SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Visual Cultures in South Africa: Past and Present

Module Code:
Module Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Taught in:
Full Year

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

At the end of the course, a student should be able to demonstrate…

  • a sound knowledge of the history of visual cultures (primarily film, but also television, photography, visual art) in South Africa in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries
  • a sound knowledge of how visual cultural products, such as film and photography, have been used – by South African and non-South African artists, and by the audiences of these works – to imagine the country (particularly in terms of race, but also gender and class)
  • a sound knowledge of the history of twentieth and twenty-first century South Africa
  • strong critical and analytical skills in relation to cultural products, and particularly visual and screen-based products
  • strong understanding of current circulating theories in the disciplines relevant to the course, e.g. Cultural Studies, Visual Studies, (South) African Film Studies


This course is taught over 22 weeks with four contact hours a week, two of which are spent in film screenings, the other two being lectures.

Scope and syllabus

This course is available as a option course only on the programmes listed above.  

The course will enhance the options available within the MA African Studies, and within all film-related MA programmes, and could also be made available to students doing courses in History and Politics and other disciplines that have a focus on South Africa. It could also be made available to students doing the MA History of Art. There is a great deal of research and teaching on South Africa at SOAS, but no course dedicated to South African visual culture. Given the country’s history of racial discrimination, the visual as a category for deconstruction holds particular valence; furthermore, the growing interest in the UK in South African film (evidenced by the new Golden Rhino South African Film Festival).

Method of assessment

This course is examined by one 4,000 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 2 (30%); one 5,000 word essay to be submitted on day 1, week 1, term 3 (50%); 10 short (500-1,000) word analyses and/or podcasts (20%).  

Suggested reading

A more comprehensive reading list will be made available to students on this course at the beginning of term.  

  • Balseiro, Isabel and Ntongela Masilela, eds (2003). To Change Reels: Film and Film
    Culture in South Africa. Detroit: Wayne State UP.
  • Bickford-Smith, Vivian and Richard Mendelsohn (2007). Black and White in Colour:
    African History on the Screen. Oxford: James Currey.
  • Bordwell, David and Kristin Thompson, eds (1997). Film Art: An Introduction. Fifth
    Edition. New York: McGraw Hill.
  • Braudy, Leo and Marshall Cohen, eds (2004). Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory
    Readings. Oxford: OUP.
  • Davis, Peter (1996). In Darkest Hollywood: Exploring the jungles of cinema’s South
    Africa. Randburg: Ravan Press.
  • Diawara, Manthia (1992). African Cinema. Indianapolis: Indiana UP.
  • Dovey, Lindiwe (2009). African film and literature: adapting violence to the screen. New
    York: Columbia UP.
  • Maingard, Jacqueline (2007). South African National Cinema. New York: Routledge.
  • McCluskey, Audrey Thomas (2009). The Devil you Dance With: Film Culture in the New
    South Africa. Urbana: Illinois University Press.
  • Ndebele, Njabulo (1994). South African Literature and Culture: Rediscovery of the
    Ordinary. Manchester: Manchester UP.
  • Saks, Lucia (2010). Cinema in a Democratic South Africa: The Race for Representation.
    Bloomington: Indiana UP.
  • Tomaselli, Keyan (2006). Encountering Modernity: Twentieth Century South African
    Cinemas. Rozenberg: UNISA Press.
  • Ukadike, Nwachukwu Frank (2002). Questioning African Cinema: Conversations with
    Filmmakers. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P.
  • Skin (2009)
  • De Voortrekkers (1916) and Siliva the Zulu (1927)
  • Jim Comes to Joburg (1949)
  • Cry, the Beloved Country (1951)
  • Drum (2005)
  • Come Back, Africa (1959)
  • Last Grave at Dimbaza (1974) and Seapoint Days (2008)
  • Cry Freedom (1987)
  • Mapantsula (1988)
  • Invictus (2009)
  • Zulu Love Letter (2004)
  • Fools (1997)
  • Disgrace (2008)
  • Tsotsi (2006)

Steps for the Future films

  • Son of Man (2006)
  • District 9 (2009)
  • Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon (2007)
  • Yizo Yizo television series (2004)
  • Animated films of William Kentridge


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules