, September 3.
Anonymous. 1966b. “Rus? Jamie Uys soek al weer mooi meisies.” Die Beeld, September 18.
Anonymous. 1966c. “Uys is on look-out for stars.” Natal Daily News, December 9.
Anonymous. 1968a. “Bit off a bit too much.” Cape Argus, October 30.
Anonymous. 1968b. “Dirkie se mense kry swaar in Namib.” Die Oosterlig, October 18.
Anonymous. 1968c. “Dog and hyena in real fight – Jamie Uys film.” Namib Times, October 25.
Anonymous. 1968d. “Doggone! – Almost.” Windhoek Advertiser, October 28.
Anonymous. 1968e. “Gaan eentalige rolprente maak.” Rustenburg Herald, August 2.
Anonymous. 1968f. “Jamie Uys begin werk aan nuwe film.” Victoria West Messenger, August 2.
Anonymous. 1968g. “Jamie Uys begin werk aan nuwe film.” Richmond Era, August 2.
Anonymous. 1968h. “Jamie Uys kom maak rolprent in Namib.” Namib Times, April 19.
Anonymous. 1968i. “New film part for schoolboy.” The Star, May 9.
Anonymous. 1968j. “’Nuwe’ Uys-trek van 7000 myl deur wildernis.” Die Vaderland, September 11.
Anonymous. 1968k. “Uys film turns up trumps in America.” The Friend, July 25.
Anonymous. 1968l. “Wise men a U.S. hit.” The Star, July 23.
Anonymous. 1969. “Filmster Dawid weet nie wat ‘n rolprent is nie.” Caledon Venster, January 10.
Anonymous. 1972a. “Jamie se hart lol.” Die Oosterlig, March.
Anonymous. 1972b. “Jamie Uys ongesteld.” Suidwes Afrikaner.
Anonymous. 1973. “Jamie finds the beautiful people.” Showbiz 1(7):45.
Anonymous. 1974a. “Beautiful people.” Variety, November 27.
Anonymous. 1974b. “Prestasie vir S.A. film-maker.” Die Volksblad, February 19.
Anonymous. 1974c. “They are such beautiful people.” The Friend, February 15.
Anonymous. 1974d. “Uys fell in love with these Beautiful People.” Mossel Bay Advertiser, March 29, pp. 2.
Anonymous. 1975a. “Beautiful People verbyster met sy syfers.” Rapport tydskrif, September 28.
Anonymous. 1975b. “Top grosses ‘Beautiful People’.” SA Film Weekly 14(34):1.
Anonymous. 1976a. “‘Funny People’ was no joke on the pocket.” Natal Daily News, May 10.
Anonymous. 1976b. “Amusing situations.” Natal Witness, April 1.
Anonymous. 1976c. “Funniest ever.” Springs & Brakpan Advertiser, March 26.
Anonymous. 1976d. “Funny People het uit oefening ontstaan.” Die Volksblad, April 1.
Anonymous. 1976e. “Funny People sit TV koud.” Die Oosterlig, April 9.
Anonymous. 1976f. “Hulle skiet toe op Jamie.” Die Burger, March 27.
Anonymous. 1976g. “Jamie Uys in Kaapstad vir Funny People.” Die Burger, March 27.
Anonymous. 1976h. “Jamie Uys’ film costly to make.” Pretoria News, May 6.
Anonymous. 1976i. “Jamie-prent is los voor.” Rapport, April 25.
Anonymous. 1976j. “Ons soldate lag 2 uur.” Rapport, March 28.
Anonymous. 1976k. “Uys in wolke oor drie prente vir wêreldmark.” Die Volksblad, May 31.
Anonymous. 1979a. “Jamie does it again.” S.A. Digest, June 1.
Anonymous. 1979b. “Jamie Uys.” Die Volksblad, December 1.
Anonymous. 1979c. “Jamie-prent is klaar treffer.” Die Beeld, May 16.
Anonymous. 1979d. “Nou is dit Jamie en die Boesmans.” Rapport, December 2.
Anonymous. 1980a. “‘Gods’ an all time box-office champ.” Pretoria News, October 1.
Anonymous. 1980b. “‘n Treffer soos min.” Beeld, September 18.
Anonymous. 1980c. “Crazy run on Uys film.” The Daily News, September 17.
Anonymous. 1980d. “’Mal gode’ mania!” Witbank News, October 17.
Anonymous. 1980e. “Twintig miljoen in VSA sien Beautiful People.” Die Volksblad, July 11.
Anonymous. 1980f. “Uit die bynes.” Die Burger, April 5.
Anonymous. 1983a. “Funny People 2.” Pretoria News, October 27.
Anonymous. 1983b. “Jamie lag weer.” Die Burger, August 13.
Anonymous. 1983c. “Mimosa-treffer laat geld instroom.” Die Volksblad, December 12.
Anonymous. 1984. “Gods 2 gaan eers geld maak.” Die Volksblad, September 15.
Anonymous. 1985a. “Apartheid ‘verwar’ Jamie Uys.” Die Burger, May 13.
Anonymous. 1985b. “Jamie Uys maak net treffers.” Republikein, May 17.
Anonymous. 1985c. “Politiek nie Jamie se kos.” Die Transvaler, May 13.
Anonymous. 1985d. “Uys hits the top with a click.” Pretoria News, May 3.
Anonymous. 1985e. “Uys’s methods amaze US.” PE Evening Post, May 3.
Anonymous. 1985f. “Yanks maak ‘Gods 2’.” Die Burger, November 27.
Botha, J. 1986. “Jamie pak weer die gode, maar sonder Goldie Hawn.” Rapport, May 4.
Breytenbach, P. 1968. “Die filmavontuur in die Namib.” Die Transvaler, October 19.
Breytenbach, P. 1974. “Jamie Uys se dieretreffer in R2,6 milj.” Die Transvaler, September 30.
Breytenbach, P. 1981. “Jamie loer by Yanks vir filmagtergrond.” Die Transvaler, August 19.
Bright, B. 1985. “Apartheid is out for Jamie.” P.E. Evening Post, May 15.
Christie, R. 1980. “Crazy? New Uys film hits the jackpot.” The Argus, September 16.
Christie, R. 1980. “Jamie Uys movie packing them in.” The Argus, September 19.
Christie, R. 1986. “Now Lena’s set for ‘Crazy’ stardom.” The Star, August 1.
De Bruin, W. 1981. “Die gode is mal.” Kalender, May 7.
De Bruin, W. 1983a. “Jamie Uys se soort is maar dun gesaai.” Die Volksblad, April 23, pp. 9.
De Bruin, W. 1983b. “Jamie Uys se sort is maar dun gesaai.” Die Burger, April 23.
De Bruin, W. 1985. “Funny People 2 al verby halfmiljoen!” Die Volksblad, November 11.
De Cock, G. 1967. “Die Landstem keer nooiens aan vir Jamie Uys.” Die Landstem, January 4.
Du Plessis, L. 1985. “‘Candid’ boost to acting.” P.E. Herald, September 25.
Eales, A. 1983. “Another funny Uys winner.” P.E. Herald, October 29.
Ferreira, A. 1976. “Jamie Uys.” Cape Argus, March 30.
Garden, G. 1983. “SABC’s stranglehold on the film industry.” Rand Daily Mail, August 13.
Gibson, Gilbert. 1966. “Mooi nooiens vir Jamie en puik rolprente wat S.A. uitbeeld.” Die Landstem, December 28.
Gous, E. 1983. “Noem hom maar Jaamie of Djeimie.” Rooi Rose, October 5, pp. 68.
Greig, R. 1976. “‘Funny People’ on way to record.” The Star, April 24.
Hay, R. 1980. “A nose for a winner.” Screen International, September 27.
Heyns, Katinka. 1996. “Die volledige rolprentmaker.” Insig, Maart, pp. 35.
Javis, R. 1976. “Smash it even before opening.” P.E. Evening Post, April 2.
Keil, J. 1974. “Jamie’s labour of love.” Rand Daily Mail, February 18, pp. 10.
Le Roux, André and Lilla Fourie. 1982. Filmverlede: Geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm. Pretoria: UNISA.
McLennan-Dodd, Vanessa J. and Keyan G. Tomaselli. 2005. “Made in China: The Gods Go East.” Visual Anthropology 18:199–228.
Meyer, Deon. 2005. “’n Oscar, dankie.” Insig, January, pp. 77.
Mimosa Films. 1980. Die Professor en die Prikkelpop. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1985. Mimosa se 21 jaar. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1986a. Funny People. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1986b. The gods must be crazy. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1988. Dirkie. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 1998. General. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 2000. The gods must be crazy II. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 2007a. Jamie Uys Biographical Document. Bloemfontein: Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. 2007b. Jamie Uys: List of awards. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. n.d. Condensed Chronology. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Mimosa Films. n.d. List of films. Mimosa Films Private Archive.
Nicholls, Brendon. 2008. “Apartheid cinema and indigenous image rights.” Scrutiny2: Issues in English Studies in Southern Africa 13(1):20-32.
Pienaar, M. 1968. “Die keer is Lettie se kombuis in die woestyn.” Die Landstem, October 20.
Richard, W. 1985. “Uys to make sequel to ‘Gods’.” E.P. Herald, March 27.
Rossouw, E. 1983. “Jamie Uys maak wêreld-treffers op die ou manier.” Sarie Marais, September 28.
Rufus-Ellis, R. 1983. “The other side of Uys.” Natal Daily News, October 25.
Slabbert, C. 1976. “Triomf vir SA sakevernuf.” Rapport, May 30.
Steenkamp, M. 1986. “Jamie raak weer Crazy.” Die Republikein, May 13.
Stemmet, Jan-Ad. 2011. On wings of wisdom. Bloemfontein. Mimosa Films International.
Steyl, I. 1980. “Jamie Uys’new film.” The Star, March 7.
Sutton, K. 1983. “Film game paying off.” Eastern Province Herald, May 6.
Thomas, B. 1985. “The gods may be crazy, but Uys has his feet on the ground.” The Star, May 2.
Tomaselli, Keyan G. 2006. “Rereading the Gods Must be Crazy Films.” Visual Anthropology 19(2):171-200.
Uys, Jamie. 1967. Die professor en die prikkelpop. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1969. Dirkie. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1969. Marching to Pretoria. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1969. The great adjustment. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1974. Beautiful people. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1976. Funny people. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1979. The gods must be crazy. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1980. The gods must be crazy. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1983. Funny people 2. Mimosa Films.
Uys, Jamie. 1989. The gods must be crazy 2. Mimosa Films.
Van Rensburg, K. 1976. “Jamie se Funny People vol snaakse mense.” Hoofstad, March 25, pp. 35.
Van Zyl, H. 1975. “Van film-maker tot filmmeester.” Die Burger, December 3.
Volkman, Toby 1988. “Out of Africa: The Gods Must be Crazy.” P. 236–247 in Image Ethics: The Moral Rights of Subjects, edited by J. Katz, Larry Gross, and Jay Ruby. New York: Oxford University Press.

