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South Africa’s propaganda war: the information campaign to influence the United States of America, 1972-1978

Title: South Africa’s propaganda war: the information campaign to influence the United States of America, 1972-1978

Authors: J.K. Haasbroek, J-A. Stemmet and M. Oelofse[*]

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 9: 3


In an effort to counter anti-apartheid forces, the Department of Information, with the approval of Prime Minister Balthazar Johannes (B.J.) Vorster, initiated a global unconventional propaganda offensive, at astronomical cost.  The Department of Information considered the United States of America (USA) a significant target, and therefore implemented a series of projects to increase Western support for Pretoria. This article endeavours to review the overall goals and effectiveness of campaigns conducted in America from 1972 to 1978. Hence, it will focus on campaigns undertaken by the Department of Information that influenced the ‘hearts and minds’ of American decision makers and opinion formers, as well as the public regarding South Africa’s ‘realities’.

Keywords: South Africa, Apartheid, Department of Informatio, Propaganda; Media, Diplomacy, Public relations, B.J. Vorster, United States of America (USA), Cold War


Met die goedkeuring van eerste minister Balthazar Johannes (B.J.) Vorster, het die Departement van Inligting ʼn globale onkonvensionele propagandaveldtog, teen astronomiese koste, geloods in ʼn poging om anti-apartheidsmagte teen te staan. Die Departement van Inligting het die Verenigde State van Amerika (VSA) as ʼn belangrike teiken beskou en verskeie projekte is geïmplementeer om ondersteuning vanuit die Weste vir Pretoria te bevorder. Hierdie artikel poog om die algehele doelwitte van die veldtogte in Amerika (1972-1978) in oënskou te bring en die effektiwiteit daarvan. Daarom fokus dit op die Departement van Inligting se veldtogte wat probeer het om die ‘hart en menings’ van Amerikaanse besluitnemers en meningsvormers, asook die publiek, rakende Suid-Afrika se ‘realiteite’, te beïnvloed.

Sleutelwoorde: Suid-Afrika, Apartheid, Departement van Inligting, Propaganda, Media, Diplomasie, Openbare betrekkinge, B.J. Vorster, Verenigde State van Amerika (VSA), Koue Oorlog


The United States of America’s ideology and culture emphasise personal liberty and equality. These principles are embedded in American foreign and domestic policies. Apartheid South Africa’s segregation and oppressive laws against so-called non-whites, during the Cold War period, denied the Republic economic and alliance securities within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The USA itself was struggling with complex race relations and had to cater for African-Americans fighting for civil rights. Pressure from the United Nations (UN) and newly-independent countries prevented a close-knit alliance between South Africa and the USA. Openly supporting a racist regime, particularly in view of the emergence of newly-independent countries in Africa and Asia, would jeopardise and invite criticism for the USA’s foreign policy, resulting in the decline of international influence.[2]

Despite this, the emergence of the Cold War triggered a unique and complicated relationship between apartheid South Africa and Western anti-communist allies. Although apartheid was condemned by the West, South Africa remained a crucial strategic and economic associate, and proved to be the most ‘stable’ country in Africa in so far as Western priorities were at stake. The African National Congress’ (ANC) association with Moscow resulted in Washington’s preference for the white minority to remain in control. International affairs were also crucial for the South African Government, especially as its global image was deteriorating. Positive interaction on foreign stages was essential for not only economic reasons but also security from the Western powers was imperative to fend off the perceived communist threat. Particularly as the end of colonialism was leaving the white minority isolated in a black continent.[3] The problem faced by South Africa was: how to sway public opinion in the USA, in its favour — with the stench of apartheid following it? Traditional methods of influence would not suffice. Pretoria would need to target America by unconventional means.

The article focusses specifically on how Pretoria targeted the United States.  The apartheid state and its relations, including propaganda and lobbying endeavors, regarding the United States was fluid as the system became increasingly more infamous. An extensive analysis thereof falls outside the ambit of a short article. This article presents a unique aspect of South African history that remains, to a large extent, unrevealed. It serves to digest an otherwise convoluted piece of history. It speaks directly to the angst of an undemocratic system: how to change outside views without relinquishing internal matrices of power.

In 1968, Vorster appointed the Minister of Bantu Administration (later renamed Plural Relations), Cornelius (Connie) Petrus Mulder as Minister of Information.[4] Three years after his appointment, Mulder sallied forth on an excursion to witness international opinion concerning South Africa. Displeased with the unfavourable attitude of international newspapers, political debates, and calls for sanctions against South Africa, he was eager to recruit a crew to combat these views. The book entitled The Paper Curtain by Dr Eschel Mostert Rhoodie fascinated Mulder. In the book, Rhoodie argued that South Africa was not involved in a direct war, but rather in a ‘Battle of Words’. Attacks by the international media, Western churches, and third-world countries in an effort to isolate and boycott Pretoria, prevented South Africa from reaching its maximum potential in trade, technological advances and, ultimately, its ‘rightful’ place on the continent. Rhoodie suggested that, instead of responding to opponents’ attacks, South Africa should retaliate with a counter-propaganda offensive.[5]

The need for a propaganda war

Disputes over South Africa’s human-rights violations started in 1946. Pretoria’s treatment of Indians resulted in a complaint to the UN in its first General Assembly. The Defiance Campaign in 1952 prompted thirteen Arab and Asian countries to instigate a new resolution against apartheid. The USA succeeded in protecting Pretoria from UN scrutiny but by the late 1950s, the USA was obligated to approach South Africa more critically due to the civil-rights movements at home, and African countries gaining independence.[6]

South Africa received a great deal of unfavourable global attention following the Sharpeville Massacre that occurred on 21 March 1960. On 1 April 1960, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 134, which denounced apartheid policies and requested the termination of apartheid. For the first time, the General Assembly favoured action against South Africa. Even Pretoria’s strongest ally, the USA, approved the resolution. Even though the USA’s rhetoric changed in regard to apartheid, economic and strategic cooperation between Pretoria and the USA continued. The General Assembly considered South Africa a threat to international peace in 1962, and encouraged optional sanctions. In order to compensate for the requests by civil-rights movements and African and Asian countries, the John F. Kennedy Administration decided to impose an arms embargo against Pretoria. On 7 August 1963, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 181, prohibiting states from providing South Africa with military equipment. The USA’s embargo only applied to weaponry that was used to impose apartheid.[7]

Apart from international politics, another thorn in the side of the National Party (NP) was the Anti-Apartheid Movements (AAM) from the USA, United Kingdom (UK), Scandinavian countries, and Holland. The AAM worked with organisations, such as the exiled ANC, the UN, and sympathetic governments. The goal was to create a worldwide consciousness of apartheid and, through unified campaigns, crush South Africa’s economy by means of sanctions, boycotts, disinvestment and propaganda. On 2 December 1968, the General Assembly called for governments and associations to break off cultural, sporting, and educational exchanges with South Africa. For example, South Africa was banned from the 1963 Tokyo and 1968 Mexican Olympic Games.[8]

In 1969, South Africa gained an important ally in the White House. President Richard Nixon instated a policy towards South Africa that invited negotiation and collaboration as a means of transformation. While the Nixon Administration publicly condemned apartheid, in reality, it relaxed economic restrictions and political isolation. The phrase ‘the whites are here to stay’ from a leaked document in 1969 created the impression that the USA was in favour of the apartheid regime. This document drew strong criticism both domestically and internationally.[9]

However, AAM activities intensified in the 1970s. In 1972, the American Committee on Africa set up office in Washington DC, which enabled the committee to have institutional power in the capital. In the same year, the Interfaith Committee on Corporate Responsibility was established to target American businesses interacting with South Africa. Another threat to Pretoria was the rise in black representatives in the US Congress. Nine black congress members joined to form the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 to put pressure on Pretoria. The most prominent black man in Congress to put pressure on South Africa was Charles Diggs, who was selected as Chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. Diggs raised the issue of American investments in South Africa during various public hearings. Despite the actions of the Congressional Black Caucus, the US Senate remained reluctant to take any legislative action. Nonetheless, AAMs were a factor in the removal of South African representation from the UN in 1974.[10] Against this backdrop, Mulder, Rhoodie and Vorster convened on an approach to deter negative views and alter international politics through propaganda and persuasion.

Approach to a propaganda war

Although The Paper Curtain made an undeniable impression on Mulder, the question remains as to how the author intended to win the propaganda war. Rhoodie’s time as an Information Officer abroad in Australia, Holland, and the USA afforded him the expertise to wage an unorthodox propaganda war. Rhoodie accused the Department of Information of being ill-equipped to deal with the psychological and propaganda warfare of the Cold War. For instance, the Arab States funded R20 million for public relations campaigns in the USA. He noticed that the Department of Foreign Affairs stagnated and mainly clung to official diplomacy with governments and avoided other duties such as addressing the foreign media, churches, students, politicians, and AAMs. For the Department of Information to be effective, it had to create a clandestine capability for which it required millions. [11]

The strategy that Rhoodie had in mind for altering global attitudes towards South Africa was the utilisation of overt and covert propaganda. South Africa was struggling to use official and diplomatic communication channels. Therefore, Rhoodie’s objective was to reach opinion formers and decision makers across the world, induce their standpoint on South Africa, and establish a communication network through which South Africa could convey its messages and arguments. Rhoodie would hide the true nature of the source and information from the recipients, and the messages would be disseminated by targeted politicians, senators, businessmen, religious leaders, newspapers, labour unions, and anti-apartheid organisations. People were more likely to believe and trust a source that had no apparent direct involvement with South Africa. Rhoodie also advised befriending potential leaders early in their careers in order to secure allies who could later exert influence. The media is often unforgiving towards a country and it is a compelling task to escape the ‘brutal-highlight syndrome’. The best ways to ensure influence in the media included having friends within the media, buying goodwill or simply owning the media source.[12]

Rhoodie declared that all possible methods would be used to transfer massive volumes of positive information to those living abroad. Propaganda methods included distributing books, magazines, and pamphlets to important individuals; press conferences, seminars, official and ministerial speeches, talks and interviews specifically aimed at politicians and businessmen; advertisements through front organisations; purchasing foreign journalists; buying space to counter-argue in newspapers; lobbying and public relations initiatives; buying goodwill, bribing or encouraging or discouraging people from doing something; external censorship through pressure groups; and paying for visits from foreign VIPs to South Africa. Influential foreign visitors to South Africa would be transformed into an ‘informed corps’ that would persuade their governments not to abstain from supporting punitive actions against Pretoria.[13]

Mulder believed that the first line of defence was the propaganda line, and the second, the military line. Therefore, it was more cost-effective to obtain positive reporting than to buy tanks and aircraft. Mulder valued Rhoodie’s understanding of Cold War mechanics and appointed him as Secretary of Information at the age of 38 in September 1972.[14]

Early information efforts

In a short period of time, between 1972 and 1974, Rhoodie established a vast network throughout the globe. The Department of Information’s initial thrust into the USA was achieved by hiring the lobbying firms, Rotary and Lions International, as well as Collier, Shannon, Rill and Edwards. Rotary and Lions International were provided with funds and speakers, with lobbying efforts largely engaging America’s southern universities and small black businesses. For example, Ronald Farrar, the head of the Journalism Department at the University of Mississippi, was sent on a tour to South Africa. Farrar wrote pro-South African letters which he sent back home, stating, among others, that black people had not been restricted by pass laws.[15]

In January 1974, Rhoodie contracted the renowned Washington lobbying organisation Collier, Shannon, Rill and Edwards. The organisation selected the American lawyer and lobbyist, Donald E. deKieffer, to represent the South African Government in the USA. He had strong ties with the American Republican Party. According to the organisation’s registration statement to the Justice Department, the mandate received by the firm from the Department of Information stipulates contacting publicists, media representation and educational groups concerning the “reassessment” of current American foreign policy towards the Republic of South Africa.[16] Politically and economically, the “Registrant intends to contact appropriate government officials in the USA concerning American policies with regard to energy, mutual security, and investment within the Republic of South Africa.[17]

DeKieffer regularly sent publications, telegrams, and press releases to the US State Department, Defence Department, Treasury and Interior Departments, and the Commerce Department. For example, in 1974, DeKieffer distributed booklets to offices of Congress concerning the importance and security of the Cape sea route. DeKieffer also targeted the US Congress. He used his ‘personal’ capital to contribute financially to the campaigns of US legislatures and senators. He also arranged social excursions for members of congress, and fact-finding visits to South Africa for Congress representatives. Official members visiting South Africa rose from 11 in 1973 to 56 in 1974.[18]

Additionally, DeKieffer assisted in arranging top-level visits to American executives by South African government officials. Contact with top-level American government representatives offered South Africa more diplomatic opportunities. On 12 January 1974, Mulder left for America where he conveyed the importance of Pretoria’s minerals and military cooperation and, in exchange, bargained for the abolishment of the arms embargo. Mulder met with various senators and congressmen, such as Governor Ronald Reagan; the black Mayor of Los Angeles, Tom Bradley; Republican Senate Leader, Hugh Scott; Democratic House Leader, Tip O’Neil; Congressman Andrew Young; and Thomas Morgan. He also re-opened correspondence with the New York Times and managed to establish a New York Times bureau in South Africa. On 22 January, Mulder discussed issues with Vice-president Gerald Ford surrounding the ties between South Africa and the USA. Ford arranged for Mulder to meet with a Navy Vice Admiral, Raymond Peet, at the Pentagon. In August 1974, Ford took office as President of the USA and maintained good relations with South Africa.[19]

In one case, DeKieffer managed to cause a stir after the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs denied Admiral Hugo Biermann a visa to visit the USA in May 1974. As part of the arms embargo policy, military personnel were prevented from making official contact. DeKieffer showed his remarkable lobbying skills by attracting congressional support for Biermann’s visa application. Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, personally granted Biermann a visa. Thereafter, Biermann visited US Admiral Thomas Moorer and the secretary of the navy designate, William Middendorf.[20]

In a short span of time — from 1972 to early 1974 — and with a conservative preliminary budget,[21] the Department of Information was able to influence top-level decision makers and newspaper owners in the USA. On 6 February 1974, Rhoodie was called upon to deliver a presentation to Vorster and the Minister of Finance, Nico Diederichs, on the clandestine propaganda campaign. He explained that South Africa’s most imminent threat was not the Soviet Union, but rather Western democracy through their newspapers, politicians, and business communities. Both Vorster and Diederichs supported Rhoodie’s initiative to start a propaganda offensive.[22]

The grand information campaign

From 1974 onwards, the Department of Information increased the scale and scope of its propaganda offensive in the USA. Millions of rands were invested into propaganda operations aimed specifically at US Congressmen and the media. The Department of Information enlisted John McGoff, a conservative businessman from Michigan. McGoff was the founder of the Panax Corporation that possessed several radio stations and forty small daily and weekly newspapers scattered throughout the American Midwest. He also had ties with Republican officials and was a personal friend of Vice-president Ford. Already in 1968, McGoff was invited to South Africa as part of the foreign visit strategy. During McGoff’s visits to South Africa, he befriended Mulder and Rhoodie, and returned to the USA with a positive attitude towards South Africa. Previous executives claim that McGoff occasionally ordered them to distribute stories regarding South Africa. By 1974, McGoff increased the amount of content to be published regarding the importance of South Africa.[23]

In 1974, McGoff proposed a mutually-beneficial business offer to the Department of Information. The Washington Star experienced financial difficulties and planned on selling off its shares. McGoff needed the financial backing of the South African Government to purchase The Washington Star. The South African Government would benefit by acquiring a new tool in their arsenal to distribute pro-South African propaganda and, hopefully, alter the perception of US Congressmen in the capital of the USA. The Washington Star would also be able to counteract inimical views represented by The Washington Post and the New York Times. McGoff required $10 million from the Department of Information and was willing to contribute even more of his own capital to acquire The Washington Star.[24]

However, the acquisition of The Washington Star never materialised. Sources vary in terms of explaining why the bid failed. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, McGoff used the $10 million to seize more shares in the Panex Corporation. In a timespan of five years, starting in 1973, McGoff’s shares in Panax increased from 43 126 to 460 000. Karen Rotmeyer asserts that McGoff was unable to raise sufficient funds to purchase the newspaper. The representative of The Washington Star’s titleholders, Godfrey Kauffmann, recalls that after looking over Panax’s balance sheet, he discovered that the company did not have the financial capacity to buy the newspaper. Kaufmann added that McGoff never submitted a solid proposal. McGoff’s presence in the bid for The Washington Star concerned its executives, who believed that it had some connection to his newly-found South African relationship.[25]

In late 1974, McGoff instead bought the Californian newspaper Sacramento Union for more than $5 million. While bidding for The Washington Star, McGoff requested to use a portion of the $10 million and the interest generated by the money to purchase the Sacramento Union. Initially, Rhoodie agreed to the conditions after McGoff had convinced him that it was a leading newspaper in California, which was home to Governor Reagan. In 1976, Rhoodie became aware of the fact that McGoff had used the original capital to buy the Californian newspaper and attempted to buy some other smaller newspapers such as the ephemeral New York Trib. Rhoodie did not have the authority to allow the transaction of the original funds for purchasing the Sacramento Union. The subsequent Erasmus Commission[26] concluded that a large amount of money had been placed in the hands of McGoff without proper regulation and the Department of Information was unsure as to whether South Africa had any entitlement to these properties.[27]

In 1975, the Department of Information channelled roughly $1 000 000 to McGoff in order to secure shares in the United Press International and Television Network (UPITN). Second to Visnews, UPITN was the largest international television agency with more than 100 clients around the globe, and a major provider of news content for the American television network, ABC, and various third-world countries. McGoff bought 50% of the shares from Paramount for Panax, while the other shareholders, with 25% shares each, were United Press International and Independent Television News (ITN), based in Britain. Rhoodie was pleased with the fact that South African propaganda could be viewed from different media outlets worldwide. With the intention of influencing editorial control over content concerning the presentation of South Africa, McGoff managed to acquire the UPITN Chairman position in London for his right-hand man, Vice-president Clarence Rhodes. In February 1976, Rhodes staged an interview with Vorster for international television. Rhoodie orchestrated the set-up of answers and questions for Vorster, clearly conveying the propagandist intentions of UPITN. Eight out of 300 documentaries produced by UPITN covered South Africa. The editor of ITN, Hugh Whitcomb, gave the assurance that McGoff did not possess the power to prescribe editorial policy and never tried. However, Rhoodie was aware that one-sided programmes may have injured the project and therefore endorsed the production of programmes that were critical to the NP.[28]

