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10 Best Documentaries About South Africa To Watch

These documentaries about South Africa show a nation known for its diverse landscapes, complex history, and vibrant culture, and offer unique perspectives on its multifaceted identity.

From the tumultuous era of apartheid to its rich musical heritage and breathtaking wildlife, these documentaries about South Africa shed light on the rich tapestry of South African life and history.


Documentaries About South Africa

Whether you’re interested in political struggles, cultural exploration, or the stunning natural beauty of the country, there’s a documentary about South Africa to suit your interests.


Miracle Rising: South Africa (2013)

This documentary film explores the dramatic and inspirational story of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy. It delves into the historical events and key figures that played a crucial role in this transformation.

It provides an overview of apartheid, a system of racial segregation and discrimination that was enforced by the South African government for decades, leading to widespread oppression and inequality.

It prominently features Nelson Mandela, who was a central figure in the struggle against apartheid. It chronicles his life, imprisonment, and eventual release, as well as his role in negotiations that paved the way for a new, democratic South Africa.

These negotiations ultimately led to the end of apartheid and the establishment of multiracial elections.

It also covers the historic 1994 general elections in South Africa, in which people of all races were allowed to vote for the first time. These elections resulted in Nelson Mandela becoming the country’s first black president.

This is one of the best documentaries about South Africa for the history of apartheid into democracy.

You can Watch the whole documentary on YouTube, although the quality is a bit low. There are options for paid service to watch in good quality if you want.


My Octopus Teacher (2020)

This tells the captivating and intimate story of a filmmaker and naturalist named Craig Foster, who develops a unique and profound bond with an octopus while exploring the underwater world of the kelp forests in South Africa.

Craig Foster, who, feeling burned out and disconnected from his own life, decides to reconnect with nature by free-diving in the kelp forests of False Bay, South Africa. Over the course of several years, he visits the same underwater location and forms a deep and unexpected connection with an octopus.

Through the breathtaking underwater cinematography, viewers get to witness the octopus’s behaviour, intelligence, and remarkable abilities.

On a personal note, this is one of my favourite wildlife documentaries about South Africa, if not the world.

Trailer for My Octopus Teacher:


Nelson Mandela: The Myth and Me (2013)

This documentary features interviews with a wide range of individuals, including activists, politicians, artists, and ordinary citizens. These interviews provide diverse and sometimes conflicting viewpoints on Nelson Mandela, exploring the different ways people perceive him and his legacy.

While Mandela is universally celebrated for his role in ending apartheid and promoting reconciliation in South Africa, the documentary explores the complexities of his legacy.

It delves into questions about whether Mandela’s compromises during negotiations were sufficient and whether the promises of the anti-apartheid struggle have been fully realized.

Clip from the documentary:



Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002)

The documentary highlights how music played a pivotal role in the anti-apartheid movement. It showcases how songs, chants, and rhythms were used to inspire and unite people in their resistance against the oppressive apartheid regime.

Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony explores the role of music in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The title “Amandla” is a Zulu and Xhosa word meaning “power,” often used as a rallying cry during protests.

It features interviews with a wide range of South Africans, including musicians, activists, and ordinary citizens who were part of the struggle. It also includes archival footage of protests, demonstrations, and performances.

Prominent figures like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, and Abdullah Ibrahim are featured, along with lesser-known artists who made significant contributions to the movement.

Trailer:


Viva Mandela! How Music Helped Beat Apartheid (1990)

This documentary also focuses on the role of music in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the international solidarity efforts to end apartheid.

You can watch the whole documentary for free on YouTube:


Miners Shot Down (2014)

This documentary focuses on the Marikana mining strike, which took place at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, South Africa, in 2012. The strike was initiated by miners demanding higher wages and better working conditions.

The strike ultimately led to a violent confrontation between the miners and the South African police.

Miners Shot Down includes interviews with surviving miners, their families, and community members, as well as with labour union leaders and officials. These interviews provide firsthand accounts of the events leading up to the massacre and the tragic consequences that followed.

It critically examines the response of the South African police force to the strike. It includes footage and accounts of the police opening fire on the striking miners, resulting in the deaths of 34 miners and the injury of many others.

The documentary underscores the broader social and political implications of the Marikana massacre, including its impact on labour relations, the reputation of the South African government, and the fight for workers’ rights in the country.

You can watch the full documentary on YouTube:


Long Night’s Journey Into Day (2000)

This focuses on the efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in post-apartheid South Africa. The TRC was established to investigate human rights abuses committed during the era of apartheid and to promote reconciliation among the victims and perpetrators of those abuses.

It provides an in-depth look at the workings of the TRC, which was chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The TRC provided a platform for both victims and perpetrators of apartheid-era violence to come forward, share their stories, and seek amnesty or forgiveness.

The documentary explores the complex process of reconciliation and healing, both on an individual and societal level. It examines the emotional and psychological challenges faced by those who participate in the TRC, including the difficult decisions about whether to grant amnesty to perpetrators.

Trailer:


Plot for Peace (2013)

This documentary explores how Jean-Yves Ollivier, a shrewd and resourceful businessman with connections to various African leaders, helped facilitate secret negotiations and diplomatic efforts that contributed to the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Ollivier acted as a diplomatic intermediary, bridging the gap between conflicting parties in the region.

The documentary uses interviews, archival footage, and reenactments to recount Ollivier’s journey and his efforts to build trust and establish communication channels between different factions, including African leaders, anti-apartheid activists, and representatives of the South African government.

Trailer:


The Last Lions (2011)

You can’t have a list of documentaries about South Africa without at least one wildlife documentary.

This wildlife documentary focuses on the struggles of a lioness named Ma di Tau (“Mother of Lions” in the local Tswana language) as she tries to protect her cubs and ensure their survival in the harsh wilderness of Botswana.

The documentary showcases the challenges and threats that lions face in the modern world, including habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict, and poaching. It also highlights the importance of conservation efforts to save these majestic creatures from the brink of extinction.


The Story of South African Jazz (2009)

Jazz has a rich history in South Africa, and this documentary explores its evolution and the musicians who shaped it.

This is one of the best documentaries about South Africa for those who love jazz.


South Africa

These documentaries about South Africa offer a deeper understanding of this nation’s triumphs, challenges, and the resilience of its people in the face of adversity.

They will give you great insight into the country, which is truly one of the best countries in Africa to visit.

For more on the region take a look at my guides to South Africa.


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