Notes:

  1. Wynand Uys, Jamie Uys’s youngest, starred in Die Professor en die prikkelpop. He was such a success that Uys decided to cast the eight year old in the title role of Dirkie. “All children under the age of ten are natural actors…It is the adults who are sometimes difficult to direct,” the director said (Anonymous 1968i).
  2. Apart from the difficulties in filming in a desert, what made the picture even more of a feat was that it was filmed twice: once in Afrikaans, and once in English (Anonymous 1968e).
  3. Once a lion almost killed Wynand Uys, and on another occassion (left alone as his father shot aerial shots of him) he really did get lost in the desert (Mimosa Films 1988).
  4. The hyena once almost killed the Alsatian, the baboon bit an actress, one dog almost devoured the snake it was supposed to be terrified of, Lollie, Dirkie’s terrier took off over the dunes one night (see Anonymous 1968c, 1968d, 1968a).
  5. The picture was also critically acclaimed: awards include a prize from the 1972 Teheran Film Festival (Mimosa Films 2007b).
  6. Apart from a few Bushmen.
  7. While Beautiful People was in the making, Dr Troskie commissioned Daan Retief to compile Jamie21. It was a celebration of Uys’s career, showing scenes from all his pictures. It ended with a few minutes from Uys’s unreleased ‘animal movie’ (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:142).
  8. Uys’s epic had even made news in Hollywood. The American legend, Bob Hope, wanted to narrate the picture, but Uys decided that the animals would be the only big stars in this film (Breytenbach 1981).
  9. Studios offered Dr Troskie fortunes for the unused film material (Van Rensburg 1976:35)
  10. For international distribution, Uys edited, and had dubbed, a British / European / American / Spanish version (Slabbert 1976).
  11. In Sweden alone it showed – uninterruptedly – for 2½ years (showing for three years in Stockholm) (Mimosa Films n.d.).
  12. This is disputed by Volkman (1988).
  13. N!Xau Kganna (different versions of spelling exists) of the Zjoen-Whasie (‘the only people’) tribe (Mimosa Films 2007a).
  14. Filming across Southern Africa, nature, as always, was a moody actor. Animals were difficult to direct, and he had a star that had never seen a movie in his life and communicated only through a translator (Mimosa Films 1986b).
  15. Apart from being in the millions, the exact costs have never been verified.
  16. Many subsequent academic studies follow this line of thought (see e.g. Tomaselli 2006).
  17. Uys remarked that he did not like the title, The gods must be crazy, and hoped to call the sequel something else. In the end, name-recognition was simply too vital to use a different title (Richard 1985).

Sangoma of the silver screen: Jamie Uys as film maker 1950–1964

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Dr. Jan-Ad Stemmet, Department of History, University of the Free State

This article was written with the gracious co-operation of Dr Boet Troskie (founder: Mimosa Films) and Mrs. Mireschen Troskie-Marx (board member: Mimosa Films).

Abstract

It would be no exaggeration describe Jamie Uys as one of the most important role players in the development of the South African film industry. In his career of nearly half a century, he was responsible for more than 40 films: feature films, documentary films and educational short films. His legacy includes South Africa’s single most successful film to date: The Gods must be Crazy. Without any training, his first film, although a blockbuster, was a rickety attempt, but by the sixties Uys became South Africa’s leading expert in filmmaking. In 1966 he teamed up with Mimosa Films, and together they produced a number of international hits. This article provides an overview of Uys’s career from his first film until he joined Mimosa Films (the Mimosa Films period, 1966-1996, will be discussed in a later article). Jamie Uys was an extremely private person, and hence very few (auto) biographies or history books have been published on him. The author was therefore dependent on newspaper and magazine articles, and Mimosa Films granted access to their private archive and history files.

Introduction

In Jamie Uys’s career, spanning almost half a century, he was responsible for more than forty pictures: full-length features, documentaries, and educational shorts. His legacy includes South Africa’s single most successful film to date: The Gods must be Crazy. Having absolutely no training, his first film, although a box-office success, was a rickety affair, but by the 1960s, Uys’s professional and technical know-how was unsurpassed in South Africa. In 1964 he teamed-up with Mimosa Films and together they made one international sensation after another.

This article presents a survey of Uys’s career, from his first picture until the time he joined Mimosa Films.

Jamie Uys was an intensely private individual, and hence very few (auto)biographies, history books, or academic theses, dealing specifically with Uys, have been published. Source material was therefore mostly limited to newspaper and magazine articles, and Mimosa Films allowed access to its private archive. This article takes an historical approach, rather than the more analytical approach taken by Tomaselli (1992) and others.

A profound parvenu: Venturing into films

On 17 October 1888, Thomas Edison patented the Kinetoscope as a device that will do “for the eye what the phonograph does for the ear.” With the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War, one of Edison’s co-workers, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, clutching the abovementioned apparatus, joined Sir Redvers Buller and set sail for South Africa. Dickson was to document the military struggle on film; in the process founding the country’s film industry. Some thirty-three years later, on 30 May 1921, South Africa’s most successful filmmaker was born: Johannes Jacobus Uys (Mimosa Films 2007). The family’s Boksburg neighbours were Scottish and hence dubbed little Johannes, Jamie (pronounced Dj’ay’me.) (Mimosa Films 2007). Having finished school, Uys enrolled for a B.Sc. degree at the Randse Afrikaanse Universiteit (RAU) and received his Higher Education Diploma from the Pretoria Normal College. His father was a principle and the Uys brothers followed suit. “I don’t think we had a vocation,” Uys later said (Sutton 1983).

Despite his degree, he went to work as a gold miner for two years. In 1945 he married Hettie van Rooyen. After a stint as a school teacher, Uys joined his farther-in-law who farmed near Olifantsdrift, next to the Palala River. He managed his in-laws’ trading posts along the riverbanks and at one stage also acted as Justice of the Peace. An avid filmgoer, Uys dreamt about movies but never dreamt that he would ever actually make one.

After some years on the farm he received a letter from his brother, Jok (Mimosa Films 2007). “I was three years with the trading posts when my brother Jok wrote to me that he could borrow a movie camera. And soon he would be on holiday,” Uys reminisced, “I had to write a story and he would write a story, and then we would choose the best and make a movie of it. Well yes, I wrote a story and it was Daar in die Bosveld [Deep in the Bushveld]. My brother was a school photographer and at least he knew something about snaps, but nothing of movie cameras. But he came and we decided that we were going to make this story…We were raw…” (Barnard 1977:37). Daar in die Bosveld tells the story of a prosperous but befuddled farmer, who was completely out of his depth in courting the new school teacher, but eventually succeeds in winning the lady’s heart (Uys 1951).

Jok Uys, camera-in-hand, visited his brother during the 1949 winter school holidays. The Uys brothers thought that the cinematic exercise would take about fourteen days and would not cost too much (De Villiers 1970:33). They had no idea how to make a film: There was a storyline but no script and no set dialogue, no technical production team, and although they had a lump sum, there was no actual budget. Not a single professional artist was involved; Jamie Uys and his wife portrayed the lead roles, while family, friends, and neighbours played the other roles. The Uys brothers and Hettie Uys took turns in operating the camera, and when everybody had to be in one shot, a small black boy from the farm stood in as cinematographer. The tiny youngster could not see through the lens and either looked over the camera or held it on top of his head and looked in the direction of the action. Nevertheless, he never missed a shot. Because Uys had not written a precise dialogue, at least one actor (Uys’s neighbour) stood around and just opened and closed his mouth – Uys later decided what the character ought to say and, using his own voice, added the appropriate dialogue (Mimosa Films 2007). After weeks of shooting, the filmmakers drove to Johannesburg to develop the few minutes of film. However, the film was old and defective: some of it came out blue and other parts purple (Barnard 1977:37). The holiday was over and Jok had to return to his job, and the camera had to be returned to its owner. Jamie considered whether or not to continue, and with much effort he raised £30 and bought a home movie-like 16mm camera (Meiring 1985). Uys had to reshoot everything from the start, while financial constraints forced him to buy film on the black market. After finishing the film, he relocated to Johannesburg for specialist postproduction treatment. Uys was compelled to sell his farm (his in-laws were selling their land to the government’s homeland development) (Mimosa Films n.d.). What had started as a holiday hobby was now destroying Uys financially. Editing, sound production and distribution cost more than initially envisioned, and the family was experiencing financial difficulties. They rented a small home in Bezuidenhoutvallei as Uys desperately tried to complete the production in its entirety. “Now you’ve got to realize: in those two years there was no income; only expenses. Later we had to borrow everywhere and had to sell our clothes and our vehicle, just to stay alive,” recalled Uys (see Mimosa Films 1977 and Barnard 1977:37).

He might have had a film by now, but the impoverished movie maker still had no knowledge as to how to turn it into a proper feature. Uys did not even realize that something like an editing table actually existed. He figured out that the reels of film had to be spliced together. Laboriously screening rolls and rolls of rough film on a wall, painstakingly scrutinizing the tiny film (damaging his eyes permanently), he cut and pasted the material into a logical whole. This was not only time consuming, but also tense work, since Uys only had one copy of the film; one mistake could mean the end of his first feature before it was even released (Mimosa Films 1986). Once he had finished with the visuals, the problem of the audio came into play. The procedure to create magnetic soundtracks had been discovered earlier and Uys wanted to import it for his picture, but there were however problems with obtaining permits from Pretoria, and the picture’s financial viability had to be assessed first. A small committee of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings [The Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Associations] (FAK) was shown the film, and committee members burst out with laughter. However, despite approval, Pretoria was notorious for taking its time with the permits (Anonymous 1986:109).