Chris Paterson and Vanessa Malila conducted a study to determine the coverage of the UPITN during and after McGoff’s shareholding in the company. The study found that during the McGoff era, most of the content had focussed on South Africa’s relations with countries not adjacent to its borders, such as the UK and the USA. After the McGoff period, stories began focussing on South Africa’s affiliation with bordering countries. Before and after, Caucasians, specifically politicians, were more likely to be aired than any other race. The researchers concluded that the editorial policies were intended to shift the limelight away from South Africa’s real news by focussing on its relationships with other countries.[29]

The Department of Information was extremely diligent in its attempts throughout the USA to modify the American public’s attitude towards the white South African government. Endeavours to distribute propaganda ranged from newspapers, books, and magazines to brochures, advertisements, personal contact, television, radio, and other methods of cleverly disguised propaganda. The main overseer of propaganda operations in the USA was the Information Service of South Africa’s (ISSA) office in New York. The ISSA circulated numerous South African publications in the USA, such as the South African Scope, South African Panorama, and the South African Digest, which numbered 35 000 in circulation. These magazines with pro-South African investment advertisements were sent to libraries, educational facilities, organisations, legislators, newspapers, executives, and bureaucrats. South African investment advertisements appeared in several prestigious newspapers and magazines, for example in the Wall Street Journal, reading: “South Africa. There’s something in it for you”, and in the New York Times: “If you buy or invest, South Africa makes all the difference in the world.” In the Business Week, a special advertisement of 32 pages with the title “Grow in South Africa”, emerged. The advertisement scheme was a joint venture of government departments, South African corporations, and bodies that benefited from USA commercial investments. Advertising was an appropriate means of stabilising the import of foreign capital and contributed to business relationships with American investors.[30]

In the 1970s, television became an important source of information and entertainment for most Americans. The department was well aware of television as an effective medium to expose American audiences to propaganda. Propaganda films were specially modified to appeal to American viewers. An estimated 32 million Americans viewed ten South African propaganda films on television in 1974. The ISSA also commercially distributed 1 160 copies of 53 television documentary films. The cinema film distributor, Association-Sterling films, showed ISSA films such as Floodlift to Lesotho in 1974, which was believed to be a success after two million people had viewed it. Films generally contained footage of indigenous African animals, traditional cultures, and smiling white and black children. Moving pictures also highlighted South Africa’s strategically important natural resources.[31]

Radio was utilised as a tool to reach audiences in rural areas. These marginalised rural regions were only subjected to one point of view. The Department of Information sent 6 000 copies of the radio programme South African Magazine to 125 American radio stations in 1974. Listeners of small radio stations were frequently exposed to radio tapes, unaware that they were actually listening to propaganda provided by the ISSA.[32]

Rhoodie believed that personal contact was a suitable method of influencing officials and citizens. Except for retaining offices and information staff in locations, such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston, information staff were instructed to initiate ‘contact tours.’ These tours included giving speeches, meeting people, and corresponding with local television, press, and radio. Visits to towns and cities increased from 1974 to 1975, totalling 118 cities visited by only six information officials. Contact tours were paramount for publishing constructive reports in the American press and served to recruit visitors for the South African foreign visit programme.[33]

Additionally, the Department of Information targeted the American education sector. Foreign universities were provided with books worth R50 000, annually. Since most universities abroad only had books that shared ‘unbalanced’ views, the department saw it fit to sponsor these institutions with books containing a more ‘unbiased’ interpretation. The material conveyed progress made in race relationships over the past seven years, but oddly, the material made little reference to the Soweto Uprising or civil unrest experienced in the country. The Department of Information also went as far as influencing school children. The ISSA recruited the services of Image Industries, a company that markets and disseminates educational material. The ISSA ordered Image Industries to produce glossy brochures and a multimedia kit equipped with a sound filmstrip, wall map, South African flag, and a teacher’s guide. These kits were sent to junior and high school pupils free of charge. The regime distributed tens of thousands of dollars for the manufacturing of 10 466 kits and the printing of 50 000 brochures.[34] John Laurence voiced his concern regarding this malpractice: “By this means children outside South Africa are indoctrinated with tacit and often quite false racial or even anti-black propaganda, carrying the objective imprint of the innocent publisher.”[35]

The South African Government’s principal method of influencing senators and legislators involved the use of lobbying groups.[36] Lobbying groups came in the forms of public relationship agencies, front organisations and corporations with an interest in South Africa. Galen Hull is cautious of the power that lobbying groups wield, “The strength of lobbyists in Washington, both domestic and foreign, is reflected in their ability to influence legislation that would bring tighter regulation of their activities.”[37] South Africa acquired lobbying allies through business interests or visits to South Africa. Major corporations, such as the Ford Motor Company and Gulf Oil, utilised their permanent lobbying groups in the American capital to further their own needs and those of Pretoria. Corporations avoided the US State Department and, instead, influenced the Commerce and Treasury Department to diminish trade and arms embargoes. In 1976, pro-South African lobbying groups were on the brink of eradicating import-export limits on Pretoria, but were stopped by Members of Congress who opposed the involvement of the USA in Angola and doubted financial commitment to apartheid. An example of a lobbying ally gained through visits to South Africa was the American Legion, an organisation of conservative USA veterans who have influence over American business and politics. In 1978, the American Legion declared that it would boost South Africa’s image nationwide through the mass media as well as its journal Legionnaire, and encourage investments.[38]

Public relations agencies appointed to advance South Arica’s case most notably included Collier, Shannon, Rill and Edwards, as well as Sydney S. Baron. Donald deKieffer continued to provide his services to the Department of Information. He also worked to influence Congress campaigns and update the Department of Information on reports that might have had an effect on Pretoria. In 1976, he also arranged fact-finding trips to South Africa for American delegates, such as John Dent, Philip Cane, and Richard Ichord. Furthermore, DeKieffer provided congressmen with fact sheets regarding critical issues surrounding South Africa. In a case concerning voting for a resolution of not acknowledging the homeland of Transkei in September 1976, both Representatives Philip Cane and John Dent voted in opposition to the resolution, using the fact sheet provided by DeKieffer to support their decision. In the end, the resolution was not approved because it failed to gain a two-thirds majority vote. By the end of 1977, DeKieffer contributed “his own capital” towards the campaigns of 15 senators who had been in favour of building a naval base in the Indian Ocean and who preferred African self-rule. DeKieffer’s services were used even during the Muldergate Scandal, costing the government a million rand per year up until March 1979.[39]

Conversely, the Department of Information’s most prominent public relations consultant was Sydney S. Baron. This company was the fourteenth biggest in the USA and New York’s topmost public relations company, with well-established connections in American politics. Sydney S. Baron was an expensive agency, handling significant corporations, such as The Aluminium Company of America and Japanese Electrical Industry. The contract signed with Sydney S. Baron avows that they would directly report to the Secretary of Information and act as a public relations officer for South Africa; evaluate South African and American political, economic, strategic, and social attitudes towards South Africa; nurture objective and balanced treatment of South Africa in the American media by accurately conveying the meaning of South African policies; promote economic opportunities in South Africa for American business and financial communities; and encourage a better understanding between the two nations, including ordinary citizens and government officials.[40]

The contract signed with Baron on 17 March 1976 could not have come at a better time. Only a few months later, the Soweto Uprising erupted, causing massive damage to South Africa’s international image. When faced with criticism, the owner, Sydney Baron, replied: “Every client can’t be Disneyworld.[41] From 1976 to 1977, the payment received by Baron increased to nearly half a million dollars per annum. The English press was rather critical of the increased payment, and the Daily News argued that “No amount of money will rehabilitate this country’s image if the Government persists in its disastrous handling of affairs as was demonstrated in the case of the Biko scandal.”[42] Eschel Rhoodie responded by affirming that “the annual amount South Africa spends on public relations firms in America to help advance its image, is completely justifiable since we are in a struggle to survive.”[43]

Baron assigned the African-American, Andrew Hatcher, Vice-president International of Baron, to work on South Africa’s contention. Hatcher was the Deputy Press Secretary in the White House during the Kennedy Administration. South Africa was delighted to acquire a black American to justify its cause by distorting the view that South Africans are racist, and a frontrunner of progress in race relations. Not only did Hatcher encourage black business investment in South Africa, but he also organised visits for African-American legislators and journalists to South Africa. Daily and weekly newspapers received feature stories from Hatcher, depicting Pretoria in a favourable light. On 23 June 1976, Hatcher and the white anti-apartheid activist and executive director of the American Committee on Africa, George Houser, debated on NBC TV’s Today Show. Hatcher argued that South Africa was, indeed, changing and that the government allowed non-white participation in state affairs. Hatcher also placed advertisements supporting the independence of Transkei from South Africa in the Ebony and Wall Street Journal magazines. Furthermore, Hatcher and DeKieffer worked together in public relations campaigns on television.[44]

As part of the agreement with the Department of Information, Baron organised two seminars for wealthy American businessmen to invest in South Africa. Sponsored by the government body, the South African Trade Organisation (SAFTO), the first seminar took place in June 1977, with 300 corporate executives gathered at the Hilton Hotel in Rye, New York. Mulder was present at the seminar to explain the benefits of investing in South Africa, and William Simon, Secretary of the USA Treasury, was paid thousands of dollars to be a guest speaker. The next seminar was held in Houston in 1978, where former President Ford was said to have been paid $10 000 to convince businessmen of the advantages of investing with Pretoria. McGoff was also a guest speaker at the discussion.[45]

Multiple times Rhoodie asserted that South Africa did not interfere with the political affairs of other countries; however, the Department of Information was trying to affect the discourse of American politics. Less documented cases of South African involvement in American politics were the financial contributions to unseat US senators who were antagonistic towards apartheid. Rhoodie claims that $120 000 were provided for the defeat of Senator John Tunney in 1976. In 1978, the Democrat and Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations subcommittee on Africa, Senator Dick Clark, was targeted. Clark was keen on emphasising racial issues in South Africa. He was defeated by the conservative Republican, Roger Jepsen, with an alleged astronomical donation from the Department of Information for his election campaign. While Jepsen denied South African involvement in his campaign, Hatcher admitted involvement to British journalist, Anthony Sampson. He recalled that, while visiting Pretoria, he had promised Mulder that Clark’s defeat was imminent. Other evidence suggesting South African interference was the circulation of pamphlets accusing Clark of being lenient on communism, during the election campaign. Through Baron, the Department of Information sent a donation to Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1975. Rhoodie’s judgement of reaching leaders before they became president backfired when it turned out that Carter was opposed to the minority rule in South Africa. During the Carter Administration, the relationship between the United States of America and South Africa would deteriorate.[46]

Waning of the projects

Confident in his Department of Information, Mulder guaranteed that 1976 would be the most fruitful year. The Soweto Uprising on 16 June 1976 dealt a massive blow to the propaganda effort. Black people received instant solidarity from the international community. The global media quickly focused on the shootings, which reflected the true nature of discontent under the black majority. As a result, the Carter Administration was pushed for arms and trade embargoes by AAMs and black leaders. Although Carter voted at the UN for an arms embargo, Kissinger advised him not to implement a trade embargo against South Africa. Nevertheless, the Soweto Uprising resulted in limited disinvestment of foreign capital.[47]

The following year, South Africa was in the limelight once again for the murder of Steve Biko while in police custody. Resentment from the international media, who had adopted an extremely negative attitude towards South Africa as a result of the Biko affair, increased.[48] Rhoodie was convinced that the damage was irreversible and declared in the Department of Information’s Annual Report of 1977:

“When the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed on December 14 last that 1978 was going to be the International Anti-Apartheid Year, it brought to a climax the worst period of anti-South African publicity and hostility in the country’s history … It received the most in-depth coverage of any South African news story since the first heart transplant and was extremely damaging.”[49]

In 1977, circumstances were dreary for the Department of Information and it became apparent that it had a mole leaking sensitive information to the South African English press. In addition, the department was struggling to safeguard disorderly propaganda campaigns. South African reporters sensed something devious and began searching for the truth. On 19 February 1978, the Sunday Express published evidence from the Barrie investigative report concerning irregularities in the Department of Information. This provided the opposition press with ammunition to confront the government about being responsible for deceit, bribery, and maladministration. Throughout 1978, the press continued to release damning reports, and several inquiries were established to investigate any misconduct within the Department of Information. These investigations and revelations resulted in internal turmoil within the NP that would eventually escalate to the Muldergate Scandal. On 16 July 1978, Rhoodie was dismissed and the Department of Information was replaced by the Bureau of National and International Communication. Afterwards, the State Security Council decided to continue with 68 of the secret projects.[50]

Reflecting on the operations’ effectiveness

Before reaching a conclusion, it is important to review the overall effectiveness of the campaign from the perspective of authors, experts, and individuals who, in some way, formed part of the information war. John Laurence was impressed with the extensive operations of the Department of Information by infiltrating numerous nations and disseminating propaganda on a grand scale. He also takes into consideration the effect of a small population of whites in Africa on worldwide masses, by commenting on the department’s activities: “maybe without parallel in its size and scope in human history.”[51] Carl Nöffke, Director of Information at the South African Embassy in Washington DC in 1975, emphasised Rhoodie’s propaganda prowess: “[Eschel Rhoodie] was probably the most brilliant propagandist of the century — I think he was better than Goebbels.”[52] Geldenhuys describes Rhoodie as the “innovative architect of foreign policy” initiatives which downplayed the Department of Foreign Affairs and gave credit to Vorster’s statesman image. Political scientist, Deon Geldenhuys, describes the Department of Information’s successful diplomacy and propagandist style as follows: “Information’s often grandiose conception of international politics consisted of a strange compound of wishful thinking, naiveté, and hardheaded realpolitik.[53] Ron Nixon asserts that the Department of Information’s propaganda strategy was clearly damaging the counter-propaganda initiatives of AAM groups: “the anti-apartheid movement in America and Europe had limited success in keeping the South African situation at the political forefront of public attention … efforts to persuade the various presidential administrations to impose sanctions had largely fallen on deaf ears and the grassroot movements pushing for sanctions and divestment had stalled.”[54]

On the contrary, authors like James Sanders point out that the Soweto Riots had a severe impact on the operations of the Department of Information: “the Department of Information discovered that it was impossible to control its extraordinary level of operations and provide an effective voice for the beleaguered South African government.”[55] He also mentions that counting against the Department of Information was its inability to sell the acknowledgement of independent black states, such as the Transkei, to foreign presses and governments, which was a humiliating setback. Rhoodie admitted to having made some blunders that contributed to his downfall by “putting too much on his fork,” meaning that he had tried to operate secret propaganda projects all over the world and worked overtime in order to do so.[56] Journalists Mervyn Rees and Chris Day believe some campaigns to have been ill-conceived and poorly executed. Rees considered Rhoodie to be his own worst enemy because his lifestyle and abuses attracted unnecessary attention to himself and the clandestine programmes. Elaine Windrich asserts that the propaganda campaign may not have been that effective since dealing with South Africa might have been detrimental to the image of a business. For example, the law firm, Covington and Burling, ceased contact with South Africa after they were boycotted by law students.[57]


In order to determine the overall impact of the campaigns, the objectives of the Department of Information with regard to the USA need to be outlined first. An analysis of the projects reveals that the main objectives were to reach and secure influential individuals; to shift the limelight away from actual news; and to encourage investment and reinforce constructive notions about South Africa. Considering these objectives, Rhoodie’s ultimate approach was to strengthen the image of South Africa by identifying and targeting high-level decision makers and opinion formers.

The information shared confirms that Rhoodie successfully made contact with top-level and well-connected individuals and converted a portion of them to embrace a pro-South African stance. Undeniably, the most efficient methods of influencing figures, such as Farrar, President Ford, President Reagan, Kissinger, McGoff, Dent and Cane, were through lobbying, public relations firms and fact-finding trips. This aligned favourably with Rhoodie’s grand blueprint of casting a web of trustworthy top-level sources to disseminate South African propaganda from the top-down to grassroots level of American society. Other forms of multimedia merely served as overt and covert stratagems to reinforce or bolster antecedents or constructive images of South Africa. Three examples of documented cases that support the effectiveness of the campaigns were the vote for the Transkei in September 1976; Kissinger voiding arms embargoes in 1976; and the defeat of Clark in 1978.

Albeit, the Soweto Uprising and death of Biko caused irreparable damage to the projects. It may be concluded that the Department of Information cemented indispensable underground diplomatic channels that benefitted the survival of apartheid during the 1970s and supported the prolonged existence of apartheid during the 1980s.

However, the Information Scandal proved to an antagonistic global community that the minority regime could not be trusted. In the eyes of the world, the apartheid state was an inherently immoral den of liars, befitting the leadership of an immoral system of government. Muldergate finally convinced Vorster’s successor, P.W. Botha, that it was futile to try and convince a hostile outside world of the merit of the National Party ideology through gimmicks. The Botha Administration would try to control news about South Africa by means of censorship and would eventually try and annex the very flow of information.


Primary Sources

Archival Sources
Archive for Contemporary Affairs (ARCA), University of the Free State, Bloemfontein

The Japie Basson Collection

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Special Collections & Archives University of Cape Town Libraries, Cape Town

Department of Information, Report for the period: 1 January – 31 December 1974. Pretoria: Cape & Transvaal Printers Limited.

Department of Information, Report for the period: 1 January – 31 December 1975. Pretoria: Cape & Transvaal Printers Limited.

Department of Information, Report for the period: 1 January – 31 December 1976. Pretoria: Cape & Transvaal Printers Limited.

Department of Information, Report for the period: 1 January – 31 December 1977. Pretoria: Cape & Transvaal Printers Limited.

Official Publications

House of Assembly Debates (referred to as Hansard), 2 April – 4 June 1976, part 62, col. 5952-4.

Hansard, 21 January – 17 March 1978, part 72, col. 24.

Haasbroek, J.K. Private Collection:

Interview: Mulder, P. – Bloemfontein, 2015.10.8.

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Church, J. “Access to information: The hallmark of democracy with reference to the Protection of Information Bill and the Historical Incidents”, Fundamina, 17, 2, 2011, pp. 33-45.

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Dictionary.com, “Lobby”, <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/lobbying>, s.a. (Accessed 9 May 2016).

Geldenhuys, D. The diplomacy of isolation: South African foreign policy making, (Macmillan South Africa, Johannesburg, 1984).

Giliomee, H. and B. Mbenga, Nuwe Geskiedenis van Suid-Afrika (Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2007).

Guelke, A. “Southern Africa and the Super-Powers”, International Affairs, 56, 4, Autumn 1980, pp. 648-664.

Hull, G. “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, South African Study Review, 22, 3, December 1979, pp. 79-98.

Justia US Law, “Securities and Exchange Commission v. John P. McGoff, Global Communications Corp., Sacramento Publishing Co., Appellants. 647 F.2d 185 (D.C. Cir. 1981)”, <http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/647/185/237629/>, 1981 (Accessed 17 May 2016).

Laurence, J.C. Race propaganda and South Africa: The manipulation of Western opinion and policies by the forces of white supremacy (Victor Gollancz, London, 1979).

Melvyn, P. and O. Westad (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume 1, Origins (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010).

Mervis, J. The fourth estate, A newspaper story (Jonathan Ball Publishers, Johannesburg, 1989).

News 24, “Operation Blackwash”, <http://www.news24.com/Archives/City-Press/Operation-Blackwash-20150430>, 2013.8.25 (Accessed 22 May 2016).

Nixon, R. Selling apartheid: South Africa’s global propaganda war (Jacanda Media (PTY), Johannesburg, 2015).

Paterson, C. and V. Malila, “Beyond the Information Scandal: When South Africa bought into global news”, Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 34, 2, 2013, pp. 1-14.

Pretorius, F. (ed.), A history of South Africa: From the distant past to the present day (Pretoria Book House, Pretoria, 2014).

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Rees, M. and C. Day, The story of the Information Scandal (Macmillan South Africa, Johannesburg, 1980).

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Rickard, C. Thank you, Judge Mostert (Penguin Group, Johannesburg, 2010).

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Rothmyer, K. “The South Africa lobby”, The Nation, April 1980, pp. 455-458.

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South African History Online, “South Africa’s foreign relationships during apartheid, 1948”, <http://www.sahistory.org.za/20th-century-south-africa/south-africas-foreign-relations-during-apartheid-1948>, s.a. (Accessed 21 January 2016).

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>, s.a. (Accessed 24 January 2016).

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Stevens, S. “‘From the viewpoint of a Southern Governor’: The Carter Administration and apartheid”, Diplomatic History 36, 5, November 2012, pp. 843-880.

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The World, 1977.9.5, p 4.


[*]   Mr Josh Haasbroek has an M.A. degree in History at the University of the Free State. His study focuses comprehensively on the history of the Information Scandal. Currently, he is residing and working in South Korea. Dr Jan-Ad Stemmet is a senior lecturer in the History Department at the University of the Free State. His research interests include aspects of South Africa’s turbulent politics, specifically of the 1980s. Dr Marietjie Oelofse is a senior lecturer in the History Department at the University of the Free State. Her research interests include oral history, as well as transitional justice, with a focus on truth commissions.

[2]   H. Giliomee and B. Mbenga, Nuwe Geskiedenis van Suid-Afrika (Tafelberg, Cape Town, 2007), pp 312-313; A. Thomson, U.S. foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa, 1984-1994: Conflict of interest (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008), pp 5, 12-15; A. Guelke, “Southern Africa and the Super-Powers”, International Affairs, 56, 4, Autumn 1980, p 659.

[3]   Thomson, U.S. foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa, pp 6-23; P. Melvyn and O. Westad (eds), The Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume 1 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010), pp 478-479; Guelke, “Southern Africa and the Super-Powers”, p 650; Giliomee and Mbenga, Nuwe Geskiedenis van Suid-Afrika, pp 312-313.

[4]   The Department of Information, previously known as State Information, originated from a supplementary subdivision in the Department of Foreign Affairs. L. de Villiers, Secret Information (Tafelberg, Cape Town, 1980), pp 17-18; D. Geldenhuys, The diplomacy of isolation: South African foreign policy making (Macmillan South Africa, Johannesburg, 1984), p 107.

[5]   E. Rhoodie, The real Information Scandal (Orbis SA, Pretoria, 1983), pp 40-41; R. Nixon, Selling apartheid: South Africa’s global propaganda war (Jacanda Media (PTY), Johannesburg, 2015), pp 57-59, 61; M. Rees and C. Day, The story of the Information Scandal (Macmillan South Africa, Johannesburg, 1980), p 29; De Villiers, Secret Information, pp 38, 45; J. Haasbroek Private Collection, Interview with P. Mulder, Bloemfontein, 2015.10.8.

[6]   Thomson, U.S. foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa, pp 24-27; M. Wilson and L. Thomson (eds), The Oxford History of South Africa, Volume 2 (Oxford University Press, Cape Town, 1971), pp 512-513.

[7]   Thomson, U.S. foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa, pp 28-29, 35-38; Wilson and Thomson (eds), The Oxford History of South Africa, pp 512-515; United Nations, “The United Nations: Partner in the struggle against apartheid”, <http://www.un.org/en/events/mandeladay/apartheid.shtml>, s.a. (Accessed 12 January 2016); C. Barnes, “International isolation and pressure for change in South Africa”, <http://www.cr.org/downloads/Accord%2019_8International%20isolation%20and%20pressure%20for%20change%20in%20South%20Africa_2008_ENG.pdf>, s.a. (Accessed 14 January 2016).

[8]   F. Pretorius (ed.), A history of South Africa: From the distant past to the present day (Pretoria Book House, Pretoria, 2014), p 386; South African History Online, “The British Anti-Apartheid Movement”, <http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/british-anti-apartheid-movement>, s.a. (Accessed 24 January 2016); South African History Online, “South Africa’s foreign relationships during apartheid, 1948”, <http://www.sahistory.org.za/20th-century-south-africa/south-africas-foreign-relations-during-apartheid-1948>, s.a. (Accessed 21 January 2016); Barnes, “International isolation and pressure for change in South Africa”, <http://www.cr.org/downloads/Accord%2019_8International%20isolation%20and%20pressure%20for%20change%20in%20South%20Africa_2008_ENG.pdf>, s.a. (Accessed 14 January 2016).

[9]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, pp 53-55; Thomson, U.S. foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa, pp 63-64; J. Church, “Access to information: The hallmark of democracy with reference to the Protection of Information Bill and the Historical Incidents”, Fundamina, 17, 2, 2011, pp 38-39.

[10]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, pp 58-60; Thomson, U.S. foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa, pp 65-66; J. Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979: A struggle for representation (Frank Class Publishers, London, 2000), pp 87-89.

[11]   Rhoodie, The real Information Scandal, pp 42-43, 52, 58; E. Rhoodie, The Paper Curtain (Voortrekkerpers, Johannesburg, 1969), pp 186, 188-190; Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, p 55; De Villiers, Secret Information, p 36; The Cape Times, 1979.1.30, p 8.

[12]   Rees and Day, The story of the Information Scandal, pp 163-164, 171-172; Haasbroek Private Collection, Interview with P. Mulder, Bloemfontein, 2015.10.8; Rhoodie, The real Information Scandal, pp 58-59, 98.

[13]   Rhoodie, The real Information Scandal, pp 98-99; Rhoodie, The Paper Curtain, p 191; J.C. Laurence, Race propaganda and South Africa: The manipulation of Western opinion and policies by the forces of White supremacy (Victor Gollancz, London, 1979), pp 60-64.

[14]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, p. 6; Haasbroek Private Collection, Interview with P. Mulder, Bloemfontein, 2015.10.8.

[15]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, p 70; G. Hull, “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, South African Study Review, 22, 3, December 1979, p 80; Rees and Day, The story of the Information Scandal, p 187; Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, p 55.

[16]   The United States Department of Justice, “Report of the Attorney General to the Congress of the United States on the Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 1975”, <https://www.fara.gov/reports/Archive/1975_FARA.pdf>, 1975.7, p. 291 (Accessed 24 March 2016).

[17]   The United States Department of Justice, “Report of the Attorney General to the Congress of the United States on the Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 1975”, <https://www.fara.gov/reports/Archive/1975_FARA.pdf>, 1975.7, p. 291 (Accessed 24 March 2016).

[18]   J. Burgess, et al., The great white hoax: South Africa’s international propaganda machine (Africa Bureau, London, 1977), pp 65, 78; Nixon, Selling apartheid, p 72.

[19]   De Villiers, Secret Information, pp 63-70; Nixon, Selling apartheid, p 72; Thomson, U.S. foreign policy towards apartheid South Africa, pp 63-64.

[20]   Hull, “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, p 89; Burgess, The great white hoax, p 79; Geldenhuys, The diplomacy of isolation, p 112.

[21]   Inherent to the Information Scandal was that its financial accounts vary between contradictory and hazy estimates. Nobody knows exactly how much was spent and on what – or how much was siphoned by corrupt officials. Thus, the article, as such, cannot claim to supply emphatically exact numbers.

[22]   Rees and Day, The story of the Information Scandal, pp 169-170; De Villiers, Secret Information, pp 73-74; Rhoodie, The real Information Scandal, pp 82-83; Archive for Contemporary Affairs (hereafter ARCA), University of the Free State: P 58 –Basson Collection: Die Transvaler/Oggendblad, 1979.6.5: “The Erasmus Commission of Inquiry, Intermediate and Supplementary Report into alleged irregularities in the former Department of Information” [Newspaper] (Hereafter Die Transvaler/Oggendblad, 1979.6.5), p 6.

[23]   K. Rothmyer, “The South Africa lobby”, The Nation, April 1980, pp 455-456; K. Rothmyer, “The McGoff grab”, The Columbia Journalism Review, November/December 1979, pp 33-34; Rand Daily Mail, 1980.12.3, p 1.

[24]   C. Paterson and V. Malila, “Beyond the Information Scandal: When South Africa bought into global news”, Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies, 34, 2, 2013, pp 4-5; The Citizen, 1980.5.15, p 4; ARCA: P 58 – Basson Collection: Die Transvaler/Oggendblad, 1979.6.5, pp 23-24; Rothmyer, “The South African lobby”, pp 455-456.

[25]   Rothmyer, “The South African lobby”, pp 455-456; Rothmeyer, “The McGoff grab”, p 35; Justia US Law, “Securities and Exchange Commission v. John P. McGoff, Global Communications Corp., Sacramento Publishing Co., Appellants. 647 F.2d 185 (D.C. Cir. 1981)”, <http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/appellate-courts/F2/647/185/237629/>, 1981 (Accessed 17 May 2016); Paterson and Malila, “Beyond the Information Scandal”, pp 4-5.

[26]   The Erasmus Commission was established to investigate alleged irregularities in the Department of Information that were exposed by inquiries and the press, to evaluate findings, and to provide recommendations. ARCA: P 58 – Basson Collection: Die Transvaler/Oggendblad, 1979.6.5, p 2.

[27]   E. Windrich, “South Africa’s propaganda war”, South Africa Today, 36, 1, 1st Quarter 1989, p 54; ARCA: P 58 – Basson Collection: Die Transvaler/Oggendblad, 1979.6.5, pp 23-24; Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, p 60; Rothmyer, “The South African lobby”, p 456.

[28]   ARCA: P 58 – Basson Collection: Die Transvaler/Oggendblad, 1979.6.5, p 24; Paterson and Malila, “Beyond the Information Scandal”, pp 5-6; Rand Daily Mail, 1979.4.7, p 1; Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, p 67; Rothmyer, “The McGoff grab”, pp 36-37; Burgess, The great white hoax, pp 67-68.

[29]   Paterson and Malila, “Beyond the Information Scandal”, pp 10-12.

[30]   Special Collections and Archives University of Cape Town Libraries (Hereafter SCAUCP): Department of Information, Annual Report for 1974, pp 38-39, 42; Burgess, The great white hoax, pp 65-68.

[31]   SCAUCP: Department of Information, Annual Report for 1974, p 39; SCAUCP: Department of Information, Annual Report for 1976, p 17; Burgess, The great white hoax, p. 66; Nixon, Selling apartheid, p 78.

[32]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, pp 78-79; SCAUCP: Department of Information, Annual Report for 1974, p 39.

[33]   SCAUCP: Department of Information, Annual Report for 1974, pp 39, 42-43; SCAUCP: Department of Information, Annual Report for 1975, p 13; Burgess, The great white hoax, p 66.

[34]   The United States Department of Justice, “Report of the Attorney General to the Congress of the United States on the Administration of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. 1975”, <https://www.fara.gov/reports/Archive/1975_FARA.pdf>, 1975.7, p 292 (Accessed 24 March 2016); C. de Vries, “Die politieke implikasies van die ‘Inligtingskandaal’ tot met die uittrede van Staatspresident B.J. Vorster”, M.A. Dissertation, University of the Free State, 1983, p 26; Burgess, The great white hoax, p 81; The World, 1977.9.5, p 4.

[35]   Laurence, Race propaganda and South Africa, p 65.

[36]   Dictionary.com defines ‘lobbying’ as “a group of members who work to conduct a campaign to influence members of a legislature to vote according to the group’s special interest.” Dictionary.com, “Lobby”, <http://www.dictionary.com/browse/lobbying>, s.a. (Accessed 9 May 2016).

[37]   Hull, “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, p 80.

[38]   Burgess, The great white hoax, p 77; Laurence, Race propaganda and South Africa, pp 68-68; Hull, “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, p 80.

[39]   Hull, “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, pp 89-90; Beeld, 1979.2.29, p 3; Rees and Day, The story of the Information Scandal, p 200; Windrich, “South Africa’s propaganda war”, p 52.

[40]   P.H. Stone, “Muldergate on Madison Avenue”, The Nation, 14 April 1979, p 390; The Star, 1977.12.8, p 31.

[41]   Stone, “Muldergate on Madison Avenue”, p 390; The Star, 1977.12.8, p 31.

[42]   The Daily News, 1977.12.9, p 22.

[43]   Die Volksblad, 1977.12.9, p 3; The Daily News, 1977.12.8, p 3; Stone, “Muldergate on Madison Avenue”, p 390.

[44]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, pp 84-89; Hull, “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, p 92; African Activist Archive, “A fine face for apartheid”, <http://africanactivist.msu.edu/document_metadata.php?objectid=32-130-E84>, 1978 (Accessed 20 May 2016).

[45]   Hull, “South Africa’s propaganda war: A bibliographic essay”, p 93; Stone, “Muldergate on Madison Avenue”, p 391; Rothmeyer, “The South African lobby”, p 356.

[46]   Rees and Day, The story of the Information Scandal, pp 200-201; Nixon, Selling apartheid, pp 97-99; De Vries, “Die politieke implikasies van die ‘Inligtingskandaal’”, p 41; Stone, “Muldergate on Madison Avenue”, p 391; S. Stevens, “‘From the viewpoint of a Southern Governor’: The Carter Administration and apartheid”, Diplomatic History 36, 5, November 2012, pp 878-879.

[47]   ARCA: House of Assembly Debates (Hereafter Hansard), 2 April – 4 June 1976, part 62, col 5952-4; Nixon, Selling apartheid, pp 81-83; Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, pp 164-165; News 24, “Operation Blackwash”, <http://www.news24.com/Archives/City-Press/Operation-Blackwash-20150430>, 2013.8.25 (Accessed 22 May 2016); M. Swilling, “Living in the interregnum: Crisis, reform and socialist alternative in South Africa”, Third World Quarterly 9, 2, April 1987, pp 411-412.

[48]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, p 91; Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, p 63; Die Vaderland, 1977.10.11, p 11; The Cape Times, 1978.10.23, p 8.

[49]   SCAUCP: Department of Information, Annual Report for 1977, p 3.

[50]   De Vries, “Die politieke implikasies van die ‘Inligtingskandaal’”, pp 62-63, 70-71; C. Rickard, Thank you, Judge Mostert (Penguin Group, Johannesburg, 2010), pp 97, 99; Sunday Express, 1978.2.19, p 1; J. Mervis, The Fourth Estate, A newspaper story (Jonathan Ball Publishers, Johannesburg, 1989), p 441; Geldenhuys, The diplomacy of isolation, p. 120; ARCA: Hansard, 21 January – 17 March 1978, part 72, col 24.

[51]   Laurence, Race propaganda and South Africa, pp 56-57.

[52]   Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, p 61.

[53]   Geldenhuys, The diplomacy of isolation, p 119.

[54]   Nixon, Selling apartheid, p 81.

[55]   Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, p 61.

[56]   Rees and Day, The story of the Information Scandal, p 186.

[57]   Windrich, “South Africa’s propaganda war”, p 59; Sanders, South Africa and the international media 1972-1979, pp 61-70; Rees and Day, The story of the Information Scandal, p 187.

Friend or foe? How online news outlets in South Africa frame artificial intelligence

Title: Friend or foe? How online news outlets in South Africa frame artificial intelligence

Author: Susan Brokensha, University of the Free State.

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 7: 2


The influence that the media have in shaping public opinion about artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be overestimated, since the various frames they employ to depict this technology may be adopted into the public’s socio-cultural frameworks. Employing framing theory, we conducted a content analysis of online news articles published by four outlets in South Africa with a view to gaining insights into how AI is portrayed in them. We were particularly interested in determining whether AI was represented as friend or foe. Our analysis indicated that although most articles reflected a pro-AI stance, many also tended to be framed in terms of both anti- and pro-technology discourse, and that this dualistic discourse was to some degree resolved by adopting a middle way frame in which a compromise position between the polarised views was proposed. The analysis also signalled that several of the articles in our dataset called for the need for human agency to regulate and govern AI in (South) Africa. This is an important call as it is in keeping with the need to ensure that AI is applied in such a way that it benefits Africa and its culture and context.

1. Introduction

Key milestones in the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) cannot be neatly mapped, given the need to take into account not only definitive discoveries and events in AI, but also hardware innovations, software platforms, and developments in robotics, all of which have had a significant impact on AI systems. Most AI scholars would agree that a defining moment in its history was the hosting by John McCarthy (Dartmouth College) and Marvin Minsky (Harvard University) of the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence (DSRPAI) at Dartmouth College in the United States in 1956 (Haenlin and Kaplan, 2019; Lele 2019; Mondal, 2020). Working alongside Minsky, Nathaniel Rochester (IBM Corporation) and Claude Shannon (Bell Telephone Laboratories), McCarthy coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ in a 1955 proposal for the DSRPAI. In this document, the four individuals proposed that the 1956 brainstorming session be based on “the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it” (McCarthy, Minsky, Rochester and Shannon, 1955:2). Prior to the DSRPAI, crucial discoveries in AI included McCulloch and Pitts’ computational model of a neuron (1943) – a model which was then further developed by Frank Rosenblatt when he formulated the Perceptron learning algorithm in 1958 – and Alan Turing’s Turing Test (1950), designed to determine if a machine could ‘think’.

Since the 1950s, other significant events or innovations that have influenced AI systems are simply too numerous to summarise in one paper, but scholars such as Perez, Deligianni, Ravi and Yang (2018) helpfully describe the evolution of AI in terms of positive and negative seasons, the events and innovations just described constituting the birth of AI. The period between 1956 and 1974 is described by Perez et al. (2018:9) as AI’s first spring, which was marked by advances in designing computers that could solve mathematical problems and process strings of words (cf. De Spiegeleire, Maas and Sweijs, 2017:31). First winter refers to the period between 1974 and 1980 when the public and media alike began interrogating whether AI held any benefits for humankind amidst over-inflated claims at the time that AI would surpass human intelligence (cf. Curioni, 2018:11). Since emerging technologies (such as machine translation) did not live up to lofty expectations, AI researchers’ funding was heavily curtailed by major agencies such as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). The so-called second spring is generally regarded as the period between 1980 and 1987, and was characterised by the revival of neural network models for speech recognition (cf. Shin, 2019:71). This brief cycle was replaced by AI’s second winter (1987-1993) during which desktop computers gained in popularity and threatened the survival of the specialised hardware industry (cf. Maruyama, 2020:383). The period between 1997 and 2000 is not described in terms of a particular season, but during this time, machine-learning methods such as Bayesian networks and evolutionary algorithms dominated the field of AI. The period from 2000 to the present is described by scholars as the third spring of AI, a season distinguished by big data tools (that include Hadoop, Apache Spark, and Cassandra), as well as by other emerging technologies such as cloud computing, robotics and the Internet of Things (cf. Maclure, 2019:1).

Although some authorities in the technology sector maintain that this spring will not endure owing to AI’s cyclic nature (Piekniewski, 2018; Schuchmann, 2019), others argue that it is here to stay (Bughin and Hazan, 2017; Lorentz, 2018; Sinur, 2019). Indeed, Andrew Ng, a leading expert in machine learning and author of AI Transformation Playbook (2018), is of the view that “[we] may be in the eternal spring of AI” – that “[the] earlier periods of hype emerged without much actual value created, but today, it’s creating a flood of value” (Ray, 2018:1). It appears that media outlets throughout the world, whether positively or negatively disposed towards AI, have jumped onto the AI bandwagon if newspaper headlines are anything to go by:

  • South Africa: ‘The robots are coming for your jobs’ (News24, 29 September 2016)
  • Nigeria: ‘Machine learning may erase jobs, says Yudala’ (Daily Times, 28 August 2017)
  • Brazil: ‘In Brazil, “AI Gloria” will help women victims of domestic violence’ (The Rio Times, 29 April 2019).

Meredith Broussard (2018) argues that some journalists and researchers have succumbed to technochauvism, which is the utopian belief that technology will solve all our problems. At the other extreme are those who may have exaggerated the risks that accompany AI. In this regard, robotics expert Sabine Hauert decries, amongst other things, “hyped headlines that foster fear […] of robotics and artificial intelligence” (Hauert, 2015:416). Hauert (2015:417) laments the public being faced with “a mostly one-sided discussion that leaves them worried that robots will take their jobs, fearful that AI poses an existential threat”.

In this paper, we aim to explore how South African mainstream news articles that are published online frame AI with a view to determining whether they are depicted as a friend or foe to humans. The main reason for undertaking such an exploration is that online media outlets play a critical role in not only disseminating information, but also helping the public gain insights into scientific and technological innovations (cf. Brossard, 2013: 14096). In accordance with framing theory, “the way an issue is framed and discussed through specific perspectives can influence how audiences make sense of the issue” (Chuan, Tsai and Cho, 2019:3409). A review of the literature indicates that apart from analysing how journalists have framed scientific and technological news about, for instance, biomedicine, chemistry, physics, and renewable energy (Gastrow, 2015; Kabu, 2017; Rochyadi-Reetz, Arlt, Wolling and Bräuer, 2019), scholars have not undertaken studies to determine how AI is covered by the South African online press.

2. Framing theory and AI coverage in the media

From the outset, we would like to point out that we are not claiming that there is a causal relationship between journalists’ framing of issues and society’s opinions about those issues. Instead, “media as a powerful cultural institution […] may influence [the] public’s attitudes towards an emerging technology, particularly in the early stage when most people feel uncertain, wary, or anxious about an unfamiliar yet powerful technology” (Chuan et al. 2019:340). A number of researchers have, in recent years, studied media coverage of AI (Holguín, 2018; Jones, 2018; Brennen, Howard and Nielsen 2018; Obozintsev 2018; Chuan et al. 2019; Cui and Wu 2019), and framing theory in particular appears to be useful for understanding how the media depict both utopian and/or dystopian views of this type of technology. Nisbet (2009a:51) points out that frames enable us to gain insights into “how various actors in society define science-related issues in politically strategic ways” as well as “why an issue might be important, who or what might be responsible, and what should be done”. How AI is framed “may differ substantially across outlets” (Obozintsev, 2018:65), given that the complex relationship between journalism and science is influenced by a number of variables such as “myth-making of journalists, constraints, biases, public relations strategies of scientists” (Holguín 2018:5), and the like. Some scholars and AI experts argue that media coverage of AI leaves much to be desired – that it is “bogus” and “overblown” (Siegel, 2019:1) and that the media may “resort to headlines and images that are both familiar and sensationalist” (Cave, Craig, Dihal, Dillon, Montgomery, Singler and Taylor, 2018:17). Others have noted that AI “is typically discussed as an innovation that can impact humanity in a positive way, making the lives of individuals better or easier” (Obozintsev, 2018:65). We are of the view that it is critical to explore how AI is framed in South African news outlets to obtain a better understanding of the various perspectives that will inevitably inform public opinion of this technology. This might in turn “help bridge the diverse conversations occurring around AI and facilitate a richer public dialogue” (Chuan et al., 2019:340).

Adopting an approach employed by Chuan et al. (2019) and Strekalova (2015), we differentiated between topics and frames in our dataset, acknowledging that each news article may reflect multiple topics and frames. A topic “is […] a manifest subject, an issue or event”, while a frame “is a perspective through which the content is presented” (Chuan et al., 2019:340). To determine whether AI was framed as friend or foe, we posed the following questions:

  • Research question 1: Which topics and sub-topics were prominent in widely circulated South African online news articles?
  • Research question 2: How was AI framed in widely circulated South African online news articles?

3. Methods

3.1 Sample

Since we made use of stratified sampling (Krippendorff, 2013:116), we adhered to specific strata to collect suitable online news articles. Following an approach adopted by Jones (2015), we selected online news outlets that have a very high distribution in South Africa. Using Feedspot, a site that, amongst other things, offers data curation of news sites as a guide, we chose to collect articles from The Citizen, the Daily Maverick, the Mail & Guardian, and the SowetanLIVE. Second, we used ProQuest and Lexis Nexis Academic to collect articles using the search term ‘artificial intelligence’. Like Jones (2015), we did not search for articles using the abbreviation ‘AI’ because it returned too many results, given that it is a common letter combination in English. Third, we selected or eliminated articles based on whether or not they had a sustained focus on AI. We also discarded articles such as those that were not text-based and those that were actually movie listings or letters to the editor, for example. Finally, we collected articles that were published between January 2018 and April 2020. In this way we ultimately selected 73 articles across the four news outlets.1 The unit of analysis was the entire news article.

We are mindful that a qualitative study such as this one is open to criticism since it is not possible for a researcher to distance him- or herself from the subject under investigation (Jones, 2015:26). With this is mind, we kept a detailed memo in which we compiled a thick description of our design, methodology, and analyses, and this “detailed reckoning” (Jones, 2015:26) is available for perusal.

3.2 Framework of analysis

We made use of existing frames to answer Research question 2, combining and adapting frames first proposed by Nisbet (2009b, 2016). These are the frames of social progress, the middle way, morality/ethics, Pandora’s Box, and accountability. We also employed three frames proposed by Jones (2015), namely, the frames of competition, nature, and artifice. These frames are summarised in Table 1 below.

Table 1: A typology of frames employed to study AI in the media



Social progress

The frame of social progress is evoked when journalists wish to draw attention to the benefits of AI. Nisbet (2009b) restricts this frame to improvements to quality of life, but we have expanded the definition to include benefits in other areas such as the economy, health, and education.


The competition frame reflects the threats that AI may pose and these threats pertain to job losses, automated weapons, data breaches, and the like (Jones, 2015).

Middle way

Journalists may employ a middle way frame to propose what Obozintsev (2018:86) refers to as a “third way between conflicting or polarized views of options”.


Jones (2015:32) argues that articles that evoke the frame of nature “tend to discuss our continuing relationships with current technology, question the direction that this relationship is taking, and are often couched in romantic terms. Anthropomorphism is abundant in this discourse”. Typically, the virtues of AI “are identified as superior” (Jones, 2015:32), although journalists may use the frame to pass judgement on this technology.


The frame of artifice depicts AI as a technology that is arcane; it is perceived as a technology that will surpass us in intelligence and ultimately engulf us (Jones, 2015:37).


The frame of morality/ethics questions the rights and wrongs as well as the thresholds and boundaries of AI in terms of issues such as data privacy, surveillance, and the development of biased algorithms (Obozintzev 2018:86).

Pandora’s Box

Also referred to by Nisbet (2009b) as Frankenstein’s monster or as runaway science, Pandora’s Box portrays AI as technology that may spiral out of control.


Accountability frames AI as technology that requires control and regulation to prevent, for example, algorithmic bias or abuses of power. (Nisbet (2009b) refers to this frame as the frame of public accountability/governance.)

4. Findings: Research question 1

4.1 Main topics and sub-topics

Many articles in the dataset covered multiple topics, but Table 2 below provides a summary of the main topics reflected in the title and first paragraph of each article. The most popular topic in the dataset was ‘Business, finance, and the economy’ (18 articles), and under this topic, the sub-topic of AI and job losses was most prominent, followed by AI and job creation, and AI-driven technology that functions as a personal financial advisor. Less frequent sub-topics dealt with under ‘Business, finance, and the economy’ are also provided in Table 2. After this, popular topics revolved around describing ‘AI-human interaction’ in terms of the anthropomorphism of the former (12 articles) and reporting on ‘Big Brother’ as it pertains to the use of AI to surveil online users and gain access to their personal data (eight articles). The next three prominent topics (with six articles each) were ‘Healthcare and medicine’ (as they related to AI being used to detect cancer and function as doctors), ‘Human control over AI’ (in the sense of a need to control and regulate AI), and ‘South Africa’s preparedness for an AI-driven world’, which reflected concerns about the country’s AI skills shortage within the context of the fourth industrial revolution. Three articles each were devoted to the topics of the ‘Environment’ (food production, crop management, and ecology), the ‘News industry’ (deepfaking and the curation of news by AI), and the ‘Uncanny valley’ (considered in the discussion section of this paper). ‘Defence weapons’ (so-called ‘killer robots’), ‘Singularity’ (which describes a hypothetical future in which technology will become uncontrollable), and ‘Strong AI’(which describes the goal of some in the field of AI to create machines whose intellectual capability will match that of human beings) featured in two articles each. Finally, one article in the dataset focused on ‘Education’ (specifically on robot teachers) and one on ‘Cyborgs’. The latter topic was not filed under the ‘Uncanny valley’ because it was an outlier in the dataset; it revolved around an individual who had a cybernetic implant attached to the base of his skull and no other article featured human enhancement with in-the-body AI technology.

All news outlets covered ‘Business, finance, and the economy’, ‘AI-human interaction’, ‘Healthcare and medicine’, and ‘South Africa’s preparedness for an AI-driven world’. ‘Big Brother’ was addressed only in articles published by The Citizen as were ‘Cyborgs’, ‘Education’, and ‘Strong AI’. Both the Daily Maverick and the Mail & Guardian reported on ‘Defence weapons’ and ‘Human control over AI’. AI in the ‘News industry’ was covered by The Citizen and the Daily Maverick. The ‘Uncanny valley’ featured in both The Citizen and the SowetanLIVE. AI as it relates to the ‘Environment’ received attention in The Citizen, the Daily Maverick, and the SowetanLIVE. The topic of ‘Singularity’ was addressed only in Daily Maverick articles. Apart from concluding that it is not surprising that the topic of ‘Business, finance, and the economy’ dominated as this dominance has been detected in other studies on how AI is framed in the media (cf. Chuan et al., 2019), we hesitate to draw any specific conclusions from this data. One reason for this is that, as stated at the beginning of this section, most articles reflected multiple topics. Another reason is that some of the titles in the dataset were quite misleading. One article published in The Citizen, for example, was entitled ‘Ramaphosa becomes first head of state to appear as hologram’ (5 July 2019), but the article itself considered South Africa’s preparedness to cope with the fourth industrial revolution including AI and robotics.

Table 2: Topics and sub-topics in the dataset (n=73 articles)

Main topic

Sub-topic(s) if applicable

Number of articles

AI-human interaction

(Robot companions/colleagues/assistants)


Big Brother

(AI surveillance/data privacy, including discussions of ethics/algorithmic bias)


Business, finance, and the economy

AI and job losses

AI and job creation

AI as financial advisors

AI to help businesses grow/become more efficient

AI to assist in human resources (including discussions of ethics/algorithmic bias)

AI as insurance brokers








Human enhancement with in-the-body, AI-driven technology


Defence weapons

(Automated weapons)



(AI teachers)



AI to improve food and crops

AI to improve the ecosystem



Healthcare and


AI diagnosticians

AI doctors



Human control over AI

(The importance of human agency in the development and implementation of AI)


News industry

AI and deepfaking

AI as curating the news (including discussions of ethics/algorithmic bias)




Human identity under singularity

Human beings in a post-work world



South Africa’s preparedness for an AI-driven world (AI skills shortage)

(Training of human beings in an AI-driven world)


Strong AI

(AI modelled on the human brain)


Uncanny valley

(Appearance of AI as human-like or robot-like)


5. Findings: Research question 2

5.1 The frames of social progress and competition

An exhaustive analysis of all articles in terms of whether the frame of social progress or the frame of competition was more salient indicates that across all four news outlets, 50.68% of the articles focused on social progress, while 15.06% addressed competition (Table 3). Since the frame of social progress reflects the benefits that AI holds for humankind, while the frame of competition reflects the risks and threats inherent in AI, we concluded that most of the articles across the outlets were positively disposed towards AI, a conclusion supported by other studies (Obozintsev, 2018; Cui and Wu, 2019; Garvey and Maskal, 2019). One important reason for considering the salience of the two frames is that in terms of the distribution of these frames by source, both frames were employed in 54.79% of the articles (Table 4), a phenomenon which is considered in detail in the discussion section. We will return to the frames of social progress and competition just before the discussion section when we have considered all frames in context.

Table 3: Most salient frame by source


Social progress


Middle way





Pandora’s Box



The Citizen










Daily Maverick










Mail & Guardian




















Table 4: Distribution of frames in the dataset (without taking salience into account)

News outlet

Social progress



Social progress and competition

(in which the middle way was employed)

Middle way (in which the social progress and compe-tition frames were not evoked)








The Citizen





(middle way=10)







Daily Maverick





(middle way=6)







Mail & Guardian





(middle way = 7)












(middle way=3)







Middle way frame used in 34 articles

5.2 The middle way frame and its presence or absence in articles employinng the frames of social progress and competition

In her study of the framing of AI in news articles (n=64), Obozintsev (2018:40) found that only 3.1% were framed in terms of a middle way frame, but in our dataset, nearly 35.61% of all articles that employed both the frames of social progress and competition reflected this frame (Table 4): with regard to the 14 articles published in The Citizen that evoked both frames, ten employed a middle way frame. Out of the ten articles in the Daily Maverick that used the two frames, six employed a middle way frame, and out of the ten Mail & Guardian articles that used both frames, seven employed a middle way frame. The SowetanLIVE dataset contained six articles employing the two frames, and three of these evoked a middle way frame. The possible reasons why a middle way frame was constructed in these articles is considered in the discussion section.

5.3 The remainder of the frames

Although the frame of nature was not one that was made salient in most articles – it featured as a prominent frame in only six articles – it was nevertheless employed in 72.60% of all articles, which is not surprising, given that it is popular in the media to question or embrace the potential for AI to match or surpass human intelligence and to interrogate its capacity to form bonds with human beings. The frame of artifice did not appear at all as a salient frame, although it was used in 25.47% of all articles. The frame of morality/ethics was a salient frame in nine articles only, but it did occur in 28.76% of the articles in the dataset. Pandora’s Box did not feature as a salient frame, but was employed in 4.10% of the articles. Accountability is a frame that Obozintsev (2018) reports was rare in her dataset (7.8%), but we found that this was used as a salient frame in 13.69% of the articles under investigation, while it was touched upon in 21.91% of all articles. We speculate that its salience in particular articles was partly due to the fact that these articles also reflected the frame of morality/ethics and/or Pandora’s Box, frames which typically question issues of control and power. In addition, the writers of these articles included academics, computer scientists, mechanical engineers, and social commentators, all of whom have a vested interest in ethical issues around AI and in technology that leverages AI for the public good.