On advice from his neighbour, Uys held a special screening for the press so as to draw attention to the film (possibly spurring the authorities to grant the permits). Around 200 people showed up but only two newspapermen: a reporter from Die Transvaler and James Ambrose Brown, who worked for the Sunday Times at that stage. Both were apparently impressed by the (as yet unpolished) picture and gave it glowing reviews. Uys sent their newspaper reports to the responsible authorities in Pretoria, and eventually received the official documents. Having received the permits at last, Uys now lacked sufficient funds to import the desired equipment (he never got the magnetic soundtrack). As the South African film industry (more-or-less still undiscovered by the Afrikaners) was run by English executives, the aspirant Afrikaner film maker had to forego investments.

A new film company, Swan Films, had heard of Daar doer in die Bosveld and its determined creator. Uys could work for them and instead of drawing a salary, the company would assist Uys in finishing the picture (Mimosa Films 1973). The arrangement was not without problems though: Swan Films was fundamentally English, and they did not understand the film they had intended to finish. As such, Uys could rely on Swan Films’ technological resources but had to do everything himself. When finally redubbing and synchronizing the soundtrack of the original version, Jamie and Hettie Uys had to stand in for all the voices (luckily the sound quality was of such bad quality that audiences did not notice). Another dilemma was that Swan Films was in the midst of a severe financial crisis, and the production company would not be able to distribute the picture (see Mimosa Films n.d. and Anonymous 1986:109).
Jannie Raath, a wealthy businessman, made arrangements with Swan Films for the movie’s distribution. Raath, who imported opera films from Italy, had the necessary infrastructure, including a couple of projectors, and organised drivers to crisscross South Africa with ten copies of the film. It was shown in every conceivable type and size of venue throughout the country.

Released in 1951, irrespective of its many technical flaws, the popularity of Daar doer in die Bosveld spread like a wildfire, especially in the rural farming areas (Mimosa Films 2007). The picture’s music was composed by Anton de Waal, including the theme song (which shared the film’s title), which turned out to be a big hit (Uys 1951). The Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns (South African Academy for Science and Art) gave its official praise (Anonymous 1973c).

Instead of the proposed two weeks, the picture had taken two years to make. Instead of being a bit of frivolity during the holidays, it had wrecked the family financially. Instead of costing a few hundred pounds, Daar doer in die Bosveld had cost £3 000 to make. In spite of the picture’s extreme popularity, it was not a financial success (Anonymous 1985). In the end, Uys made a successful debut but his successes, not to mention troubles, were far from over.

Fame without fortune: Searching for producers and protection

An Englishman and an Afrikaner go on a bus tour. They cannot stand each other, but constantly end up involved in each other’s affairs. Eventually they are forced to get along. This was the basis of Uys’s second film, a comedy that was a cross between a road movie and a buddy movie (Uys 1952). In 50/50, South Africa’s first bilingual feature film, Uys tackled the animosity that existed between the Afrikaners and English of that period for the first time (Anonymous 1973b:10). The conflict that had existed between these two groups might have thawed somewhat since the days of Jan Smuts and J.B.M. Hertzog, but there remained a good deal of political animosity and cultural squabbles (see e.g. Giliomee 2004). Throughout the 1950s, Uys would repeatedly return to this theme.

As with his first film, Uys approached the picture as something of a one-man show. He was producer, director, scriptwriter and editor, and he also played the lead role of the Afrikaner character. Hettie Uys once again starred as the love of his life. The film was shot entirely on location; not a single studio-scene. 50/50 was released by Raath Films in 1952, and Uys was so excited about the new film that he and Raath rented Pretoria’s huge Afrikaanse Koffiehuis for the première (it turned out to be a comedy of errors). The fact that cabinet members and other South African luminaries attended, keeping in mind that this was only his second film, illustrates the impact of Daar doer in die Bosveld, but also how quickly Uys was making a name for himself (Joubert 1968:30). Although his second film was another popular success, Uys was still desperately trying to recover from the past few years’ debts. Financial matters and an overactive imagination obligated him to work without rest.

The next feature was somewhat of a sequel to his first. Daar doer in die Stad (Deep in the City), released in 1953, tells of a happy Bushveld family whose lives are turned upside down by the mother’s death. The father, his young daughter, and their pet dog have to move to the city so he can try and patent a bean-machine. The urban world is foreign and foreboding with much danger. The father perseveres, and triumphs in a comical manner. The credits of this film read like a family tree: He starred as the father, his real wife (again) starred as his onscreen wife, his daughter, Marietjie, starred as his onscreen daughter, and even the dog was the Uys’s family dog. It was the first time that Uys worked with a 35mm camera and he eagerly explored its various possibilities. Once more Uys’s cinematic recipe was a success (Anonymous 1973b:10).

Uys made the picture for Killarney Film Studios / African Film Productions. In 1954, Uys was awarded The Schlesinger Drum Award (then the local version of the American Academy Award, or Oscar). The award was named after the Schlesingers who controlled African Film Productions, the first company in South Africa to produce feature films (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:2). Although Uys’s films were increasingly becoming financial successes, the filmmaker still suffered financially. The Schlesinger organisation was paying him (irrespective of the various positions he held when making a film) a flat rate of £100 a month – less then what a professional sound technician was paid. He endured the treatment as the remittance was at least guaranteed, and because he was addicted to his storytelling. Uys’s next film, his second for African Film Productions, was to deal with a traitor during the Anglo Boer War (Mimosa Films n.d.).

The Schlesingers and their board evaluated Hensop and regarded it as too controversial (in other words not financially viable). However, the picture was already past the developmental phase when the Schlesingers summarily halted the production. Uys had had enough. “That’s when I decided to quit and form my own company,” Uys said. He abruptly resigned. The Schlesingers summoned Uys and fiercely berated him for his impertinent resignation, after which Uys stood up and walked away for good. Three months later they tried to entice him back, without success (Mimosa Films n.d.).

Calling his own shots: Jamie Uys Films

As one of the country’s most popular filmmakers, Uys finally launched his own production house. Friends advised that he tie it with his celebrity persona and so the new company was called Jamie Uys Films, and Jok Uys joined his brother’s business venture. Irrespective of its creator’s box office triumphs, Afrikaner consortiums were not interested in backing the new company, since the movie industry was too unpredictable. The Uys bothers ferociously marketed small bundles of shares and begged for investments. Arguably, those that did give money were doing so more for Uys’s cinematic cause and from cultural convictions than for business reasons. The brothers collected about £14 000 and in 1954 Jamie Uys Films Limited was operational (Anonymous 1973a:5).

Jok Uys starred with his brother in the 1954 comedy Geld soos bossies (Money to Burn), which covered the lives of two road workers, also brothers, who are determined to make a fortune and devise a scheme using a chain letter. As usual, Jamie took on various responsibilities, including that of lead actor, scriptwriter, director and producer (Uys 1954). Uys, who later would be disappointed in the film (feeling it was obvious that the picture was a rushed job) made South African history by supplying the film with English subtitles, and it was the first South African-made picture to be sold for overseas distribution (under the name Money to Burn). The movie was screened in Britain and New Zealand. Production costs were covered by local ticket sales, and the R15 000 it made abroad was therefore net profit. Jamie Uys Films used the international earnings to buy cutting-edge cinematic equipment and technology (see Anonymous 1973b:10 and Van Deventer 1985:9).

According to the stipulations of the Entertainment Tax Law, Jamie Uys Films would have to pay R6 000 tax on Geld soos bossies although it cost roughly R10 000 to produce. The system was in effect targeting local films; imported movies were exempt from the particular tax. Uys the activist made an appointment to see the Prime Minister. He held talks with J.G. Strijdom and relevant state officials. The result was a subsidy scheme for home-grown movies. Uys was at once overjoyed and sceptical. He believed (in part correctly) that such a system would trigger opportunists to suddenly enter the industry with second-rate movies just to cash in on the system. Nonetheless, the government subsidies – thanks to Uys’s lobbying – marked a turning-point in the South African film industry. The local film world, in the period after Uys’s change of the legal status quo, would experience vigorous growth (see Mimosa Films n.d. and 1973).

Along with Geld soos bossies, Jamie Uys made a unique (20 minutes long) short film, released in 1954, about South Africa’s distinctive multicultural indigenous music. Jabulani Africa, featured striking visuals and accompanying music – no dialogue whatsoever. South Africa’s Department of Information saw it and took it to the international film industry’s most revered trade show at Cannes, France. The international distributors were impressed, and bought the short for about R12 000. Jabulani Africa was (measured both in popularity and critical acclaim) successfully screened throughout England, France and Germany. Jamie Uys was starting to attract international attention (see Mimosa Films n.d. and 1973). After the success of Jabulani Africa, Uys frequently ventured into making short films. He was also regularly commissioned by various state departments to make educational pictures and documentaries on a remarkably diverse number of topics.

He would go on to make almost 20 short films. This creative avenue allowed Uys to experiment technically and develop his creative flexibility (in his Mimosa Films period, Uys would utilize his documentary-maker skills in making Africa’s most successful pictures). Furthermore, it heightened Uys’s already high profile as film maker, attracted critical acclaim, and supplemented the company’s (usually strapped) finances. As with commercial features, Uys would excel in this cinematic genre. In 1956, tasked by the Department of Information, Uys made The Condemned are Happy (also known as The Urgent Queue). It dealt with a family living amidst squalor in a Port Elizabeth slum. The film was dramatic and its impact effective: The picture was hailed by the jury at the Edinburgh Film Festival as 1956’s Outstanding Film of the Year (Mimosa Films n.d.).