5.4 Revisiting social progress and competition in relation to all frames

Although a pro-AI stance was evident across the news outlets when we examined the salience of the frames of social progress and competition, we also had to consider the prevalence of this stance based on (1) an analysis of all frames and (2) a close reading of each article. One could be forgiven for concluding that, based on the data in Table 4, it is possible that most articles did not in fact reflect a pro-AI stance, given that frames outside of the social progress frame may reflect negative views of AI. However, an exhaustive analysis of each article allowed us to negate this conclusion. The analysis indicated, for example, that across the dataset, the frame of nature was evoked in 53 articles. In 35 of these articles, AI was depicted in positive terms, 15 reflected a negative view, and three were neutral (in the sense that they did not adopt a specific tone). For every article, we tracked each frame and determined if, overall, AI was portrayed in a positive, negative or neutral light. We concluded that 41 articles (56.16%) reflected a positive view of AI, 29 (39.72%) conveyed a negative view, and three (4.1%) were neutral (Table 5). AI was overwhelmingly viewed in a positive light in ‘AI-human interaction’, ‘Business, finance, and the economy’, ‘Education’, the ‘Environment’, and ‘Healthcare and medicine’, while it was depicted in a negative light in discussions around ‘Big Brother’, ‘Defense weapons’, ‘Human control over AI’, the ‘News industry’, and ‘South Africa’s preparedness for an AI-driven world. In terms of social progress (i.e., benefits) and competition (i.e., threats), the news coverage of AI across outlets and sources was more positive than negative.

Table 5: Positive, negative or neutral views of dominant AI topics


Number of articles




AI-human interaction





Big Brother





Business, finance, and the economy










Defence weapons















Healthcare and medicine





Human control over AI





News industry










South Africa’s preparedness for an AI-driven world (AI skills shortage)





Strong AI





Uncanny valley





6. Discussion

6.1 Nature and artifice

In an insightful Royal Society report of 2018, the researchers point to a tendency in fictional narratives to anthropomorphise AI, and this tendency was apparent in many of the articles in our dataset that evoked the frames of nature and artifice (Craig et al., 2018). Below are some typical examples of the anthropomorphisation of AI:

  • Intellectual superiority: “Technology has the ability both to remove [a financial advisor’s] biases and analyse a full array of products, potentially identifying suitable solutions that the advisor may have missed on their own” (The Citizen, 10 March 2018).
  • Human-like senses: “AI noses are now able to smell toxic materials, AI tongues can now taste wines and offer opinions on their taste scores, and robots are now able to touch and feel objects” (Daily Maverick, 12 November 2018).
  • Robot domination: “…robots decide who gets to live and who dies” (Mail & Guardian, 11 April 2018).
  • Life-like robots: a robotic model called ‘Noonoouri’ “is said to be 18 years old and 1.5m tall. The Parisian describes herself as cute, curious and a lover of couture” (SowetanLIVE, 20 September 2018).

The Royal Society report (2018:4) notes that what is concerning about such descriptions is that they instil certain “[e]xaggerated expectations and fears about AI”, and unfortunately also “contribute to misinformed debate, with potentially significant consequences for AI research, funding, regulation and reception”. It is important to point out that not all the articles in our dataset portayed AI in such a way that it was disconnected from reality. In an article in The Citizen entitled ‘China’s doctor shortage prompts rush for AI healthcare’ (20 September 2018), the journalist evoked the frame of nature when she subtly judged AI’s capacity for emotional intelligence by quoting some patients as claiming that they still “prefer the human touch.” She also quoted a technology officer as observing that “It doesn’t feel the same as a doctor yet. I also don’t understand what the result means.” These sentiments echo those of medical informatician Reddy Sandeep (2018:93), who contends that “[c]ontemporary healthcare delivery models are very dependent on human reasoning, patient-clinician communication and establishing professional relationships with patients to ensure compliance”.

6.2 AI as superior to human intelligence

Yet, many articles in the dataset that evoked the frame of nature to portray AI as matching or surpassing human intelligence also questioned this intelligence either by suggesting that AI should be regulated by human beings or by arguing that AI can neither feel nor think creatively. In a SowetanLIVE article published on 20 March 2018, for instance, the journalist questioned AI’s intelligence through the frame of nature: “[a major concern] is the fact that although robots may have AI (Artificial Intelligence), they are not as intelligent as humans. They can never improve their jobs outside their pre-defined programming because they simply cannot think for themselves. Robots have no sense of emotions or conscience. They lack empathy and this is one major disadvantage of having an emotionless workplace.” Only seven articles reflected the view that AI is unequivocally superior to human intelligence (although often doing so through the use of reported speech and/or multiple voices). Such a view “may be detrimental to the public’s understanding of A.I. as an emerging beneficial technology” (Obozintsev, 2018:1), and readers could be forgiven for feeling anxious when confronted by statements such as “educators must consider what skills graduates will need when humans can no longer compete with robots” (Mail & Guardian, 16 February 2018) and “there will come a time where technology will advance so exponentially that the human systems we know will be obliterated” (Mail & Guardian, 4 October 2019). Another article that framed AI as transcending human intelligence was ‘Self-navigating AI learns to take shortcuts: Study’ (The Citizen, 9 May 2018). As is typically the case when the frame of nature was employed, the AI system in this article was romanticised and anthropomorphosised through messages such as “A computer programme modelled on the human brain learnt to navigate a virtual maze and take shortcuts, outperforming a flesh-and-blood expert.” Although the journalist framed the AI system in terms of the claims made about it by its designers, she did not go on to question the claims. David Watson (2019:417), who studies the epistemological foundations of machine learning, argues that “[d]espite the temptation to fall back on anthropomorphic tropes when discussing AI […] such rhetoric is at best misleading and at worst downright dangerous. The impulse to humanize algorithms is an obstacle to properly conceptualizing the ethical challenges posed by emerging technologies”. (We consider how ethical issues surrounding AI were represented in our dataset a little later on in this paper when we discuss morality/ethics, accountability, and Pandora’s Box.)

6.3 AI that looks/sounds like a human or AI that looks/sounds like a robot?

In a number of articles, the frame of nature or the frame of artifice was evoked to depict AI as human-like, and one example was evident in ‘Who’s afraid of robots?’ (Daily Maverick, 5 March 2019) in which the suggestion was made that human and robotic news anchors could become indistinguishable from one another in the near future. By contrast, AI in other articles was described as looking more robot-like. In ‘Robot teachers invade Chinese kindergartens’ (The Citizen, 29 August 2018), for instance, an educational robot called ‘Keeko’ was described as “[r]ound and white with a tubby body” and as an “armless robot” that “zips around on tiny wheels.” In the same article, the journalist quoted a teacher as describing the robot as “adorable”. It is no coincidence that in the dataset, robots that looked like ‘Keeko’ were variously described as “adorable” (The Citizen, 29 August 2018) and “client-friendly” (SowetanLIVE, 20 March 2018), while those who looked or sounded like human beings were framed as “eerie” (SowetanLIVE, 8 March 2018) or “uncanny” (Daily Maverick, 10 November 2019). These types of descriptions constitute a reference to the ‘uncanny valley’, a phenomenon “which describes the point at which something nonhuman has begun to look so human that the subtle differences left appear disturbing” (Samuel, 2019:12). Research studies indicate that individuals perceive robots to be less creepy if they are designed in such a way that they are distinguishable from human beings (MacDorman, 2006; Greco, Anerdi and Rodriguez, 2009). In ‘The rise of the machines looks nothing like the movies’ (Daily Maverick, 10 November 2019), the journalist briefly speculated why most machines do not look like humans: “most do not resemble us, they do not walk on two feet, they do not have pre-programmed facial expressions and human gestures for us to study, for us to suspect, to imbue with sinister motives, real or imagined.” A number of scholars have speculated why most machines do not have a human-like appearance. Samuel (2019: 12), for example, argues that “[while] eliciting social responses in humans is easier when the robot in front of them is human-like in design, this does not mean that robots automatically become more accepted the more human they look. This may initially be the case, but human design appears to reach a point at which positive social responses turn into negative ones and robots are rejected for seeming ‘too human’”. The journalist of an article published in The Citizen on 5 September 2018 showed awareness of this problem when, in evoking the frame of nature, he noted that because a machine called ‘Sophia’ “is designed to look as much like a robot as a human, with its mechanical brain exposed, and no wig in place to humanise her further”, people who encounter her “know they are dealing with a robot and don’t feel fooled into believing it is human.”

Of course it is not a given that individuals simply do not like machines that look human. Indeed, Samuel (2019:9) puts paid to the notion that people are inclined to favour anthropomorphic robots. He argues that “people show a preference for robots’ design to be matched to their task” (Samuel, 2019:9). In this respect, people tend to be positively disposed to human-like features if the robot in question is a social robot. Alternatively, “an industrial robot may be thought of in a different manner and thus does not appear to need to look human in order to be deemed acceptable for their task by a human observer” (Samuel, 2019: 9). In the dataset, a number of journalists appeared to be aware of the connection between appearance and task. For example, in ‘“Call me baby”: Talking sex dolls fill a void in China’ (SowetanLIVE, 4 February 2018), the reporter evoked the frame of nature to describe sex dolls as “shapely” (although the reporter also questioned just how life-like the dolls were, describing one as possessing a “robotic voice” and as having lips that do not move). In addition, the dolls were described as being able to “talk, play music and turn on dishwashers”. Clearly, in order to be regarded as a social companion, such dolls are required to look, sound and act more life-like.

On the subject of robots serving a social function, the journalist of the article just referred to also reported that “buyers can customise each doll for height, skin tone, amount of pubic hair, eye colour and hair colour”. Tellingly, the journalist went on to claim that “the most popular dolls have pale skin, disproportionately swelled breasts (sic) and measure between 158 and 170 centimetres”. The way in which these dolls were described here is similar to the way in which they were described in other articles in the dataset. For instance, and quoting Hanson Robotics (probably to maintain authorial distance), the journalist in an article published in The Citizen (5 September 2018) described the robot ‘Sophia’ as being “endowed with remarkable […] aesthetics”, while in a SowetanLIVE article (28 September 2018), robots serving as fashion models were described as female as well as “lean” or “slender, with dark flawless skin” (SowetanLIVE, 28 September 2018). In the entire dataset most robots driven by AI technology were reported as being female; in addition to Sophia, sex dolls, and robotic fashion models (such as ‘Shundu’ and ‘Noonoouri’), journalists also referred to ‘Alexa’, a virtual assistant (SowetanLIVE, 8 March 2018), ‘Vera’, a robot that assists in interviewing prospective job candidates (The Citizen, 27 April 2018), and ‘Rose’, a robot that sells insurance (The Citizen, 22 January 2020). According to Döring and Poesch (2019:665), the media tend to represent human-robot relationships in terms of “stereotypical gender roles” and “heteronormativity” (cf. Stassa, 206; Ndonye, 2019), although it should be added that in our dataset, the various journalists did not themselves encourage these representations, but merely framed female robots in terms of how they were described by their designers or by the AI industry in general. Disappointingly, with the exception of three journalists who (1) alluded to individuals on Chinese social media platforms expressing their concerns that sex dolls “reinforce(d) sexist stereotypes” (SowetanLIVE, 4 February 2018), (2) questioned whether AI may discriminate against bank loan applicants on the basis of gender (Mail & Guardian, 14 March 2019), and (3) observed that “[w]omen and minorities are grossly […] underrepresented” when AI-droven algorithms are employed, no other journalist in our dataset questioned how the AI industry is reinforcing power relations in which the objectification of women is normalised. This is highly problematic in another important sense: the media need to challenge gender stereotypes because applying gender to an AI-driven application may have serious consequences. In this respect, McDonnell and Baxter (2019:116) point out that “[t]he application of gender to a conversational agent [such as a chatbot system] brings along with it the projection of user biases and preconceptions”.

Remaining with the subject of how AI-driven technology is anthropomorphosised, it is interesting to note that in the dataset, the term ‘AI’ or ‘artificial intelligence’ was often replaced by the word ‘robot’, and there appear to be two reasons for this. First, in articles in which AI was regarded as dangerous, the word ‘robot’ served as a “spacing device” (Jones, 2015:40) in the sense that “it [set] another barrier between the reader and the developer of the technology and [provided] a focus for any negative will”. Jones (2015:40) observes that “[it] seems far easier for the journalist to focus on a physical being than an abstract concept called artificial intelligence”. This was evident in ‘South Africa should lead effort to ban killer robots’ (Mail & Guardian, 11 April 2018) in which the journalist referred to governments around the world producing “killer robots” that “decide who gets to live and who dies”. Here, the term ‘killer robots’ was used in place of the term AI/artificial intelligence, “[providing] a focus for risk concerns about the Other” (Jones, 2015:44). Second, in articles in which AI was regarded in a more positive light, the term ‘robot’ “[served] to assist in the anthropomorphizing of the technology as it is far easier to draw comparisons between a human body and a robot body” (Jones, 2015:40). In an article that appeared in The Citizen on 29 August 2018, the journalists used their own voices as well as that of a teacher to describe Keeko, an educational robot, as “adorable” and as “[reacting] with delight” when children answer questions correctly.” The journalists did not interrogate the societal or ethical consequences of placing such educational robots in classrooms, and even quoted the principal of the kindergaten where Keeko is based as stating that robots are “more stable” than human teachers. According to scholars such as Engstrom (2018:19), “in humanising robots and AI, we have to ask ourselves whether our perception of them as machines changes – for example, whether it causes us to feel empathy or even love for them, and whether it will make us have higher expectations [of] the technologies to carry out human responsibilities”. This is unfortunately not a theme that the journalists in our dataset interrogated.

Why did the journalists in our dataset show a tendency to portray AI-driven technology in human form? A partial answer may lie in how AI is portrayed in film and on television. Brennan (2016:1) speculates that “[i]dentification depends on viewers’ ability to understand characters through the lens of their own experience. As such, it relies on recognisable social categories like gender, age, nationality, class and so on. […] Writers must construct the characters of technological protagonists, or antagonists, using recognisable human traits”. Brennan (206:1) goes on to argue that this may unfortunately “limit the ways that AI and robotics are represented and imagined”. Interestingly, the journalist of a Daily Maverick article published on 10 November 2019 speculated that we are inclined to depict robots in human form “perhaps because of our elevated view of ourselves.”

6.4 Morality/ethics, Pandora’s Box, and accountability: AI as uncontrollable and unregulated

Raquel Magalhães (2019:1), editorial manager of Understanding with Unbabel, argues that what is problematic about humanoid representations of AI is that they detract from real issues, particularly from those that pertain to ethical considerations around data privacy concerns (owing to facial recognition algorithms), the use of biased algorithms in decision making, ‘killer robots’, and the absence of clear policies that help control and regulate the development of AI. However, there does appear to be some light at the end of the tunnel; a recent study by Ouchchy, Coin and Dubljević (2020:1) has found that although the media’s coverage of the ethics of AI is somewhat superficial, it does nevertheless have “a realistic and practical focus”, and our dataset confirmed this finding.

As already noted, a total of 21 articles in the dataset (28.76%) employed the morality/ethics frame, and within this frame, journalists questioned the ethics of fake news (‘Misinformation woes could multiply with “deepfake” videos’, The Citizen, 28 January 2018) data breaches (‘#FaceApp sparks data privacy concerns’, The Citizen, 17 July 2019) video surveillance (‘CCTV networks are ‘driving an AI-powered apartheid SA’, The Citizen, 9 December 2019), and biased algorithms (‘Developing countries need to wake up to the risks of new technologies’, Mail & Guardian, 8 January 2018). All these threats constitute reasonable concerns in the area of AI (Stahl, Timmermans and Mittelstadt, 2016; O’Carroll and Driscoll, 2018), yet they are sometimes overlooked in favour of what Bartz-Beielstein (2019:1) refers to as “the well-known ones such as the weaponisation of AI or the loss of employment opportunities”. In a study in which, amongst other things, she explores the nature of media coverage in AI, Obozintsev (2018) reports that the frame of morality/ethics was rarely employed in her dataset. It is possible that this frame was evoked more often in our dataset because a number of writers were also academics, computer scientists, and technology experts; we speculate that writers in these fields may be particularly interested in considering the political, socio-cultural, economic, and ethical implications of AI in (South) Africa.

As noted in the findings section, 21.91% of all articles evoked the frame of accountability. In doing so, these articles reflected (1) fears about how AI is controlling human beings in terms of their movements/online speech or (2) an emphasis on the need for human beings to control and/or regulate this technology in some way. An example of fears about AI controlling human beings is evident in the title of an article published in The Citizen on 5 August 2019, ‘Whatsapp could soon start censoring what you are saying’, while an example of a call for human beings to control and/or regulate AI is reflected in an 18 July 2019 Daily Maverick article in which the journalist claimed that “At least four rights are threatened by the unregulated growth of AI: freedom of expression, privacy, equality and political participation.” Fears about AI controlling human beings or about AI being uncontrollable was particularly evident in the Pandora’s Box frame which was constructed in three articles (4.10% of the dataset). In ‘Prepare for the time of the robots’ (Mail & Guardian, 16 February 2018), for example, the journalist argued that AI-driven technology could unleash a Pandora’s Box and that students in Africa have to be properly trained “so that they gain the insight that will be needed to defend people from forces that may seek to turn individuals into disposable parts”.

What is interesting about these fears is that they mirror one of the the findings of Fast and Horvitz (2017:966) that “[t]he fear of loss of control […] has become far more common in recent years” when it comes to public opinion of AI. Readers will no doubt feel unnerved when they encounter statements such as “[the future] looks to be dominated by machines” (Mail & Guardian, 16 February 2018). Such predictions conjure up AI as being arcane and as a technology understood by only a few; they may be compelled to conclude that AI is beyond their control (cf. Nelkin, 1995:162).