However, Uys in this time not only made films. Amongst the local acting legends that starred in Werner Grünbauer’s Paul Kruger (1955) was André Huguenet, James Norval, Siegfried Mynhardt, and Jamie Uys (Grünbauer 1955). It was exceptionally rare to see Uys in a film he did not make himself. The famed actor-director detested acting even in his own pictures; let alone someone else’s. When Uys started his career, the struggling storyteller could not afford to pay professional actors. Now that he could, Jamie Uys had become such a well known and loved screen personality that commercial logic dictated that he had to act (Van Deventer 1985:9). If he had no choice about acting, then he would rather star in his own films. Jamie and Jok Uys’s next film was a proper remake of Daar doer in die Bosveld – entitled Die Bosvelder (The Bushvelder): Shot in 35mm film, and colour, with decent production facilities, not to mention a proper budget. Tried and tested, South Africans in 1955 once again flocked to see Uys’s fumbling-but-loveable Bushveld farmer (Uys 1955).

As the popularity and critical acclaim, at home and abroad, of his works (of whatever kind) increased, aspiring filmmakers jostled for an opportunity to work with and learn from Jamie Uys. In 1959, Uys gave one aspiring filmmaker such an opportunity: Elmo de Witt (who had joined the Uys team as assistant cameraman in 1954) made his debut as director with Uys’s Satanskoraal (Satan’s Coral). Uys wrote and produced this adventure-drama, which told of illicit coral poaching. Quite a feat for that time was the many underwater scenes, which were shot by cameramen Judex Viljoen and Vincent Cox (De Witt 1959).

After having completed a few documentaries, Uys created one of his most memorable films: Rip van Wyk (Nofal 1960). Based on the folktale of Rip van Winkle, the film tells the story of a farmer who sleeps for a hundred years and wakes to find a vastly different world from the one he fell asleep in: Sasolburg now stands where his tranquil farm had been. The script of this Jamie Uys Films’s production was written by Emil Nofal, who also acted as director, while Van Wyk was played by Uys. The production was exceptional in the sense that it was filmed twice – once in Afrikaans and once in English (Cave 1973). Apart from its local success, the film had a good reception in England, where it was shown at London’s National Film Theatre. The picture was officially heralded at the subsequent London Film Festival as the Outstanding Film of the Year, and awarded the Commonwealth Film Award by the Royal Society of Arts (see Mimosa Films n.d. and Le Roux and Fourie 1982:80).

Decades later, following the astounding worldwide success of The Gods must be Crazy, Uys considered remaking the picture, having been offered a vast Hollywood budget. Instead, by popular demand from the USA, he had to make a sequel to his so-called Coke bottle movie and passed away before he could resurrect his Rip van Wyk (Mimosa Films n.d.).

With an unprecedented upshot in the number of new production houses (wanting to cash in on the lucrative subsidy system), Uys had to be quick in delivering a new picture (Joubert 1968:3). Uys, who financially could not afford to take long pauses pondering new movie concepts, again decided on a remake: Hans en die Rooinek (also released in English as Sydney and the Boer), which was a remake of his earlier 50/50. It premiered in 1960 (Uys 1960).

Having had some success overseas, Uys was contacted by Warwick Films in England, who wanted Uys to make a feature for them. The Hellions (Uys 1961), starring, amongst others, Richard Todd, Ann Aubrey, Patrick Mynhardt and Jamie Uys, was an action-thriller set in the pioneering days of South Africa. The small town of De Wylt is terrorised by a gang of ruffians until some of the townspeople take a stand. Thought to have the potential to be Uys’s overseas breakthrough, the picture, directed by Ken Annkin and co-produced by Jamie Uys Films, almost destroyed the film maker forever: “I suppose I was naïve…They offered me a contract in terms of which they were responsible for above the line expenses (lead actors and producers fees), while I carried the below the line expenses (everything else) – without having any control over what was spent. It looked good to me. I suppose I was flattered, too. So I signed.” (Sutton 1983). Warwick Films made a substantial profit while Uys was left with bills in excess of R250 million. Jok Uys left the uncertain financial world of filmmaking and returned to the corporate world (Mimosa Films n.d.). Jamie – despite his sustained box office hits and across-the-spectrum popularity – once again faced financial ruin.

The Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies or FAK) organised a national festival, Die Wonder van Afrikaans (The Wonder of Afrikaans), commemorating the birth of Afrikaans. Uys was commissioned to make a film on the language’s history. Doodkry is Min (Never say Die) combined weighty history, light-hearted humour, and striking visuals. The open-air premiere on 29 April 1961 was staged at the Voortrekker Monument, where State President C.R. Swart sat next to Uys. Opera diva, Mimi Coertze, sang O Boereplaas to the audience of 50 000 (Breytenbach 1975). The organisation awarded the film maker R20 000 (which he desperately needed), and its Besembos Award for cinematic excellence (Joubert 1968:3).

Lights, camera and (renewed) action: Jamie Uys Films, 1961-1964

Tommie Meyer joined his board, and together with Uys, convinced Afrikaner-dominated consortiums like Bonuskor and Sanlam to invest. “When I was making money they wouldn’t touch me. Now that I was in trouble they had a change of heart,” the film maker recalled (Mimosa Films 2007). In 1962, Uys’s company released what can be described as a Western, set in the immediate aftermath of the Anglo Boer War: Voor Sononder (Before Dusk) starred Vonk de Ridder as the hero and was written and directed by Emil Nofal (Nofal 1962). Uys and Nofal also co-wrote the script and Uys directed Lord Oom Piet (also released as Lord Uncle Piet). Again lampooning the complexities of South Africa’s Afrikaner/English relationships, the story revolves around two affluent farmers. The Afrikaner is a staunch Nationalist (Uys); the Englishman is a staunch United Party supporter (Bob Courtney). They are quarrelsome, neighbours, and fervent opponents in an upcoming election. The Afrikaner learns – to his shock – that he has inherited a British Lordship. At all costs it must remain a secret but, of course, leaks out and so the merriment begins (Uys 1962). At the time, this was the most expensive film made in South Africa to date, costing R70 000 (Oosthuizen 1979:23). The film was a national phenomenon: No other picture had hitherto sold as many tickets in its first month, and within six weeks, more than 50 000 people had seen the film – more than for American films at the time (Oosthuizen 1979:23). Within six months, half a million South Africans saw the film, which was another South African record. English South Africans, in general, did not care for local pictures and certainly not Afrikaans movies. However, they flocked to see this film in record numbers – another South African record (Joubert 1968:4). Oosthuizen (1979:26) argues that, along with Ses Soldate, Lord Oom Piet was an important film from a sociological perspective as well,

Hoewel Lord Oom Piet en Ses Soldate vanuit ‘n suiwer artistieke oogpunt beskou, miskien nie die beste films is wat nog in Suid-Afrika gemaak is nie, het hulle tog ‘n baie belangrike sosiale funksie vervul. Elkeen het op sy eie manier ‘n bydrae gelewer ter bevordering van beter verhoudings tussen Afrikaners en Engelse in Suid-Afrika: die een [Lord Oom Piet] deur op die belaglikheid van die tradisionele konflik tussen die twee bevolkingsgroepe te wys, die ander [Ses Soldate] deur te illustreer hoe alle bevolkingsgroepe saam kan werk in die verdediging van hulle gemeenskaplike vaderland.

[Although Lord Oom Piet and Six Soldiers are, from a purely artistic point of view, maybe not the best films ever made ​​in South Africa, they served a very important social function. Each in its own way made ​​a contribution to promote better relations between the English and Afrikaners in South Africa: the one [Lord Oom Piet] by showing the ridiculousness of the traditional conflict between the two population groups, the other [Ses Soldate] by illustrating how all population groups can work together in defence of their common homeland.]

Jamie Uys and his production house next ventured into musicals. Jim Reeves, the well-known American country singer, played the lead in 1963’s Kimberley Jim. In the pioneering days of Kimberley, two shady card players scam miners and get into trouble. Emil Nofal, assisted by Jans Rautenbach, was scriptwriter, and director. Uys oversaw an elaborate show: a budget of R250 000, some 1 000 period-costumes, and 18 original songs (composed by Nico Carstens, Gilbert Gibson and Anton de Waal) (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:83). After starring in his only musical, Reeves died in 1964, giving the film a certain sentimental appeal. The picture became one of the most successful locally made films of that period and also thrived abroad (Anonymous 1967).

While making The Hellions, Jamie Uys discovered a young black actor: Ken Gampu (Anonymous 1976), and cast the future celebrity in one of the leads in his next movie. The Fox has Four Eyes (a short film Uys made in 1958) served as the basis for Dingaka (Witch Doctor), and tells the story of the murder of a black man’s daughter during a tribal ritual, who subsequently hunts down the killer to take revenge. The father’s quest takes him to the big city where the white man’s ideas of justice clashes with his. Actors included Gordon Hood (farther of Oscar-winner Gavin Hood) and Paul Makgoba. Jans Rautenbach, Ivan Hall, Manie Botha and Elmo de Witt were all involved. Bertha Egnos supplied enthralling traditional music (Uys 1964). Uys wanted the scenery to be green, but it was filmed in winter, and so Uys instructed the extras to paint a koppie green. Once more Hollywood winked: Paramount Pictures and Embassy Pictures managed overseas distribution. The Americans demanded big names, and so Juliet Prowse (then Frank Sinatra’s love interest) and Stanley Baker starred in the lead roles (Le Roux and Fourie 1982:78).

At R975 000 – in 1964 – Dingaka was Uys’s most expensive film (until the Mimosa period). It was regarded as one of the best produced films ever to have come from South Africa. Popularly and critically it fared exceptionally, both locally and abroad. In some overseas countries, Uys was thought to be black, and it was hailed as a bold stand against Apartheid. An international production meant international rates, and although the film was a hit, it would take Uys years to make up the tabs; this was another disappointing international success (see Gibson 1967, Joubert 1968:4 and Mimosa Films 2007). Following the epic, Uys vowed to never again use international stars, arguing that if his cinematic whole could not stand on its own – irrespective of the cast – then it was not worth making. Uys undertook to (and did successfully) write so-called “star proof” scripts (Anonymous 1980:13). Ironically his next film starred one of the most famous individuals of the twentieth century.

All the way to Paris (also known as After you Comrade) was the third remake of 50/50 (Uys 1966). Uys, while in New York, got the idea simply by chance, examining two (ideologically opposed) diplomats trying to avoid each other in an eatery: A Russian (Uys) and an American (Bob Courtney) challenge each other to walk from Greece to Paris. They detest each other but come to a mutual understanding through their ensuing adventure. Uys filmed the picture in almost ten European countries, and the logistics were a nightmare: official permission had to be obtained from Italy to Lichtenstein to Greece, etcetera. Filming in France, the Uys team learnt that before the image of General Charles de Gaulle could be reproduced in a film (as this script called for) it had to be approved by Paris. Somehow the French President got hold of the script. The presidential offices contacted Uys: General Charles de Gaulle would star as General Charles de Gaulle. In the movie, the French legend as well as Prime Minister Georges Pompidou star as themselves (see Le Roux and Fourie 1982:84 and Mimosa Films 2007). Production costs were recovered from the South African box office while it made R200 000 internationally (Mimosa Films n.d.).

Elmo de Witt directed Debbie for Jamie Uys Films. Based on the book, Groen Koring, by Tryna du Toit, it tells of an unwed teenage girl that falls pregnant. The film caused a ruckus as the censors slammed it with a 2-21 age restriction (De Witt 1965). Uys convinced the public and the authorities that the picture was harmless, and the age restriction was subsequently lessened (see Joubert 1968, Van Zyl 1985:19, and Mimosa Films 2007).

And cut: Jamie Uys leaves Jamie Uys Films

While Uys was making or overseeing one after the other hit, a rift was brewing between him and his board. He grew tired of their insistence on productivity, and longed for thorough and intimate processes, which would shift his emphasis from box office successes to high quality. Jans Rautenbach and Emil Nofal had left to make their own brand of films, leaving Uys with more pressure to produce, and in quick succession. The board was unimpressed that he had made All the Way to Paris – an expensive third remake of 50-50. Uys was increasingly upset by the pictures the company was releasing, per implication, under his name – especially Debbie. These were just some of the factors that prompted Uys to resign from his own production company (with the entire staff following suit). As he exited in 1966, Uys demanded that the company drop his name, and so Kavalier Films was born (Mimosa Films n.d.).

In the next three decades, Jamie Uys and his new partners, Boet Troskie and his Mimosa Films, would create the most successful films to come from South Africa.

Uys’s thirty years with dr. Boet Troskie’s Mimosa Films will be dealt with in a follow-up article: Sage and Screen.

That’s a wrap: Conclusion

In the period under discussion, Jamie Uys, having struggled to make his first picture, became one of South Africa’s most productive and prominently popular filmmakers. In itself his original stories and unique cinematic storytelling contributed to the cultural treasure trove of South Africa. In these troublesome but ground-breaking decades he honed his technical expertise and sharpened his creative abilities. With every Uys movie came an increase in the diversity and quality of local films. After joining Mimosa Films, Uys would draw on these pioneering years (both creatively and technically) to make films of global acclaim and worldwide popularity.

He discovered and/or trained some of the country’s best and/or best known actors and filmmakers, including Ken Gampu, Jans Rautenbach, Emil Nofal and Elmo de Witt – a network of professional relationships that is described in detail in Senekal and Stemmet (2014). He staked a claim for Afrikaans speakers in a predominantly English-dominated establishment. Furthermore, Uys’s films inadvertently promoted Afrikaans as cinematic language. Having been the first to sell a South African movie (an Afrikaans one at that) abroad, he proved that although the local industry could not compete with Hollywood’s budgets, its stories were unique enough to attract international audiences. His own international productions proved that the country’s small film industry could facilitate international productions with professional acumen. As documentary maker

Constraints on space prohibited even a thorough list of all his works. he developed the art locally with international success.

The film maker was responsible for Pretoria’s subsidising local films and as such was responsible for the acceleration in the development of the local film industry. Together with Jamie Uys Films, he was responsible for drawing mainstream corporations (specifically Afrikaner-dominated consortiums) into the film world.

Jamie Uys’s favourite theme in this period was throwing together conflicting cultures (in most cases the Afrikaners/English) in difficult scenarios. Side-by-side in bioscopes across South Africa, he brought together (antagonistic) peoples. They laughed at each other – and at themselves – showcasing the power of film (more specifically, humour) in bridging socio-political disparity. As far as filmmaking was concerned, by 1966 Jamie Uys was the local Sangoma of the silver screen. In the next decades he would become South Africa’s Sage of the silver screen.

Bibliography

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Anonymous. 1973a. “Jamie Uys – S.A. se grootste rolprentman.” Die Oosterlig, November 2, pp. 5.
Anonymous. 1973b. “Jamie Uys se prestasie.” Gemsbok, August 10, pp. 10.
Anonymous. 1973c. “Van bosveld-ateljee tot Hollywood.” Die Transvaler, September 29.
Anonymous. 1976. “Africans have a rosy future in film industry.” Imvo Zabantsundu, July 31.
Anonymous. 1980. “Jamie Uys: film maker and entertainer.” To The Point, November 17, pp. 13.
Anonymous. 1985. “Jamie Uys.” SA Financial Mail, November 1.
Anonymous. 1986. “Daar doer in die Goudstad het sukses gewag.” Finansies en Tegniek, May 23, pp. 109.
Barnard, C. 1977. “Geselsportret: Die outjie wat uit die bosse gekruip het met ‘n kamera.” Die Huisgenoot, February 4, pp. 37.
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Joubert, S. 1968. “Groeipyne van ons filmwese.” Die Vaderland, November 30, pp. 3.
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Doomsday Preppers on a national scale: The National Party’s preparations for self-sufficiency during apartheid

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Burgert Senekal

Abstract

As individual preppers prepare for emergencies by stockpiling food, weapons and water, the National Party (NP) government of South Africa started preparing for extensive isolation in the 1960s because of its racial policies. This article examines the measures taken by the NP government to mitigate the effects of sanctions, embargoes and boycotts, and shows how the South African government not only established a vibrant arms industry to counter the mandatory international arms embargo of 1977, but also created infrastructure and private enterprises, such as Sasol, to provide in the country’s energy needs. In addition, South Africa stockpiled large oil supplies in anticipation of the oil boycott that eventually came in 1979, and built dams to help make the country self-sufficient in terms of food supplies. Overall, the country’s emphasis on self-sufficiency as well as its ability to circumvent sanctions and embargoes allowed it to blunt the effects of international attempts to isolate the country when these became extensive in the late 1980s.

Introduction

While individual prepping in the run up to the 1994 election is studied elsewhere (Senekal 2014), the preparations made by the National Party (NP) government for its form of an emergency – debilitating sanctions – have not been studied comprehensively. Since the 1960s, the NP was well aware that its racial policies would continue to isolate the country, and numerous steps were taken to mitigate the effects of sanctions, boycotts, and embargoes. Like the individual Doomsday Preppers on National Geographic Channel who stockpile weapons, food, water and energy sources, the NP established a local weapons industry and stockpiled reserves, they developed ways of manufacturing and stockpiling oil for energy, invested in agriculture to become self-sufficient in terms of food, etc. It is with these preparations that this article deals. Initiatives are described that aimed at mitigating the effects of international efforts to isolate South Africa, and the effectiveness of both sanctions, boycotts, and embargoes on the one hand, and preparations on the other, are investigated. As such, this article investigates how an entire government chose to prepare itself for a long-term and major disaster. While various sources were used in this article, the CIA archives were of special importance, since they provide an outsider’s and objective account of the effectiveness of the NP’s measures, and their reports often refer to South Africa’s attempts to attain self-sufficiency in the face of international isolation.

Sanctions, embargoes, and boycotts

The arms embargoes

The early 1960s saw a renewed resistance to the NP government from black opposition groups. In March 1960, police fired on protestors belonging to the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) in what would become known as the Sharpeville massacre. Subsequently, the African National Congresses (ANC) staged various violent protests, and declared war against the NP. In 1962, Nelson Mandela and the leaders of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), were arrested, and subsequently convicted of high treason. International condemnation of the NP’s racial policies and harsh repressive measures soon followed. In August 1963, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 181, which called on all states to cease “the sale and shipment of arms, ammunition of all types, and military vehicles to South Africa” (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2012). In December 1963, UN Security Council Resolution 182 extended the voluntary arms embargo to include “equipment and materials for the manufacture and maintenance of arms and ammunition in South Africa”. In July 1970, UN Security Council Resolution 282 called for the unconditional implementation of the embargo, but it remained a voluntary arms embargo, and trade continued (albeit in a slightly limited capacity). In November 1977, following the Soweto riots of 1976, UN Security Council Resolution 418 imposed a mandatory arms embargo against South Africa, which stated that all states shall,

… cease forthwith any provision to South Africa of arms and related materiel of all types, including the sale or transfer of weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary police equipment, and spare parts for the aforementioned, and shall cease as well the provision of all types of equipment and supplies and granted of licensing arrangement for the manufacture or maintenance of the aforementioned (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2012).

In 1982, Armscor participated in an armaments exhibition in Greece “that marked South Africa’s entry into the export arena” (Botha 2003:2). In response to this event, UN Security Council Resolution 558 extended Resolution 418 in December 1984 by requesting states to also cease any imports of arms, ammunition and military vehicles from South Africa, though this was not mandatory (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2012). In November 1986, following large-scale political violence and subsequent states of emergency in South Africa, UN Security Council Resolution 591 extended the embargoes and included in its scope the sale of spare parts and components, directly or through third parties, and certain dual use items such as four-wheel drive vehicles (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2012). These arms embargoes were of course implemented in conjunction with other economic sanctions and boycotts (see below), and as Alsheh (2013:36) writes, “by the late 1980s South Africa had become the single most ostracized, sanctioned and universally condemned regime in the history of the international community, and the paradigmatic pariah state” (see also Wessels and Marx 2008:71-72).