On a positive note, out of the three articles that evoked Pandora’s Box, only one offered no solutions as to how we should control and regulate AI. The remaining articles referred to putting policies in place that will protect users in (South) Africa from the dangers of AI such as those that pertain to privacy issues and autonomous weapons as well as to ensuring that human beings take responsibility for the performance of AI systems. To provide a specific example, in a Daily Maverick article (29 January 2019 ), the writer called for technology and data to be democratised: We […] need to incorporate into the devices of the 4IR a character of the world as we desire it and not make these devices reflect biases, prejudices and unequal economic spaces as they currently exist.” By offering up solutions such as these, journalists challenged the notion that “technology is developed in a vacuum, with the suggestion being that the human user is an afterthought (Jones, 2015:36). Holguín (2018:17) points out that the importance of taking responsibility for AI is sometimes overlooked, “but it seems crucial for understanding the development of technology as depending on human agency. Thus, the improvements and goals of these intelligent systems are not self-driven by the force of technology, but by the decisions of the human actors behind their creation”.

It is encouraging that some of the articles in our dataset (i) identified AI’s potential threats as they relate to morality and ethics and (ii) within the frame of accountability, considered policies and principles that could help regulate these threats in (South) Africa. In ‘Why we need an AI-resilient society’, Bartz-Beielstein (2019:1) refers to strategy (i) as “awareness” and to strategy (ii) as “agreements”. The former strategy refers to helping society recognise the dangers that AI may pose and can be generated “by publishing papers and giving public talks” (Bartz-Beielstein, 2019: 6), for example. Agreements is a strategy that calls for society to generate principles and laws that regulate different aspects of AI.

6.5 Constructing dualistic frames

It is not surprising that just over half of the articles under investigation in this study reflected both pro- and anti-technology discourse since it is an inherent paradox in many news articles about technology including AI (Jones, 2015: 42; Brennan, Howard and Nielsen, 2018; Chuan et al., 2019). In the dataset, the polarised discourse around AI was typically framed in terms of both competition and social progress. This dualistic frame is apparent in a Mail & Guardian article which appeared on 16 March 2020 in which a World Economic Forum claim – “automation will displace 75-million jobs worldwide by 2022” – was juxtaposed with the statement that “AI is reducing the time it takes to generate reports, analyse risks and rewards, make decisions and monitor financial health.” The question is, Why simultaneously frame AI in terms of competition and social progress? Some scholars are of the view that AI may be constructed in dualistic terms to offer up a “digital opiate for the masses” (Floridi, 2016:1), as it were. Philosopher and ethics scholar Luciano Floridi (2019:1) puts it bluntly when he observes that “Fear always sells well, like vampire or zombie movies”: in other words, it is appealing for the mass media to frame AI around dystopian, dualistic narratives (Holguín 2018:5) because this increases readership and ratings (cf. Obozintsev, 2018:1). This view is shared by Dorothy Nelkin who, in a cynically entitled article ‘Selling science’, argues that “too often science in the press is more a subject for consumption than for public scrutiny, more a source of entertainment than for information” (Nelkin, 1995:162). This entertainment factor was apparent in the more sensationalist or alarmist titles in the dataset such as ‘“Call me baby’: Talking sex dolls fill a void in China’ (SowetanLIVE, 4 February 2018), ‘Prepare for the time of the robots’ (Mail & Guardian, 16 February 2018), and ‘Ballerina bots of the Amazon job-pocalypse’ (Mail & Guardian, 1 March 2019). Of course, articles about AI may also be alarmist and/or sensationalist because the media are under pressure to succeed within what Davenport and Beck (2001:2) refer to as the “attention economy” (cf. Cave et al., 2018:17) in which clicks and views are highly sought after.

Of interest is that research on dualistic or competing frames indicates that individuals are averse to such frames and therefore attempt to resist them (Sniderman and Theriault, 2004). Obozintsev (2018:15) observes that “exposure to two competing frames can render one frame ineffective, or even counter-effective”, particularly if the frame is not aligned with their belief systems.

6.6 Framing uncertainty through dualistic frames

We argue that making use of a dualistic frame such as one in which AI is couched in terms of both competition and social progress is not necessarily a reflection of bad journalism (cf. Kampourakis, 2019). Indeed, it is not surprising that the media employ competing frames given that AI is an emerging technology characterised by uncertainty and conflict (cf. Hornmoen, 2009:1; Kampourakis and McCain, 2020:152). Notwithstanding the fact that the relationship between science and journalism is complex, Holguín (2018:5) contends that “[when] the scientific community is not able to agree on the possible risks or impact of a new scientific or technological breakthrough, this subject may become salient in newspapers”. Here we propose that the media may highlight uncertainy around AI and its risks or impact by framing this technology in terms of dualistic frames. Hornmoen (2009:16) points out that “[t]he alternation between different perspectives, with an apparently contradictory identification in the journalist’s report, contributes above all to construct an image of an emergent scientific field”. We further suggest that journalists may attempt to resolve the competing frames of competition and social progress in specific ways. In an article published in The Citizen on 19 June 2019, the journalist evoked both the frame of competition to depict AI as destroying jobs and the frame of social progress to portray this technology as creating jobs. The journalist attempted to resolve this dualistic frame by mitigating it: he quoted the vice-president of a software company as claiming that while AI may result in some jobs becoming redundant, AI will also generate labour switching in the sense that it will create “new categories of work.” Quoting Deloitte, he qualified this by reporting that AI will replace menial tasks/manual labour, thus “augmenting the workforce and enabling human work to be reframed in terms of problem solving and the ability to create new knowledge.” What is interesting about this article (and many others in the dataset) is that it did not question the veracity of the claim made in the field of AI that manual labour and menial tasks will be replaced by automated technology. In failing to provide readers with this particular context, we argue that the articles may compel readers to adopt an anti-AI view (cf. Jones, 2015:41). A typical claim about AI and menial tasks is epitomised in “Menial […] tasks that might once have needed the human touch are slowly but surely being replaced with the accuracy of computers” (SowetanLIVE, 31 July 2018). Although it is undeniable that automation is replacing and will continue to replace certain jobs, in the short- and medium-term at least, “[manual] work is likely to remain surprisingly resistant to automation” (Heath, 2014:1, in converation with Michigan Institute of Technology economist Erik Brynjolfsson). This is due to a phenomenon known as Moravec’s Paradox according to which AI researchers have observed that machines find it difficult to perform tasks that humans find easy, and vice versa. One article published in the Daily Maverick (12 November 2018) referenced this paradox when he stated that “Generally, jobs that require gross motor skills are easier to automate than those that require fine motor skills. The jobs that will remain will be those that require a human touch”.

6.7 Employing the middle way frame

In addition to mitigating claims, the journalists in our dataset appeared to resolve the ‘AI as competition’ and ‘AI as social progress’ paradox by adopting a middle way frame. Typically, the journalists recommended a compromise position in which human beings and AI should work together in order to complete a variety of tasks. In an article published in The Citizen on 22 January 2020, for example, the journalist quoted a clinical professor of imaging sciences as suggesting that “the combined forces of human and machine would be better than either alone” in the context of breast cancer detection.

Out of the 40 articles in the dataset that evoked the frames of competition and social progress, 26 employed the middle way frame and 14 did not. We argue that the presence or absence of the middle way frame in articles that reflect the competing frames may influence how readers perceive AI – whether they regard it as threatening or not. In the 14 articles that did not evoke the middle way frame, the coverage of AI was overwhelmingly alarmist in the sense that this technology was framed as replacing or being about to replace human beings. No room was made for a future in which human beings would be able to exercise control over AI-driven technology. A typical example is reflected in an article in The Citizen (4 October 2019) in which the journalist evoked the frame of nature and quoted Elon Musk as claiming that “computers actually are already much smarter than people on so many dimensions.” We noted that some journalists took this claim a step further and employed the frame of artifice to argue that the lines between AI and human beings will blur to such an extent that the former will entirely replace the latter (cf. Jones, 2015:37). In ‘Prepare for the time of the robots’ (Mail & Guardian, 16 February 2018), the journalist used the frame of artifice to claim that human beings will be “cannabilised” by machines that will “outperform [them] in nearly every job function” in the future. It appears that articles in which AI is portrayed as matching or surpassing human intelligence, but in which a middle way frame is used, may be less alarming to readers because the human element is not dismissed. In a SowetanLIVE article of 2 January 2020, a researcher was quoted as claiming that “[a] computer programme can identify breast cancer from routine scans with greater accuracy than human experts.” However, the journalist tempered this claim when he used a middle way frame to quote the same researcher as observing that “[there’s] the opportunity for this technology to support the existing excellent service of the (human) reviewers.”

6.8 Using reported speech and multiple voices

Whether or not the middle way frame is employed, we also propose that journalists may attempt to resolve uncertainties around AI through the use of quotations/reported speech (Cotter, 2010:174) and multiple perspectives (Hornmoen, 2009:78): “Due to the technical complexity of the latest developments [in] the field and the uncertainty of its predictions around the impact, it seems probable that journalists will count on external sources that to a greater or lesser extent allow them to report on the topic and ‘validate’ their claims and arguments” (Holguín, 2018:7). Examples of the use of reported speech are evident in the section just before this one. Studying why and how journalists employ reported speech is a research paper on its own, but Calsamiglia and Ferrero (2003:44) observe that journalists may use reported speech “as a means of orientating their position on the topic of reference” and absolving themselves from “their responsibility to inform objectivity”. Another device we identified was the use of multiple voices through reference to formal reports, tests, and academic studies. We see this device operating in ‘Is your job safe from automation?’ (SowetanLIVE, 20 March 2018) in which the journalist stated that “According to a new Accenture report, one in three jobs in South Africa (5.7 million jobs) is currently at risk of total automation.” Use of reported speech and reference to formal reports, tests, and studies allow journalists to establish multiple perspectives which “play a major role in constructing popular understanding of the science in question” (Dunwoody, 1999:69; cf. Hornmoen, 2009:4), particularly if that science is marked by controversy and/or uncertainty. As far as the latter is concerned, Holguín (2018:7) suggests that an over-reliance on ‘experts’ means that journalists avoid providing critical judgements about the risks and impact of AI. In a 4 June 2019 Daily Maverick article, for instance, the journalist claimed that “Soon AI will drive our cars, stock our warehouses and take care of our loved ones. It holds much promise, and industry players say it is on the brink of explosion.” To validate the promise that AI holds, the journalist then quoted a number of experts and referred to “the AI Maturity Report”, which reports that “local organisations invested around R23.5-billion in AI over the last decade.” Other than briefly acknowledging that AI must be driven by human beings, the journalist did not critically interrogate the possible risks of AI.

Looking more closely at our dataset, what is problematic is that the use of multiple voices did not necessarily mean that an article was “multiperspectival” (Hornmoen, 2009:79): “closer inspection may reveal that the text is primarily advancing ‘ways of seeing’ and the rhetoric of a particular group of researchers” (Hornmoen, 2009:79). When it came to articles in our dataset that reflected competing frames, we had to determine which frames were made more salient to promote a particular view of AI (cf. Hornmoen, 2009:81). Consider, for example, ‘Will your financial advisor be replaced by a machine?’ published in The Citizen on 10 March 2018. In this article, AI was framed as a paradox in the sense that it was described in terms of competition (i.e., as leading to loss of jobs for financial advisors) and in terms of social progress (i.e., as helping financial advisors become more creative). The question in the title was repeated in the article: “will [financial advisors] become redundant altogether?.” Through reference to multiple voices (in the form of quotations from financial experts), the journalist constructed a middle way frame when he argued that AI will not replace financial advisors and that machines and human beings will work together to provide clients with financial advice. Returning to Calsamiglia and Ferrero’s (2003) study of reported speech, it appears that the use of reported speech in this case allowed the journalist to orientate his position on the topic of machines replacing human beings.

7. Conclusions

Like other studies on media portrayals of AI, our study signals that coverage in widely circulated South African newspapers tended to veer between utopian and dystopian views of this technology, although most articles reflected a more positive view since they evoked the frame of social progress more frequently than they evoked the frame of competition. In other words, AI was portrayed as friend more frequently than it was portrayed as foe. A pro-AI stance was particularly evident in the areas of ‘AI-human interaction’, ‘Business, finance, and the economy’, ‘Education’, the ‘Environment’, and ‘Healthcare and medicine’. Those articles that had an anti-technology stance, and that focused on threats/competition, were dominated by moral/ethical considerations around ‘Big Brother’, ‘Defence weapons’, ‘Human control over AI’, the ‘News industry’, and ‘South Africa’s preparedness for an AI-driven world’.

We argue that the employment of both the frames of social progress and competition may enable journalists to construct AI as an emerging and uncertain technology. We propose that future research should explore how uncertainty/conflict generated by journalists about AI is processed by readers, since the effect of this uncertainty/conflict is not known: “identifying and testing uncertainty-inducing message features is crucial as uncertainty is a complex cognition that can trigger or reduce both positive states […] and negative states” (Jensen and Hurley, 2012:690). As already mentioned, it does appear that a reader’s exposure to conflicting frames may cause a frame to be rendered ineffective or even counter-effective (Obozintsev, 2018:15).

In most articles in which AI was framed in terms of both pro- and anti-technology ideologies, journalists also made use of the middle way frame, which we argue allowed them to establish a compromise position between AI as friend and foe.

Of interest is that many articles made use of anthropomorphic tropes when discussing the nature of AI and these tropes overwhelmingly and unrealistically framed AI as either matching or surpassing human intelligence. Yet, several articles also subtly judged the intelligence of machines by questioning whether they had the capacity to think and feel. Others touched upon human agency in the development of AI in (South) Africa or considered human agency in more detail, discussing how AI’s growth and implementation should be governed and regulated for the sake of transparency and accountability. The call for human agency is critical as it steers society in the direction of an AI paradigm that draws on Ubuntu and that constructs AI as a technology that orbits around humanity, social justice, and community engagement (Nayebare, 2019:50-51). The public in South Africa and the rest of Africa constitute underrepresented voices in the field of AI (cf. Cisse, 2018), and the media have an important role to play in making sure that they are informed about AI and play a role in its implications for their lives and futures.


1 We acknowledge that since we examined articles published by only four news outlets, our results may not be representative of frames employed by other outlets.

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The blue-eyed devil rapists: An exploration of the discourse on Twitter around land thieves in a South African context

Title: The blue-eyed devil rapists: An exploration of the discourse on Twitter around land thieves in a South African context

Author: Dr. Burgert Senekal, University of the Free State.

Ensovoort, volume 41 (2020), number 7: 1


In recent years, anti-white rhetoric has seemingly increased in South Africa, with various researchers and Non-Government Organisations becoming alarmed at the level of antagonism displayed towards whites on social media. This study explores a large dataset consisting of over 18 000 tweets posted by over 10 000 users over a period of 288 days that mention land thieves. It is shown that the term is not only used to refer to South African whites, but also whites in general and Israelis, although almost ¾ of tweets refer to South Africa. Tweets referring to South Africa are explored in more depth, showing that whites are also referred to as rapists and racists, and that various topics, including the Covid-19 epidemic, are reframed in an anti-white discourse on Twitter. In addition, the article shows how prominent black political parties, their leadership and high-ranking public officials, take part in this discourse, with very little corrective action by the South African authorities. Suggestions are also made for further research.

Keywords: land thieves, South Africa, hate speech, Covid-19, social media, Twitter, Afrikaner, land expropriation


Apartheid is widely blamed by politicians, commentators, and academics for various contemporary problems in South Africa. For example, contemporary black poverty is frequently attributed to the legacy of apartheid (Lephakga, 2017, Goodman, 2017, and Maseko, et al., 2015). The same applies to the HIV / AIDS epidemic (Nkala-Dlamini, n.d.), unemployment (Republic of South Africa, 2013), racism (Thloloe, 2016), the energy-crisis (Hunter, 2015), violent crime (Gordon, 1998), xenophobic violence (Chengu, 2015), and rape (Armstrong, 1994). Desmond Tutu goes so far as to argue that apartheid is responsible for littering and car accidents (Anonymous, 2011b), while Andile Mngxitama of Black First Land First (BLF) blames storms (Anonymous, 2017a) and cyclones (Anonymous, 2019c) on white people and the legacy of colonialism.

Because the Afrikaner and other white South Africans are associated with apartheid, they also, according to some, are responsible for contemporary problems that are seen as a legacy of apartheid. As John (2019) argues, white South Africans, “have repeatedly failed to self-reflect on their privilege and to apologise fulsomely for their inhumane deeds.” This type of view holds all white South Africans accountable for apartheid, regardless of whether they were born before or after 1994 or had any direct involvement with the National Party (NP) regime or its security forces. Leon (2015) and Cardo (2016) point out the similarities between the contemporary construction of the white man as a scapegoat and what was previously blamed on the Jews. Cardo (2016) writes,

Trapped in a binary, essentialist cast of mind – where black pain and victimhood square off against white domination and privilege – their discourse has already moved from a regressive leftist fringe to the centre of politics. They view whites as aliens, or “1652s” in their jarring parlance; predatory immigrants who might, ultimately, be unassimilable into their new world order.

The current study explores the Twitter discourse around the term land thieves. As such, the study ties in with other studies that have investigated hate speech on social media platforms in South Africa, e.g. Oriola and Kotzé (2020), Ferroggiaro (2019), Oriola and Kotzé (2019a), Oriola and Kotzé (2019b), Kotzé and Senekal (2018), De Smedt, Jaki, Kotzé, Saoud, Gwóźdź, De Pauw, and Daelemans (2018) and Brink and Mulder (2017). However, while Brink and Mulder focus on media reports, Ferroggiaro uses interviews, and Kotzé and co-authors take a quantitative approach that includes machine learning, the current study takes a mixed-methods approach to investigate both the scale and intensity of hate speech directed at the white minority in South Africa. The goal is to explore a Twitter dataset compiled using the word pair (bigram) land thieves and identify some themes and features that could be investigated in more depth in future studies. The article also includes a detailed contextualisation and suggestions for future research.