Sanctions

Sanctions were imposed by the international community in parallel with the arms embargoes. Already on 15 March 1961, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd removed South Africa from the Commonwealth out of protest against criticism of apartheid. Scher (2012:339) remarks, “‘n Nuwe, maar eensame pad het vir die republiek voorgelê” [a new but lonely path lay ahead for the Republic]. In 1977, following the Soweto riots and the death in detention of Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, the international call for sanctions against South Africa intensified. Verhoef (2012:362) writes,

The boycotts increased against South Africa, and the country was suspended from international bodies. Although full-scale disinvestment did not start yet, the banks and corporate investors stopped new loans to and investments in apartheid institutions. Previously friendly governments, companies and organizations abandoned silent cooperation with South Africa. The negative effect of this isolation in political, economic, and social spheres in South Africa became palpable. 1

In the mid-1980s, international pressure against South Africa intensified against the background of violent protest, and the United States, as well as the European Community, Scandinavian countries, Japan, and the Commonwealth nations imposed sanctions on South Africa in 1986 (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:37). In 1988, the editor of Die Volksblad, Hennie van Deventer, remarked, “Daar is pogings om die land op elke terrein te isoleer en sy ekonomie met sanksies te knak” [there are attempts to isolate the country on every terrain and to break the country’s economy with sanctions] (Van Deventer 1988:62).
As sanctions intensified, it also became apparent that they were difficult to enforce in practice. The Central Intelligence Agency (1989:38) wrote,
Although a growing consensus in the international community led to the formal adoption of sanctions against South Africa in 1986-87, international support for specific measures often was mixed. The United States adopted and enforced a range of sanctions, but most other countries imposed less restrictive measures, issuing bans on only selected items or accepting only voluntary bans.

These sanctions and their implementation are summed up by the Central Intelligence Agency (1989:38):

  • The United States adopted the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 (CAAA), which imposed restrictions on economic relations with South Africa. Some of these restrictions included: bans on the import of specified South African products such as coal, textiles, iron, steel, agricultural products, and gold coins, bans on most new investment in South Africa, restrictions on loans to the South African Government, and bans on the export of nuclear technology and materials.
  • The European Community adopted a less stringent package of sanctions that included bans on the import of South African iron, steel, and gold coins. The European Community also asked member countries voluntarily to end new investments in South Africa.
  • At the Commonwealth mini-summit in 1986, six countries (Australia, the Bahamas, Canada, India, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) adopted a package of sanctions that prohibited most new investments in South Africa, imports of South African agricultural products, and air links to South Africa. The United Kingdom, while implementing the weaker EC sanctions, has not accepted the Commonwealth sanctions.
  • Denmark banned practically all trade in goods and services with South Africa in 1986.
  • Sweden and Norway adopted similar restrictions in trade in 1987.
  • Japan prohibited the import of gold coins and the sale of computers to the South African police and military 1986. In 1987, Japan implemented additional sanctions, including bans on the import of South African pig iron and certain types of finished steel. Despite its sanctions, Japan has become South Africa’s leading trading partner. Tokyo’s trade ministry has eased pressure on businesses to refrain from trading with South Africa. As a result, in 1988 Japan’s trade with Pretoria increased 13 percent over the previous year’s level.
  • Third World countries – particularly African states – have generally not addressed the issue of sanctions. In 1986, Presidents Kaunda of Zambia and Mugabe of Zimbabwe backed down on highly publicized commitments to impose sanctions. A principal determinant of the policies of neighboring states toward South Africa is their ties to its economy. Except for Zambia and Angola, most of South Africa’s neighbors have failed to reduce significantly their dependence on it for trade and transportation.

Although condemnation of apartheid and violence in South Africa was therefore universal, practical considerations limited the effects of sanctions. With data provided by Barbieri and Keshk (2014) and reported in Barbieri, Keshk, and Pollins (2009), the following graph illustrates the limited impact of sanctions on South Africa from 1985-1989 by showing exports from South Africa to some of the abovementioned countries, as well as South Africa’s total imports and exports (in current US$ million):

Figuur_01

While most of these countries’ imports from South Africa reached a noticeable low point in 1987, their imports increased again in the following years. In addition, South Africa’s overall imports increased between 1985 and 1988, while South Africa’s overall exports declined only slightly after 1987. This figure in particular shows that the effect of trade sanctions was limited, although noticeable in terms of some countries.

International boycotts

On 13 November 1963, the UN General Assembly urged all States to refrain from supplying petroleum to South Africa in Resolution 1899 (XVIII) (Reddy 2013), but this resolution was not mandatory. On 28 November 1973, however, the Arab members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an oil embargo against South Africa (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:37). Iran did not take part in the embargo, and became South Africa’s main supplier of oil (Du Pisani 2012:363). The Shah was however deposed in 1979, which led to a global oil crisis as well as increased difficulty for South Africa, which now had to purchase large amounts of oil on the black market and through third parties. On 20 November 1987, the United Nations General Assembly instituted a general but voluntary oil embargo against South Africa, which, like other voluntary sanctions and embargoes, made the acquisition of oil more difficult rather than impossible.

The oil boycott was however only part of the measures taken by the international community to isolate South Africa, as the Central Intelligence Agency (1989:37) writes,

In addition to formal economic sanctions, the 1985-87 period was characterized by an intensification of de facto sanctions, such as consumer boycotts of South African products. Most important among the informal sanctions was the withdrawal of many foreign commercial credit lines from South Africa (the so-called ‘financial sanctions’) that culminated in a unilateral moratorium by Pretoria in 1985 on most foreign debt principal repayments and subsequent agreements in 1986 and 1987 with major foreign commercial creditors to reschedule the repayments.

On 2 December 1968, the UN General Assembly requested all States and organisations “to suspend cultural, educational, sporting and other exchanges with the racist regime and with organisations or institutions in South Africa which practice apartheid” (Reddy 2013). South Africa was soon barred from international sporting events, and the cultural boycott was instated that prevented international artists from performing or distributing products in South Africa, as well as severely limiting South Africans’ opportunities abroad.

As the above-mentioned CIA report stated and the figure illustrated, implementing sanctions, boycotts and embargoes was however more difficult in practice. DeKieffer (1988:17) for instance writes about the possible effects of extending boycotts,

If this happens, US computer equipment could for example be reproduced and sold at a fraction of the current cost in South Africa. The ‘books boycott’ can easily be bypassed by South African publishers by simply allowing American texts to be copied and refusing to pay copyright to American authors. Efforts to deny technology to South Africa can be overcome simply by allowing South African companies to manufacture the products and to challenge the U.S. patent holder to file a claim. 2

Given South Africa’s propensity to obtain technology through covert means and to adapt it for domestic purposes (in particular in the arms industry), DeKieffer’s remarks underscore the difficulty of enforcing efforts to isolate South Africa completely.

Another problem with imposing sanctions is that the West relied on South African exports. In 1987, the CIA (1987:22) wrote,

Over 70 percent of South Africa’s annual export revenue comes from gold, diamonds, and strategic minerals, such as platinum, palladium, rhodium, and chromium. The high value-to-weight ratio of these commodities, their generic physical characteristics, and their use in sophisticated metal alloys found in many Western defense systems make them nearly impossible to embargo.

One of the core issues that was debated in the international community at the time, is whether sanctions and boycotts would have an effect on the white or black population, as well as whether it would have a definite effect on South Africa at all. The following section deals with the preparations made by the NP to mitigate the effects of these sanctions, embargoes, and boycotts.

Preparing for pariah status

In light of the first arms embargo of 1963, South Africa began making preparations for a sweeping and mandatory arms embargo. At the time, civil wars were developing in South Africa’s neighbour states (Mozambique, Namibia, Rhodesia and Angola), and as the Soviet Union provided arms for insurgents, the South African government came to the conclusion that defence would be an important aspect of its continued survival. In 1965, the Central Intelligence Agency (1965:7) reported,

As part of its effort to reduce the effectiveness of international arms embargoes, the Verwoerd government may have taken the first step toward developing a domestic aircraft industry. According to the South African press, the Italian aircraft firm Macchi has authorized South Africa to ‘manufacture and assemble’ a Macchi aircraft – probably the MB-326 jet basic trainer. Production is scheduled to begin late next year at a $56-million plant to be constructed near Johannesburg.

The following year, the CIA (1966:2) reported on improvements that have been made to mitigate the effects of future sanctions,

South Africa has made a phenomenal recovery in almost every important respect from the nadir that followed the 1960 Sharpeville shootings. The security forces have become more efficient and, aided by draconian legislation, have harried the organized non-white opposition virtually out of existence. The economic boom continues, nourished to an ever-increasing extent by capital from inside the country. The few remaining areas in which South Africa might be even slightly vulnerable to economic sanctions are being whittled away. While maintaining its close economic ties with Britain, Pretoria is broadening its suppliers and markets to include France, Japan, and West Germany, among others. The government has modernized and greatly enlarged its military establishment, turning to France and Italy in the face of arms embargoes imposed by the US and (less fully) by Britain, and has steadily increased the domestic production of military weapons.

In 1968, Armscor was established as a statutory corporation in terms of the Armaments Development and Production Act number 57 of 1968, which defined the role and tasks of Armscor as “promoting and co-ordinating the development, manufacture, standardization, maintenance, acquisition, or supply of armaments… utilizing the services of any person, body or institution or any department of the state” (Botha 2003:1). In 1971, the CIA (1971:9) reported on progress made in the South African arms industry,

The recently announced agreement for the licensed production of French Mirage aircraft in South Africa is a significant advance in Pretoria’s efforts towards a self-sufficient arms capability. Under the agreement signed by the South African defense minister during his recent visit to the Paris air show, South Africa will produce basic elements of Mirage III fighters and Mirage F-1 interceptors. Aircraft engines and various sophisticated components, however, will have to be imported from France for several years. The French reportedly also will send technical advisers to South Africa and provide training in France for a ‘large number’ of South African technicians. In addition, a French Defense Ministry official recently stated that France will sell a ‘complement’ of Mirages to South Africa. Initial South African production of the Mirage IIIs is not expected until 1973 and F-1 production presumably will not take place until the mid-70s. The F-1 is scheduled to enter production for the French Air Force later this year. South Africa has long striven for self-sufficiency in arms production, particularly since the United Nations ordered an arms embargo of South Africa in 1963. The country has since produced small arms, light infantry weapons, French-designed armored cars, and Italian-designed jet trainers. South Africa also will participate in the production of a surface-to-air missile system developed by France. The facilities and experience involved in the jet trainer program will provide the South Africans with the technical foundation for Mirage production.

Importantly, this report therefore states that South Africa did not only purchase weapons systems for the short term, but included in the sale training with a view to the future manufacture of more sophisticated parts. In the coming years, the South African arms industry developed new products as well as adapted existing weapons systems, primarily for the war in Angola. One of the flagship productions was the Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), “the Rolls-Royce of infantry vehicles” (Wessels and Marx 2008:79), which came in a variety of different modifications offering anti-tank, command, and logistics support. The vehicle was introduced in 1978 and soon became one of the icons of the war. Other projects included adapting the Soviet BM-21 Katyusha multiple rocket launcher to become the South African Valkiri, and adapting the British Centurion main battle tank (and its Israeli upgrade) to become the Olifant (Liebenberg and Barnard 2006:103-104). South Africa also adapted the French Mirage MkIII (and Israeli Kfir that was based on the Mirage) to become the South African Cheetah, which Ackerman (1987:30) called “n dwarsklap vir die tien jaar oue wapenverbod teen die RSA,” [a slap in the face of the ten-year old arms embargo against the RSA], i.e. a successful development despite the mandatory arms embargo. Armscor further developed the G-5 155mm long range howitzer and its self-propelled version, the G-6.

In addition, South Africa’s Chemical and Biological weapons project, Project Coast (established in May 1981), was according to some commentators the second most advanced chemical and biological weapons project in the world at the time (after the Soviet Union) (Purkitt and Burgess 2002:245). The project was initially developed separate from Armscor, and the latter only became involved during the weaponization phase (Purkitt and Burgess 2002:240). As the project progressed, it acquired anthrax, Plague, cholera, Escherichia coli, staph, necrotising fasciitis, ricin, botulinum, gas gangrene, anti-matter bacteria, and the Ebola, Marburg, and Rift Valley viruses. Purkitt and Burgess (2002:242) note,

Eventually, according to a number of sources in the US and South Africa, Project Coast developed pathogens that had never before been seen. Project Coast managed to obtain the Soviet-developed flesh-eating bacteria, necrotising fasciitis, as well as the antidote. In 1994, the South Africans surprised the Americans by revealing that they had the bacteria and then gave it to the USA.

This project also developed non-lethal weapons such as the so-called New Generation Tear (NGT) Gas, which was designed to be more powerful than conventional CS tear gas and to incapacitate without lethality or excessive irritation (Purkitt and Burgess 2002:242).
Another notable achievement of the local arms industry was the development of nuclear weapons. On 22 September 1979, South Africa conducted its first nuclear test, and subsequently built six more weapons with the aid of mainly Israel (Stemmet 2002:25).
In 1979, South Africa expelled three members of the US defence attaché’s office in Pretoria for alleged espionage. The CIA reported at the time on the confidence the South African government had gained in becoming more self-sufficient, “South African officials feel increasingly that because of their successful management of the current oil crisis and their evasion of the arms embargo, international economic sanctions are no longer as dreaded as before” (Central Intelligence Agency 1979:6). The domestic arms industry gained increasing prominence: Wessels and Marx (2008:81) write that, during Operation Protea (1981), “94% of the armaments used by the SADF were produced in South Africa, and by 1985, almost 100% of the Army’s equipment was locally developed.” As Alsheh (2013:27) also writes, South Africa turned its arms industry around from the 1960s to the 1980s,

From spending no more than R30 million on (mostly imported) arms in 1966, by 1980 South Africa was spending R600 million on arms, most of which was locally produced. By 1988 South Africa was exporting R1,8 billion worth of arms, becoming one of the top ten arms exporters in the world.

When the South African defence industry could not design and manufacture equipment domestically, it exploited loopholes in the arms embargoes, or acquired components in covert ways (Lamb 2007). In 1985, General Magnus Malan for instance “openly admitted that any country at the mercy of an international arms embargo would have to resort to ‘unconventional’ buying methods from time to time” (Wessels and Marx 2008:75). The Helderberg disaster in 1987, where a commercial jet liner of the South African Airways crashed into the Indian ocean with 159 passengers on board, is rumoured to be one of the covert acquisitions that went wrong (Brynard 2005:25), although no proof has been found.
Preparations made since the 1960s were of course not only linked to arms production and procurement, and Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd announced the Orange River water project in 1962 to help create a sense of hope for South Africa’s future, as Van Heerden (1991:19) writes,

It was a period of unrest. Sharpeville and Rivonia, Poqo and a bomb at the Johannesburg station. The new republic was barely two years old and the clouds of international isolation were on the horizon. Dr. Verwoerd was looking for something to capture the imagination of the (white) public and to stem the flight of foreign capital by demonstrating the Government’s confidence in the country’s future. 3

The plans for the H.F. Verwoerd Dam (on which construction started in 1965) and the P.K. le Roux Dam (on which construction began in 1973) were part of Verwoerd’s (and subsequently Vorster’s) attempts to improve South Africa’s water supply, but also served to provide hope for improving South Africa’s ability to produce food by supplying water to an arid region through a series of canals. The rationale behind such developments was their ‘“strategiese belangrikheid’ en die feit dat ‘n beleerde Suid-Afrika na sy eie langtermyn-behoeftes moet omsien” [“‘Strategic importance’ and the fact that a besieged South Africa had to take care of its own long-term needs] (Van Heerden 1991:20). In 1967, the CIA reported on various other projects aimed at attaining self-sufficiency,

Despite an already high degree of self-sufficiency, South Africa’s policies aim at a greater degree of autarky, has grown as a consequence of recurrent threats of sanctions in the UN, and because the government is determined that, whatever the price, it will not be caught short should economic sanctions ever be applied against it. Largely to expand domestic military production, defense spending this year will total over $350 million. And the administration is currently engaged in numerous programs both to encourage exploration for petroleum at home and to insure continued access to supplies abroad. Burgeoning expenditures to achieve self-sufficiency have been a major source of troubling inflationary pressures during the last few years (Central Intelligence Agency 1967:11)

This report also singles out the issue of food production,

… even though only about 12 percent of South Africa is arable and water supplies are becoming increasingly tight, post-World War II growth in agriculture has made the country virtually self-sufficient in foodstuffs; South Africa now exports about a third of its agricultural and fishery products (Central Intelligence Agency 1967:11).

During the Presidency of B.J. Vorster, South Africa further attempted to create infrastructure. This included the completion of the H.F. Verwoerd and P.K. Le Roux Dams, a uranium enrichment facility at Pelindaba, the Koeberg nuclear power plant (with the help of France in exchange for uranium, on which construction began in 1976), the Atlas aeroplane corporation, a third Yskor plant, the Natref refinery, the Saldana steel plant, and many more projects (Du Pisani 2012:350). While some of these projects have been criticized for not delivering much benefit (see Van Heerden 1991), there can be no doubt that the Orange River water project, and Koeberg, delivered much-needed electricity and water supplies.
A major problem for South Africa was however petroleum. In 1967, the CIA reported, “The only important resource deficiency is petroleum; no petroleum has been found though about 7 percent of domestic requirements are met by synthetic production in 1968” (Central Intelligence Agency 1967:11). The following year, the CIA reported,

The South African minister of mines announced to a cheering parliament this week that after years of intensive exploration South Africa has made its first substantial petroleum discovery in a section of the southeastern continental shelf. Initial reports indicate that the flow from the well is 35 million cubic feet of gas and 100 barrels of oil per day. This is not a large quantity but it will give the South Africans hope that they may yet achieve self-sufficiency in the one major resource they have lacked, thus easing still further the threat of foreign economic sanctions (Central Intelligence Agency 1969:10).

The hope for the domestic petroleum industry was however not the discovery of small oil fields, but rather the Suid-Afrikaanse Steenkool-, Olie- en Gaskorporasie (Sasol), which was founded in 1950 and to which the abovementioned “synthetic production” in the CIA report of 1967 refers. Sasol started production in 1955, and “het uiteindelik die wêreldleier in die vervaardiging van brandstof uit steenkool geword” [eventually became the world leader in producing fuel from coal] (Verhoef 2012:462-463). A second plant was opened in 1983 and a third in 1985 in Secunda, and its turnover increased from R1,4 million in 1960 to R5 billion in 1985 (Verhoef 2012:475). Eventually Sasol produced 25% of local fuel (Verhoef 2012:475).
As mentioned above, the Arab oil boycott was instituted in 1973, effectively testing South African preparations that had been made since the 1960s. The CIA reported on the South African response to the boycott,

Pretoria’s restrained reaction to the Arab oil boycott suggests that it is confident it can withstand a long siege. Prime Minister Vorster’s first radio address concerning the boycott announced no emergency measures except further tightening of moderate gasoline conservation measures adopted in mid-November. His low-key statement implied that South Africa would be able to avert serious economic dislocations because of its long-time efforts to achieve self-sufficiency as a precaution against possible UN sanctions. The government, however, is preparing to implement such measures as gas rationing if necessary. […] South Africa has no domestic source of petroleum, and an effective boycott by Arab states, including Iraq, could stop roughly 50 percent of normal petroleum imports. Nevertheless, South Africa’s abundant coal reserves meet at least 75 percent of the country’s normal energy needs. Domestic petroleum refinery capacity is well above normal domestic consumption requirements. The net impact of a boycott could compel South Africa to reduce normal energy use by as much as 10 percent, but this could be offset by drawing on ample petroleum stockpiles that the government has hoarded for emergency use (Central Intelligence Agency 1973:16).