Background to anti-white hate speech in South Africa

In 2011, Julius Malema, then the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, threatened to take over the ANC if they did not adopt a policy of land expropriation without compensation (Anonymous, 2011a). In 2012, ANC Youth Leader Ronald Lamola provoked intense reaction when he said during a speech, “We need an act as forceful as war to bring it [land] back to the Africans” (Foster, 2012). In 2017, Julius Malema, then the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), reiterated during a speech, “The rightful owners of the land are black people. No white person is a rightful owner of the land here in South Africa and the whole of the African continent” (Malone, 2017). Malema also says that he established the EFF in 2013 to drive the policy of land expropriation without compensation, “We took a decision when we were formed in 2013 that our first non-negotiable cardinal pillar is expropriation of land without compensation. So we were not talking elections, we were talking why we formed the EFF” (Nkosi, 2018). Mngxitama, who was a founding member of the Landless People’s Movement in 2001 and later joined the EFF, also places land expropriation at the centre of BLF’s agenda, “I would like to see land occupations becoming a national feature in this country” (Zondi, 2017).

Jacob Zuma’s statements about land expropriation during his term as state president already led to whites preparing for a civil war in 2017 (Malone, 2017). On 28 February 2018, the South African Parliament undertook to reconsider Article 25 of the South African Constitution to allow for the expropriation of property without compensation. The discourse around the land issue centres on white / black identities, the “land thieves” versus the “dispossessed”, and the legacy of apartheid (Roelf, 2018, Mkokeli, 2018, Osborne, 2018, Chung, 2018, Harding, 2018, and Eloff, 2017). Julius Malema for instance remarked, “We must ensure that we restore the dignity of our people without compensating the criminals who stole our land” (Chung, 2018). On 4 December 2018, the South African Parliament voted in favour of the decision to consider the possibility of amending the constitution.

Conversations around land expropriation, in particular, are often accompanied by war talks (Gerber, 2018), and land expropriation is widely seen as a step that could lead to a civil war in South Africa. Roodt (2018) believes land expropriation will lead to a war in SA, and Pieter Groenewald, leader of the Freedom Front Plus, says in parliament, “If anyone in South Africa thinks they can expropriate land without compensation, they live in a dream. Let me put it bluntly, if you want to start a civil war in South Africa, do it. Do it”1 (Anonymous, 2017c). Cope’s President, Mosiuoa Lekota, also says that such a policy will lead to war (Phakgadi, 2018), which is also a statement made by Clem Sunter (Omarjee, 2018), as well as the daughter of Albert Luthuli, Albertina (Javier, 2019).

In recent years, racial tensions have been accompanied by calls for genocide made by militant black leaders such as Julius Malema of the EFF and Andile Mngxitama of BLF. In 2018, for example, Malema said he is not calling on his people to murder white people, “at least for now” (Mahlase, 2018). BLF’s Andile Mngxitama, in turn, made several statements against whites, the best known of which was the 2018 call to kill five whites for every black person who dies (Chabalala, 2018). Bell Pottinger was also contracted by the Guptas in 2016 to instigate a discourse around “white monopoly capital,” which contributed to racial tensions in South Africa (Segal, 2018, Anonymous, 2017b, John, 2017, Cropley, 2017, Withers, 2017, and Cave, 2017). The campaign included the establishment of Twitter accounts that posted more than 220 000 tweets, the establishment of anti-white campaign websites, the use of news agencies ANN7 and The New Age, and the funding of ANC activists (Segal, 2018). Mngxitama of BLF allegedly had financial connections with the controversial Gupta family and Bell Pottinger (Andersen, 2017, Anonymous, 2017b, Claymore, 2017, and Macanda and Cowan, 2017), something supported by Bell Pottinger’s targeting of Johann Rupert (Segal, 2018), which is also one of BLF’s primary targets. The African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting (2017) also connects Mngxitama with the Guptas, while the US Department of State (2018) calls BLF a “front group formed in 2015 and financed by the prominent Gupta family”.

The EFF and BLF are not alone in targeting white people in their statements. In 2010, the Commando Corps (Afrikaans Kommandokorps) warned the Pan African Congress (PAC) after a call for the full-scale massacre of whites appeared on the PAC’s Facebook page (Jooste, 2010). In addition, Khoza (2017) and Steward (2016) note the increasing amount of hate speech against whites in SA, while a study by the South African Institute of Race Relations found,

… 61% of black respondents now agree that South Africa is a country for blacks rather than whites, while only 38% disagree. This suggests that ANC and EFF rhetoric castigating whites and demanding a major shift in the ownership and management of the economy may be having significant impact on black opinion (Jeffery, 2018).

Brink and Mulder (2017:11) also mention incidents such as then State President Jacob Zuma, who said during the ANC’s 103rd birthday celebrations in Cape Town in 2015 that Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in South Africa in 1652 was the beginning of all South Africa’s problems. I quote four examples from Brink and Mulder’s report (statements are reproduced verbatim here):

  • Luvuyo Menziwa, senior official of the EFF Student Command and former financial officer of the Student Representative Council (SRC) of the University of Pretoria, wrote on Facebook, “Reasons I hate white people: white privilege, white dominance, white arrogance, white monopoly capital and white superiority. Fuck white people, just get me a bazooka or AK47 so I can do the right thing and kill these demon possessed humans.”
  • Bhefile ka Hlazo, a senior official at the Oudtshoorn municipality wrote on Facebook, “I will with no mercy cut their tongue out with a machete and I will enjoy to hear them begging for forgiveness.”
  • Velaphi Khumalo, a sports promoter in the Gauteng Department of Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, wrote on Facebook, “I want to cleans this country of all white people. we must act as Hitler did to the Jews. […] U you have the same venom moss. look at Palestine. noo u must be bushed alive and skinned and your off springs used as garden fertiliser.”
  • Benny Morota, a law professor at the University of South Africa (Unisa), wrote on Facebook, “i dnt entertain white cockroach like yourself . . . i dnt understand why you interfere in my black business … F*ck you pink white murderer . . . Enjoy the blood wealth of our people, your time to pay with your white skin is emmenent.”

All these incidents took place on Facebook, but many of the hostile statements against South African whites are made on Twitter (Oriola and Kotzé, 2019a). Twitter is well-known to be a political platform, as Theocharis, Lowe, Van Deth, and García-Albacete (2015:203) argue,

Twitter’s quick flow of very short and direct messages calling for action can be very important for political activities because tweets can be easily and massively diffused across diverse social networks (and countries), and can attract the attention of previously uninterested and organizationally unaffiliated publics. As previous studies have suggested, these passing short messages may be catalytic in someone’s spontaneous decision to become involved in specific political acts online or offline, lending support to a certain movement.

While no official definition of hate speech exists, “it is hinged on incitement, which is an explicit and deliberate act aimed at discrimination, hostility and violence” (Oriola and Kotzé, 2020:21496). Oriola and Kotzé (2020:21497) define hate speech as, “unfairly discriminatory expression that demonstrates a clear intention to be harmful or to incite harm; promote or propagate hatred against a person or group of persons.” While the current study does not attempt to classify statements as hate speech, this definition should be kept in mind for the examples of tweets that follow.

Two major hate speech incidents took place on Twitter around the land issue in 2019. The first was following an accident at Driehoek High School in Vanderbijlpark where three schoolchildren died (a fourth died in hospital afterwards). Siyanda Dizzy Gumede wrote on Facebook that he had no sympathy for the children (which he assumed were white), as there was now “minus 3 future problems” (Anonymous, 2019a). Lindsay Maasdorp of BLF wrote on Twitter that Gumede was correct, “Why should we frown on the ancestors’ petitions to punish the land thieves including their offspring” (Friedman, 2019). BLF was subsequently reported to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), but their initial conviction was overturned in the South African High Court and they were not prosecuted (Seleka, 2019, and Cilliers, 2019). Several other users expressed their support for Gumede on Twitter (Greeff, 2019) (these accounts were subsequently deleted), although commentators, both white and black, predominantly condemned Gumede and Maasdorp’s views. John (2019) however, defends these anti-white views,

The Hoërskool Driehoek incident has put a spotlight on unaddressed black anger ensuing from years of apartheid and failure to have authentic conversations about its legacy and impact on black people’s mental health, who are being forced to repress justifiable feelings of anger and pain.

On 14 June 2019, Zindzi Mandela, daughter of Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s current ambassador to Denmark, posted a series of messages on Twitter, including,

“Dear Apartheid Apologists, your time is over. You will not rule again. We do not fear you. Finally #TheLandIsOurs,” “[…] Miss all these trembling white cowards, shem. Botha, Potgieter, Thieving Rapist descendants of Van Riebeeck, etc: how are you my babies?[…]” and “Whilst I wine and dine here ..wondering how the world of shivering land thieves is doing #OurLand.”

The tweets sparked intense reaction on Twitter and in the media, with several political and civil rights organizations demanding her dismissal (Rooi, 2019, and Krige, 2019). On 18 June, the EFF’s Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said in a statement that Zindzi Mandela, “correctly tweeted about the need for black people to get their land back from white land thieves and racists” (Maromo, 2019). BLF also aligned themselves with the EFF in her defence (Mvumvu, 2019). Many black Twitter users continued to support her, including with the hashtag, #HandsOffZindziMandela. In the end, Naledi Pandor, international relations minister, reprimanded Zindzi Mandela (Anonymous, 2019b), but there was no question of legal action or any form of punishment. On the other hand, on 19 June, the ANC indicated that they would file a complaint of crimen injuria against Steve Hofmeyr after he responded to Zindzi Mandela on Twitter the previous day, “Effectively, I AM your boss. You WILL jump when I say so and you WILL ask how high. And when you come to take our livesandland, you WILL die. Our contract is that simple. And don’t you forget it” (Regter, 2019).

The cases around Driehoek High School and Zindzi Mandela are, however, only two incidents that have become well-known; there are many more. Kotzé and Senekal (2018) note a few instances in the Twitter discourse around the Afrikaner town of Orania, for example, “How about we accidentally get our hands on some grenades and start genocide? Orania is a good place to start.”

Brink and Mulder (2017) showed that the ANC government and the SAHRC are extremely slow to act against black South African government officials and political party leaders that call for violence against whites, while whites that make statements deriding blacks are punished swiftly and severely. Black perpetrators usually receive only a warning, while whites such as Penny Sparrow and Vicki Momberg received large fines (and in the case of the latter, was given a jail sentence). Note also that the Driehoek High School and Zindzi Mandela incidents followed the same pattern as identified in Brink and Mulder’s (2017) earlier report, namely that the cases involved a black government official and a leader of a political party, but they were not prosecuted. The ANC however filed charges against Hofmeyr.

Because these incidents only represent the best-known and most publicised cases of inflammatory speech in South Africa, tweets were collected that refer to land thieves in general. The following section outlines the methods used in the current study.


Tweets containing the word pair (bigram) land thieves were collected from 2019-06-17 (Zindzi Mandela’s controversial tweet was posted three days before on 2019-06-14) until 2020-03-31. This bigram was chosen after various experiments that investigated terms associated with harmful language, and is also one of the terms listed in a recent report on hate speech in South Africa (Ferroggiaro, 2019). This is considered to be a particularly offensive term in the current South African context, as Ferroggiaro (2019:17) remarks, land thieves, “may suggest that white people don’t have a birthright in the Republic of South Africa,” and the term, “demonizes a whole group as criminal and as lacking rights to the land they own.” In other words, the term in effect denies citizenship to the white minority in South Africa and depicts them as criminals. The term has become so commonplace that one user in the current study remarked on 2020-01-01,

In South Africa white people in general are referred to as: Land thieves 1652s Mlungus (scum) Rapists Slave owners Privileged Racists Bad Whiteness This is everyday stuff. We are the only race that is expected to be ashamed of themselves. I say fuck that. #ItsOkayToBeWhite.

Note the terms mlungus and 1652s: while these terms are not investigated in the current study, mlungus is included in the report by Ferroggiaro (2019) and 1652s is mentioned by Cardo (2016). Tweets are currently being collected by the present author that mention 1652s and will be investigated in a future study.

Along with tweets, metadata that was collected include the date and time of posting, usernames (which, for ethical reasons, are not reported in the current study), as well as user locations, number of likes and the number of retweets a tweet received.

In total, 18 031 tweets posted by 10 478 users were collected, of which 6 926 tweets were unique (the rest being retweets). A cursory reading of tweets however showed that not only white South Africans are referred to as land thieves: the bigram is also used to describe Israelis, white Americans, Brazilians and others. In order to determine the extent of the view that white South Africans are considered to be land thieves, tweets first had to be classified according to the country they refer to. A list of keywords was compiled from reading through tweets to classify tweets as referring to a specific country. Sometimes usernames were used to associate a tweet with a country, e.g. South African news agencies (@News24, @jacarandafm, and @BDliveSA) and politicians or political role players (@Natasha9Mazzone, @PresidencyZA, @FloydShivambu, @afriforum, @Lesufi, and @Our_DA). In a small number of cases, the country of the user was used to determine which country he/she was referring to. In total, a list of 382 keywords was compiled that associates tweets with specific countries. Table 1 shows 20 examples of keywords associated with countries.

Table 1 Twenty examples of keywords associated with countries



  1. malema

South Africa

  1. effgroundforces

South Africa

  1. blf

South Africa

  1. boer

South Africa

  1. jew


  1. palestine


  1. american

United States

  1. zindzi

South Africa

  1. anc

South Africa

  1. riebeeck

South Africa

  1. IDF


  1. ernstroets

South Africa

  1. zuma

South Africa

  1. israel


  1. #nhs

United Kingdom

  1. effsouthafrica

South Africa

  1. jerusalem


  1. ramaphosa

South Africa

  1. mandela

South Africa

  1. wmc

South Africa

Tweets were linked to 23 countries with these keywords, with the majority of tweets (74,89%) referring to South Africa, followed by Israel (7,48%), the United States (4,19%), and Brazil (1,03%). The rest of the countries received less than 1% of tweets. Table 2 shows ten examples of tweets associated with specific countries. Examples are sorted from oldest to newest, and tweets are given here verbatim, as in other examples included in the current article.

Table 2 Ten examples of tweets associated with specific countries





  1. Actually America wasn’t built by immigrants it was built by White supremacists. If you want to compare modern immigrants to the settlers you’re basically saying modern immigrants are genocidal land thieves Lololol nice narrative you got

United States


  1. #Israel’s skin #cancer rates second highest in the world. #skincancer is nature’s way of saying to Israeli land-thieves you ain’t indigenous to #Palestine #WorldCancerDay2020 #WorldCancerDay #FreePalestine



  1. There is nothing special about the Boers they are just land thieves responsible for the forever poverty of Africans

South Africa


  1. Land thieves and occupiers in a panic #coronavirusuk #CoronaVirusUpdate #COVID19 #coronavirus #FreePalestine RT @user: Israeli settlers increasingly panicked. In one day more than 100 positive settlers of the Corona virus. So far the total number of positive Corona sufferers in Israel has reached more than 433 people and 6 are in critical condition. #Group4Palestine



  1. I truely pray that Covid-19 is gentically designed to wipe out the immigrant land thieves mankind killer zionists.



  1. Cyril is a puppet for land thieves

South Africa


  1. Because @realDonaldTrump is just as kak skelm as a boer. Land thieves all of you

South Africa


  1. Two land thieves who’s parents looted our country have pledged R2 billion and we are applauding. No questions about where the money comes from. Interesting…

South Africa


  1. Land Thieves from Russia and Eastern Europe



  1. Forget our frontline #NHS staff, we need to look after the parasite land-thieves who live in a castle with a gold-plated shitter. You can be sure that ALL other royals have been tested too. #abolishthemonarchy

United Kingdom

Note that tweets 2, 4 and 5 mention land thieves in terms of illnesses in reference to Israel, the latter two referring to the Covid-19 epidemic in 2020. This phenomena of framing an event in terms of land thieves will be returned to later in a South African context. Tweet 8 ties in with this phenomenon: this tweet refers to Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer donating R2 billion to help with Covid-19 (Head, 2020). As noted earlier, Johann Rupert is often criticised by BLF as an embodiment of “White Monopoly Capital”, the phrase marketed by Bell Pottinger. Tweet 10 in turn uses Covid-19 to criticise the British royalty.

Some tweets could not be associated with specific countries. Table 3 shows examples of tweets that do not clearly associate the tweet with a specific country. Tweets are sorted from oldest to newest tweet.

Table 3 Five examples of tweets that could not be associated clearly with a specific country




  1. Land thieves are savages. A savage will never agree to take responsibility for it’s larceny, it’s plunder and murder. That’s why they are called savages.


  1. U r land thieves, murderers and imbeciles who fk up ecosystems, then try to grow fake food….


  1. ‘Settlers’ is a soft word for ‘land thieves’


  1. Land thieves 😂😂😂😂#Twitter30Seconds


  1. Typical land thieves

After reading the context of Tweet 1, it became apparent that the user probably intended the term land thieves to denote all white people, regardless of in which country they reside. Although this tweet would include South Africa, it was excluded in the analysis for not specifically referring to South Africa. Ultimately, 1 776 tweets (9,85% of tweets), could not be associated with a specific country.

In total, 13 504 tweets (74,89% of the total number of tweets) are associated with South Africa, along with 7 333 users (69,89% of the total number of users), and 4 439 unique tweets (64,09% of the total number of unique tweets). This shows that the bigram land thieves is overwhelmingly associated with South Africa, with almost ¾ of tweets referring to South Africa. At the same time, not all references to land thieves refer to South Africa, with Israelis also being accused of being land thieves in a substantial number of tweets (7,48%). This association is interesting, given that the word apartheid is used so often in the context of Israel that it could not be used here as a keyword to link tweets to South Africa.