Note the CIA’s statement of petroleum stockpiles: Already by 1966, the CIA estimated the South African petroleum stockpiles to provide sufficient fuel for 12 months under normal consumption and 18 months under rationing, and they noted that plans were under way to provide three years’ supply under rationing (Central Intelligence Agency 1966:3). This is in sharp contrast to Japan’s stockpiling of oil for 100 days in 1978, and the US’s program to stockpile oil for 60 days (500 million barrels) by 1980 and eventually to build a stockpile that would be sufficient for about 180 days (Central Intelligence Agency 1978:1). Of course, Japan and the US were not in danger of losing their oil supply permanently, but plans to stockpile over 1000 days’ worth of oil stands in sharp contrast to these countries’ stockpiles.
During the first years of the OPEC oil boycott, South Africa relied on Iran for 80% of its oil imports (Central Intelligence Agency 1978:14). As Iran neared its turbulent takeover by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, the CIA assessed the impact of the loss of Iran as an oil supplier to South Africa, and noted that,

Pretoria has strategic oil stockpiles equal to at least two years’ supply at current consumption levels (estimated at 350,000 barrels per day or more). These stockpiles have been built up in the past 10 to 15 years as a precautionary measure against the threat of economic sanctions. Pretoria could also take several measures to stretch out its oil supplies, including rationing and reducing exports of refined products to neighboring countries (Central Intelligence Agency 1978:14-15).

The plans noted in 1966 were thus realised: South Africa had extended its petroleum stockpiles significantly and – in comparison with Japan and the US – for a much longer period. In total, by 1978, the CIA claimed that South Africa “has been preparing for them [sanctions] for more than a decade and, except for petroleum products, is now about 80-percent self-sufficient” (Central Intelligence Agency 1978:4).

The impact of sanctions, embargoes, and boycotts

Already in 1963, in an interview with the CIA’s Deputy Chief, Africa Division, the latter expressed his doubts whether sanctions would have much of an effect on South Africa’s racial policies,

He believes the present form of government in the Republic of South Africa can and will survive another 25 years unless the United States or Russia takes drastic action to upset Republic chances. Noting that South Africa has 80 per cent of the industrial capacity of the African continent, he feels the Republic can survive any combination of pressures, sanctions, or boycotts imposed by the rest of Africa (Central Intelligence Agency 1963:1).

The measures discussed in the previous section were at this time only in the beginning phases, and continued developments under Vorster and Botha significantly increased South Africa’s ability to withstand sanctions. By the late 1980s, DeKieffer (1988:17) remarks,

“Ongelukkig vir die Amerikaanse Kongres het die Botha-regering nie gedienstig die gees gegee nie. Die Suid-Afrikaanse ekonomie is ontstellend lewenskragtig” [Unfortunately for the US Congress, the Botha government did not roll over. The South African economy is disturbingly resilient]. In 1989, shortly before Botha retired and was replaced by De Klerk, the CIA stated in a special report that confirms DeKieffer’s argument, “South African industries have been able to blunt roughly half of the theoretical financial impact of sanctions on export sales” (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:37).

When not able to become completely self-sufficient, the South African government found ways to circumvent sanctions and embargoes. In 1987, following the UN’s calls for widespread sanctions, the CIA (1987:21) wrote,

  • South Africa has responded to the current round of sanctions by implementing several measures designed to ensure the continued sale of products officially embargoed. These measures will most likely succeed in blunting the impact of the current round of sanctions. To date, South Africa has:
  • Created a Secretariat for Unconventional Trade within the government to coordinate sanctions evasion activity.
  • Stockpiled coal at free ports in the Netherlands and Belgium for re-export.
    Established front companies in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong.
    Transshipped goods through third countries and used false labels, such as “Made in Swaziland.”

Two years later, the CIA reported that these measures were highly effective,
Pretoria had honed mechanisms for subterfuge trade through years of grappling with embargoes on its purchases of crude oil and arms, and was well equipped to circumvent those few embargoes placed on sales to South Africa. For example, press reports indicate that South Africa has used Malawi as a front to evade Denmark’s total trade embargo. These reports claim that Danish exports of technical instruments to Malawi increased to more than 40 times their previous level following the trade ban. Sweden’s total trade embargo also has been circumvented. Swedish firms have continued to do business with South Africa through foreign subsidiaries (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:37-38).

By circumventing sanctions and embargoes, as well as by managing the local economy and emphasising self-sufficiency, the real economic impact of sanctions was limited. Giliomee (2012:409) writes that the impact of sanctions was mixed,

Sanctions could not bring the South African state to a fall, and it did not actually hurt the middle class financially. Often foreign companies that withdrew sold their local interests cheaply to a South African company. Trade ties with the West did weaken as a result of sanctions, but at the same time ties with Asia improved. The total foreign trade grew. By the end of 1986, the country had a trade surplus of R15 billion. The ban on new foreign loans and investments severely damaged business confidence, however. South Africa’s economic growth rate dropped increasingly lower, which brought increased unemployment. 4(see also CIA 1987:22).

The CIA reported in 1989 that sanctions had “trimmed about 1 percentage point from South Africa’s real annual GDP growth potential through the early 1990s” (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:39). However, the limited effect of sanctions on the country’s Gross Domestic Product belie the effects it had on specific industries,

Nonetheless, despite their modest overall impact, trade sanctions have hurt some industries significantly. For example, export revenues for the South African coal industry have declined 21 percent during the last two years, in part because of sanctions, while textile exports fell by more than 4 percent and steel, iron, and aluminum exports declined only slightly (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:39).

One of the most damaging effects of the arms embargo was that it prevented the South African Air Force (SAAF) from attaining sophisticated modern aircraft to counter the Cuban threat in Angola. The CIA reported, “The international arms embargo operationally handicapped the South African Air Force by hampering its ability to replace lost aircraft or procure sophisticated antiaircraft defense systems” (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:51, see also Wessels and Marx 2008:82).

Despite these issues, the CIA was as sceptical about the overall effects of sanctions in 1989 as they were in 1963,

We doubt that even comprehensive Western economic sanctions would impose enough economic and political costs on South Africa to force Pretoria to alter its racial policies rapidly and fundamentally. Existing sanctions have had only a modest impact on the economy and a negligible effect on Pretoria’s policies. South African exporters have managed to keep non-gold sales from falling by tapping new markets for their goods, using innovative trading practices, and employing subterfuge to continue trading in prohibited markets. Indeed, largely as a result of higher gold prices and more domestic spending, the South African economy has experienced a moderate recovery in 1987 and 1988. […] In our view, sanctions alone are unlikely to force President Botha to undertake modifications of the country’s racial policies that he would not otherwise make. South Africa’s extensive and costly preparations for sanctions make it improbable that Pretoria would cave in to foreign economic pressure without first testing its ability to withstand comprehensive measures (Central Intelligence Agency 1989:36, 39).

The preparations made by the NP government since Verwoerd thus allowed the South African economy to function even as international attempts at isolation reached their peak. The CIA however does not mention the psychological effects of isolation, which Giliomee (2004:596) believes had a greater impact. He writes that Western countries’ later refusal to allow Afrikaner diplomats to travel, was “perhaps more effective than economic sanctions.”

Conclusion

The National Party government under Verwoerd was under no illusion that its racial policies would ever be accepted by the international community. Hence, the government started making preparations for widespread sanctions, boycotts, and arms embargoes. These preparations included establishing a domestic and, to a large extent, self-reliant arms industry to serve the country’s security needs, establishing infrastructure such as large dams to help provide in the country’s food and water needs, and establishing oil stockpiles and an alternative in the form of Sasol, as well as by establishing alternative energy-generating plants such as Koeberg, to provide in South Africa’s energy needs. In addition, the South African government became adept at using third parties and the black market to circumvent sanctions and boycotts in order to supply what it could not generate domestically. These and other measures allowed the South African government to mitigate the effects of international efforts to isolate South Africa, and while sanctions and embargoes did have a tangible effect on the South African economy, and notably on the country’s ability to fight a conventional war in Angola, international efforts to isolate South Africa were never debilitating. The NP’s preparations for its foreseen disaster – and it is important to recognise that they did foresee increased international isolation – were thus largely effective.

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Notes:

  1. Translated from the original Afrikaans, “Die boikotte teen Suid-Afrika het toegeneem en die land is uit internasionale liggame geskors. Hoewel volskaalse disinvestering nog nie begin het nie, het banke en korporatiewe beleggers opgehou om nuwe lenings aan en beleggings in apartheidsinsteliings goed te keur. Voorheen goedgesinde regerings, maatskappye en organisasies het stille samewerking met Suid-Afrika laat vaar. Die negatiewe uitwerking van hierdie isolasie het op politieke, ekonomiese en sosiale terreine in Suid-Afrika voelbaar geword.”
  2. Translated from the original Afrikaans, “Indien dit gebeur sou Amerikaanse rekenaartoerusting byvoorbeeld in Suid-Afrika nagemaak en verkoop kan word, teen ‘n breukdeel van die huidige koste. Die ‘boeke-boikot’ kan maklik omseil word deur Suid-Afrikaanse uitgewers eenvoudig toe te laat om Amerikaanse tekste te kopieer en te weier om outeursregte aan Amerikaanse skrywers te betaal. Pogings om tegnologie aan Suid-Afrika te ontsê, kan oorkom word deur eenvoudig Suid-Afrikaanse maatskappye toe te laat om die produkte te vervaardig en die Amerikaanse patenthouer uit te daag om ‘n eis in te stel.”
  3. Translated from the original Afrikaans, “Dit was ‘n tydperk van onluste. Van Sharpeville en Rivonia,Poqo en ‘n bom by die Johannesburgse stasie. Die nuwe republiek was skaars twee jaar oud en die wolke van internasionale isolasie het reeds op die horison begin saampak. Dr. Verwoerd het na iets gesoek om die verbeelding van die (wit) publiek aan te gryp en die vlug van buitelandse kapitaal te keer deur die Regering se vertroue in die land se toekoms te demonstreer.”

  4. Translated from the original Afrikaans, “Sanksies kon die Suid-Afrikaanse staat nie tot ‘n val bring nie en dit het die middelklas nie juis finansieel seergemaak nie. Dikwels het buitelandse maatskappye wat onttrek het hul plaaslike belange goedkoop aan ‘n Suid-Afrikaanse maatskappy verkoop. Handelsbande met die Weste het wel as gevolg van sanksies verswak, maar terselfdertyd het dié met Asië verbeter. Die totale buitelandse handel het gegroei. Teen die einde van 1986 het die land ‘n handelsoorskot van R15 miljard gehad. Die verbod op nuwe buitelandse lenings en beleggings het sakevertroue egter wel kwaai geskaad. Suid-Afrika se ekonomiese groeikoers het al hoe laer gedaal, wat nog groter werkloosheid meegebring het.”