Tweets were placed at an average of 62,61 tweets per day over the 288-day period considered here (2019-06-17 to 2020-03-31), but tweets referring to South Africa were placed at an average of 46,89 tweets per day. For all tweets, users mentioned land thieves at a rate of 1,72 tweets per user, but for South African tweets, the rate is 1,84. This shows a larger commitment on the part of users referring to South African land issues than for others; note also that while almost 75% of tweets refer to South Africa, only 70% of users refer to South Africa. This means that users referring to land thieves in a South African context are more inclined to mention the term more than once than is the case for users referring to land thieves in other contexts.

The most retweeted tweet in the total dataset (retweeted 1 081 times) was posted shortly after Zindzi Mandela’s abovementioned tweets, and reads, “Retweet To Annoy Land Thieves ✊🏾 ✊🏾 ✊🏾#HandsOffZindziMandela.” In addition, the second most retweeted tweet in the total dataset (retweeted 453 times) is an official EFF rendition of this tweet, “@Effgroundforces: Retweet just to annoy land thieves and ANC empty heads #SONADebate.” Since retweets are usually an indication that users endorse a tweet (Shin, et al., 2016:1218, and Bruns and Burgess, 2012:803), this shows the extent to which the land-thieves narrative has taken hold in South Africa. Table 4 shows the tweets that refer to South Africa that were retweeted the most. Usernames are only included if they refer to major political figures or political parties.

Table 4 The ten most retweeted South African tweets


Retweet Count

  1. Retweet To Annoy Land Thieves ✊🏾 ✊🏾 ✊🏾#HandsOffZindziMandela


  1. @Effgroundforces: Retweet just to annoy land thieves and ANC empty heads #SONADebate


  1. Leadership BLF for Life that is me and BLF President Andile Mngxitama told Land thieves to go Holland where they belongs too, viva BLF viva Azania Izwe Lethu ✋✊


  1. Consistency!!! the message haven’t changed so there is no flip flopping 👇 this gospel was preached in the ANC until the house negro party expelled our leaders because they are protecting land thieves #TheLandIsOurs.


  1. The president of South Africa calling my forefathers land thieves and celebrating the Zulu warriors that attacked them without cause. The Rainbow nation is a myth We are not the same We are not stronger together F Ramaphosa F the ANC #OnsLand #Geloftedag #SouthAfrica #WeAre1652


  1. Such obviously foolish policy!!! Why encourage people to “donate” stolen land? Asking land thieves to donate it’s like they are making us a favor for returning the land.


  1. Malema accuses all white people of being murderers, rapists and land thieves. No social media or MSM coverage. The one MSM outlet that decided to cover it makes the focus of the article Helen Zille. You can’t make this shit up. Share my video far and wide:


  1. As if this wasn’t enough. No white racist will bully Sis Zindzi and get away with it. Not on our watch If there’s anyone to win this fight it is us, the African people of SA. The land is ours and will be expropriated without compensation The land thieves mustn’t bore us. Enough


  1. How are the Van Zyls different from the Guptas in as far as State Capture is consent? [20 Marks] NB: The Van Zyls are one of the most notorious Land thieves in the Country


  1. “I’m not Zuma fan but….” Each time a sentence starts like that, you must know that reality has hit home and a native is fast realizing that he/was played by land thieves to hate @PresJGZuma for nothing. Mr Zuma remains the only President of Native Africans in South Africa.


While tweets 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, and 10 reinforce the narrative that South African whites are land thieves, tweets 5 and 7 oppose this narrative. The current study does not differentiate between tweets that are supportive or unsupportive of the narrative that whites are land thieves, because the goal is to determine the extent to which this narrative has taken hold and even tweets that deny this narrative acknowledge its existence. In other words, a user that claims that he is not a land thief admits to the existence of the narrative just as much as a user that accuses others of being land thieves. Future studies could however classify tweets as supportive of this narrative or not. Nevertheless, the examples in Table 4 show that tweets are overwhelmingly supportive of the narrative that whites are land thieves.

While the most retweeted tweets show how Twitter is used to reinforce and promote the narrative that whites are land thieves, even by an official account of the EFF, numerous other tweets phrase the issue in stronger terms that could be classified as hate speech with the abovementioned definition by Oriola and Kotzé (2020:21497). Table 5 provides ten examples of such tweets. The table is again sorted from oldest to newest tweet, and tweets are again reproduced verbatim.

Table 5 Ten examples of strongly-worded tweets




  1. Rapists, murders, land thieves, devils, Satan’s, racists, blue green eyes, connivers etc arrived in this ships, Dromedaries, Goede hoop and Heldekruin


  1. As a child of land thieves and a direct beneficiary of apartheid, you have a right to shut your white whole and continue benefiting in the name of our forefathers bloodshed


  1. Christians like this one are plain stupid bcs they take everything in the Bible they did not write as a gospel truth irrespective of what they know from our history that this Christianity shit was used to brainwash us by land thieves and invaders of our land.


  1. Actually the only reason SAA should fly to Britain is extradition of White Land Thieves back home, Afrika would be helping the Brixit call


  1. Is this how we going to get the land back. Dead land thieves tend to leave the stolen land with their elderly desperate widows😂🤣😂


  1. The Sun burning the hell of pinkish remnant of land thieves 😩😩😩


  1. Whether you like or not, we getting our land back. Land thieves nearthendals are emboldened by the useless constitution. The enemy of Africans, Asians, Arabs, Latinos, Native Indians is nearthendals aka the devil(pale people).


  1. And that’s all that surprises you. I agree they should have.. with the intended passengers inside.. Actually I wish it was 1652 not 1952 and they burnt those ships carrying scurvy infested land thieves and rapists… then we would not have you tweeting crap.


  1. Voetsek bloody filthy pinkish PIG…Land Thieves


  1. No worries. UKZN students who have been given a life line by #Duduzane who is hated by White Land Thieves for being Black #Zuma. From now please don’t allow Van Riebeeck Descendants who arrived, raped n Killed blacks for their land to Tell u who u should like or hate RT @user: user Can Duduzane speak Zulu?

These tweets show a more overtly hostile attitude towards whites than the examples in Table 4: calling whites “devils” (Tweets 1 and 7), denying them a right to voice an opinion (Tweet 2 and 10), attacking Christianity (Tweet 3), asking for whites’ deportation (Tweet 4), threatening to kill white farmers and implying a worse fate for their widows (Tweet 5, and note the laughing emoticons), and calling whites other names such as “pink” (Tweet 6 and 9) and “Neanderthals” (Tweet 7) (while the user had difficulty spelling this word, I assume he/she meant “Neanderthals”). Indeed, while Tweet 1 refers to whites as “devils”, Tweet 7 calls whites “the devil” (emphasis added). Note also how Tweet 7 expands the vilification of whites to include all whites globally: Tweet 1 in Table 3 showed a similar attitude, and indeed the occurrence of the bigram land thieves with reference to many countries shows an association between South African and American whites, as well as with Israelis.

Also note the use of the term racists (Tweet 1): this term has become synonymous with whites and serves a similar function as rapists by depicting whites as evil. In addition, the use of rapists when describing land thieves (Tweets 1, 8 and 10) is particularly noteworthy; 662 of these tweets (4,9% of tweets referring to South Africa) explicitly mention that whites are considered to be rapists, and bear in mind that Zindzi Mandela’s abovementioned controversial tweets also call land thieves “rapists.”2 Table 6 provides ten additional examples of South African tweets that claim that land thieves are rapists.

Table 6 Ten examples of South African tweets that call “land thieves” rapists




  1. Khabazela you have no obligation to be responding to these land thieves, rapists, killers, liars etc. John 10:10 KJV — The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: It’s a useless exercise.


  1. Who stole VBS money? Now we are dealing with land thieves. We are taking back stolen land by murderers and rapists, using the powerful freedom charter. And you were part of the system that stole our land which makes you guilty of the fore mentioned things. Bloody thief


  1. Unrepentant people must not be celebrated. Proud, racists, land thieves, rapists and killers cannot be celebrated eventhough they developed where they were living


  1. If this is you line of argument, then it goes without saying that ALL WHITE SETTLERS here in SA are land thieves, murderers, rapist… for what their forefathers did…


  1. Never ever in my life I will do that… Just ask yourself about the offsprings of the rapist Jan Van Riebeeck like @user who has been in Africa from birth but he is still unable to read or write any African language. What does that tells you, wow these land thieves are filthy


  1. Ag you 😡what’s worse evil than what you did you murderers, rapists, land thieves and mineral looters? RT @user: @user DF Malan,HF Verwoerd,BJ Vorster, PW Botha were evil but pale in comparison with T Mbeki, Zuma.Stealing from poor, way worse.


  1. A product of land thieves, rapists and murderers is talking about a “credibility gap”…Wow!!!


  1. I ain’t got time for colonizers, land thieves, invaders, rapists like yourself


  1. No, it’s Apartheid Sympathisers like you who, refuse to acknowledge nor even admit the damage done by the apartheid system… Ofcoz u’r still a beneficiary of that system, so why would u…. Murderous, rapists and land thieves. Would never wanna admit to such crimes


  1. Look at the descendant of land thieves, mass murderers and serial rapists threatening a Black man while he hides behind a keyboard. You’d never say that to his face, coward. 🤫

Various topics are framed within the discourse on the land issue, even though these topics may initially seem unrelated to it. For instance, on Women’s Day (9 August 2019), a user tweeted, “While many people celebrate Women’s Day, we celebrate the Land of our forefathers that we fought for and took from white racist settlers. Happy LAND day to all those who contributed to the fight for the return of our land from the Land thieves.” Note again how the user calls whites racists. On 16 December 2019, another user tweeted, “On this day settlers celebrated their victory kwimpi yase Ncoma (The battle of blood river) more than 3000 of King Dingane loyal soldiers we slaughtered by gun wielding land thieves…..qubekani celebrate with them.” Another user reacts to an advertisement for a company in the following way (the company’s name and number were redacted for ethical reasons),

WOW u really make me laugh after the stress I get fro this land thieves,This is a joke of the year I believe? RT @user: We eat leftovers including alcohol at the weddings, burials, Baby Showers, and birthday parties. If you need us, please contact [number]. [company name]. Thanks! TandC’s apply.

With Covid-19 resulting in the lockdown of many countries worldwide in March 2020, the epidemic was also framed within the discourse on land thieves. Table 7 provides some examples of tweets referring to South Africa that frame the land issue in a Covid-19 context. The table is again sorted from oldest to newest tweet. One username is included in Table 7 (see below).

Table 7 Ten examples of South African tweets framing the land issue in the context of Covid-19




  1. Modimo o mogolo, this virus is for the Land Thieves.


  1. Dear Ancestors Thank you for sparing us from this evil virus. We appreciate that the land thieves are suffering from their evil deeds. We are very thankful to the rivers and mountains which they have fenced off. Die bo fuckingi


  1. Corona virus must visit all SA land thieves. I think “stolen land expropriation with zero cents shall be easy.


  1. Land thieves brought COVID19 in our beautiful Azania ,may the good ancestors wipe them all with this corona virus,so that will retain our land with less energy


  1. Africans are at work while the land thieves are busy buying everything of the shelves , while its them who bought this virus from their European homes


  1. @ZaneleLwana: Any black person affected by the deliberate spread of Corona Virus I wish for you speedy recovery and strength to those you know who have been hit by this pandemic. As for land thieves the message is clear really, I don’t really care. For so long the poor pays for your selfishness.


  1. The open border policy is all about Africans States not European thugs like Italians who will just enter African territory just to spread Corona Virus undetected like now.. Remember Corona Virus was brought in Africa by you Land Thieves


  1. EFF STUDENT COMMAND STATEMENT ON THE COMMEMORATION OF HUMANS RIGHT AMIDST COVID19 OUTBREAK. 21 March 2020. The COVID19 outbreak reminds us of the parasitic condition African people were subjected to because of foreign land thieves.


  1. We will die with the pinks. None is immune, no land thieves, or pink monopoly racist capitalist has a better chance. We are all the same now. Actually for now it seems worse for the pinks infact. RT @user: It gives me comfort to know that even though this virus was created by the evil white race to attack other races, they themselves are not immune to it. And we will die with as many of them this time unlike their HIV that could only spread through sex mainly. #CoronaVirusUpdate


  1. The defenders of land thieves RT @News24: Coronavirus in SA: ACDP’s #KennethMeshoe and #SteveSwart test positive

Note how these tweets echo the sentiments around Driehoek High School in that the users often rejoice in the suffering of others (Tweets 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9). Refer however to Tweet 5 in Table 2 above, which shows that the phenomenon is not confined to the South African discourse and others also rejoice in the suffering of Israelis during this epidemic. Tweets 4, 5, and 7 blame the epidemic on white land thieves, while Tweet 9 again calls whites pinks and racists, as highlighted in Table 5 as well. While usernames for most of these tweets are not included in the above table for ethical reasons, it should also be noted that Tweet 6 was posted by Zanele Lwana, the Deputy President of BLF, and Tweet 8 is from an official EFF account. In the case of Tweet 6, the indifference towards whites is explicit, while the reader should note the statement in Tweet 8 that refers to the “parasitic” relationship between “land thieves” and “African peoples”.

The above examples show a clear demonization of white South Africans as racists, rapists, land thieves, and devils. With 13 504 tweets (including retweets) and 7 333 users involved in this discourse, and a subset of 662 tweets calling whites rapists, the issue is far from insignificant. Add to that the fact that some of these tweets are official political party communications by the EFF and BLF, and that the South African ambassador to Denmark, Zindzi Mandela, tweeted the same content, it is clear that this topic warrants further study and political action, as discussed in the following section.

Limitations and future avenues of research

This article constitutes a first exploration of a dataset of tweets mentioning land thieves, and a number of limitations should be noted.

No attempt was made here to classify tweets as hate speech. Future studies could investigate the extent to which hate speech occurs and use the current dataset along with e.g. the method proposed by Oriola and Kotzé (2020) to evaluate the extent of hate speech around this topic. The author will make the dataset available upon enquiry.

Secondly, the current study only analysed tweets over a relatively short period (288 days), and future studies could investigate the use of land thieves over a longer period. It would for instance be informative to compare the number of tweets mentioning land thieves to the timeline of the Bell Pottinger campaign, which used social media to promote a discourse around “white monopoly capital” in order to divert attention away from the investigation into state capture by Jacob Zuma and the Guptas (The African Network of Centers for Investigative Reporting, 2017). Given the earlier-stated connection between Zuma, Bell Pottinger, the Guptas and BLF, my hypothesis is that the bigram land thieves became more prominent in 2016 during the Bell Pottinger campaign. A future study could investigate whether this is the case.

The current study is also not a comprehensive study of hate speech in South Africa. Future studies could investigate the occurrence of the term 1652s and the terms listed in Ferroggiaro (2019).

While this study started as an exploration of inflammatory speech towards whites in South Africa, one of the interesting findings has been that the same bigram used to vilify whites is used for anti-Semitic speech. Future studies could investigate the anti-Semitic component of this discourse.

Furthermore, no study of hate speech in South Africa aids in avoiding conflict or bettering race relations as long as the ANC-led South African government lacks the political will to prosecute black perpetrators. The report by Brink and Mulder (2017), along with the fact that many statements mentioned in the current study, including tweets considered here, are made by leaders of black political parties (such as the EFF and BLF), create a sense that only white perpetrators are prosecuted, while black perpetrators are condoned. Although Zindzi Mandela’s tweets fall outside the time period considered here, her tweets are evidently typical of tweets around land thieves, e.g. by referring to land thieves as rapists. No action was taken against her, despite the fact that she is a serving ambassador and hence a high-ranking public official with authority and a large number of followers. As one user tweeted in the current study (tweet posted on 2019-06-30),

Just hang on a sec. So it’s OK for blacks to call me and my ancestors rapists and land thieves but I go to jail if I call them a kafir. Are they for real. What a bunch of snowflakes. No wonder they spend their lives suffering and murdering and raping each other. RT @user: And yet racist chants and anti white threats go unpunished in SA. If you are white and say a naughty word…you will end up in jail. It’s ludicrous!

This perception that the law applies differently to people of different races is phrased explicitly in the official Shimla Park report (Van der Westhuizen, et al., 2016:76), which investigated the racial tensions at the University of the Free State in February 2016,

In the Panel’s view the remarks about “white bastards”, as well as “racism” and “racists” (like Penny Sparrow and Gareth Cliff) that must “literally fall” and go to the “grave”, do not amount to hate speech, or constitutionally unprotected speech in terms of section 16 of the Constitution. It might of course well be hate speech if a white person makes the same remarks about black people, given South Africa’s apartheid history. Given the context of the remarks, the anger is understandable and the figurative meaning is clear.

Unless political pressure is applied on the ANC, SAHRC and the South African courts to apply the law consistently, studies of hate speech in South Africa will achieve very little.


This study explored a large Twitter dataset collected using the bigram land thieves. It was shown that the occurrence of this bigram is not limited to South Africa, although around 75% of global tweets refer to South Africa. It was also shown how, in addition to calling white South Africans land thieves, they are also frequently called rapists and other derogatory epithets. In addition, it was also shown how various topics become framed in the discourse on land thieves, such as the Covid-19 epidemic. Various suggestions were also made for future research.

The most disconcerting issue highlighted in the current study is the level of vilification directed towards South African whites by black political parties and high-ranking public officials, as well as by their supporters, and the fact that such vilification goes unpunished by the South African authorities. In the wake of Nazi propaganda against the Jews prior to and during World War II, it should be seen as a clear red light when a majority uses its power to vilify a minority.


1 Own translation from the original Afrikaans, “As enige iemand in Suid Afrika dink dat hulle die grond kan onteien sonder vergoeding, leef hulle in ‘n droom. Laat ek dit volmondig stel, as jy ’n burgeroorlog in Suid-Afrika wil begin, doen dit. Doen dit.”

2 This phenomenon is not limited to the South African discourse. With reference to the United States, one tweet (posted on 2020-02-13) reads, “#Breaking #NewConstitution every single “Founding Father” was a human rights criminal abductors and rapists of women; human traffickers; murderers; land thieves their words of “democracy” were a joke it needs to be replaced by the enlightened youth of today.”


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

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).

Ensovoort volume 37(2017), number 3:1


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.


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).


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).


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.


  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

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).


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.


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.


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