Do South African Films and Television Truly Reflect the African Context?

Essay, 2015

7 Pages

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This essay sought to inquire on the assertion which states that “the television and film industries in South Africa have never really reflected the African context”. It is assumed that television has ideological and hegemonic functions which have come to dominate the life styles of the youths on issues of garb styles, melodic tastes and linguistic, thus intimidating and dwindling the long time-honoured local cultures.

In this essay I seek to discuss the positivism and the negativism approach; and to focus on both parts of the dispute after conducting a research through question and answer sittings with media studies practitioners and students and also after going through the writings of postcolonial critics and writers such as Achebe and Wa Thiongo.



A film is a complex form of art or communication. “Television, like any other medium, is a very powerful and pervasive medium of expression, it has ideological and hegemonic functions which tend to dominate the life styles of its viewers especially youths who are vulnerable to its attractively packaged messages” (Tomlison, 1991; Hines, 1999; Mahoso et al, 1999; Keyes, 2000; Malleus, 2001 in Mabika, 2011). The view or the assertion that television and film industries in South Africa have never really reflected the African context is a yes and no at a larger extent in other words, it is true to some extent and not true at a greater extent. This essay pursues to stimulate an in-depth analysis focus on both sides of the dispute; the yes part and the no part in order to attain equilibrium; necessary examples will be given as a way to enhance the exposition of my quarrel.

I strongly agree with the assertion that television and film industries in South Africa have never really reflected the African context; implausibly because South Africa has a vibrant, emergent film industry that is rising in repute and is economical internationally. Local and foreign filmmakers are taking advantage of the country's diverse, unique locations as well as low production costs and favourable exchange rate, which make it cheaper to make a movie here than in Europe or the USA and as such they alter our customs and traditions.

“….. television….. has negative consequences when the messages conveyed are incompatible with local values thus destructive and disruptive to local cultures” (Mabika, 2011) e.g. ‘The Bold and The Beautiful’ which does not reflect the African context, one can simply say it is an expletive on the African traditions because it reflects the views and values of the Americans and there are no African vernaculars which are being mesmerized on its context, such as Zulu, Venda, Shona, Gikuyu, Ndebele etc. This draws from the issue of English as the main mode of communication, even our own local soap operas and dramas do no longer embrace African languages but western ones. “The global spread and acceptance of English as a world lingua-franca poses serious threats to the existence of most indigenous languages in Africa and the world over (Ndhlovu, 2004; Salawu, 2006; Magwa, 2008; Rao, 2009)” Mabika & Salawu(2014, 2391).

This is why postcolonial critics and writers tries by all means to reverse not only the socio-economic imbalances but also the cultural upshot of colonialism for instance, Ngugi wa Thiong’o argues that language is the carrier of culture meaning that if you adopt someone’s language you also adopt their culture e.g. Character like ‘Ndalamo’ in the soap opera, ‘Muvhango’ is perceptibly seen that his sojourn in America changed him he is now a pseudo African with Eurocentric views because he actively adopted their language and passively adopted their culture. This is why Chinua Achebe writes to conscientize his people he writes his fiction to offer corrective viewpoints.


In any developing country television is considered as the major culprit in the marketing of alien cultures which have dominated local knowledge systems (Malleus, 2001). Film and Television are one of the most powerful and hegemonic tools used by those who are in control of the discourses of power such as culture (Devereux, 2007), as such television has the ability to connect its viewers with alien cultures just like in case of the series ‘Nikita’ which is on SABC3, it instils women new westernized roles e.g. it brings feminists who advocates equality between husband and wife which in African context is strictly prohibited, because of this we can say with no doubt that television industry in South Africa is not reflecting African context rather it is distorting it, in African context a man is the head of the house there is no equality like in the western context Africans believes that two coxswains cannot live together in one kraal, you cannot have two CEO’s in one company who will listen to who? In order to bring peace one person should lead this is why Africans decided to have a man as the head of the house; this is how it is socially constructed.

Due to the connectedness of globalization (the amalgamation of local identities with other cultures as affirmed by Chari, 2002), global cultures has penetrated in South Africa through film and television industries, this industry is no longer reflecting the African context as such there are misconceptions that we see on television about our cultures more especially in films, e.g. Africans are portrayed as ritual killers which is not true at a greater extent. Producers reflect the western context for instance in the neighbouring country which is Zimbabwe, the television and film industries have wrought the local content policy which stipulates that at least not less than 75% of the television programming content should consist of local content and material from Africa. This is postulated by the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Service Act, chapter 12, 06 of 2001 (BSA of 2001).

The same also applies to South Africa; The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) echo significances that local television need to replicate and mesmerize the local life know-hows, philosophies, lingoes, aspirations and artistic expressions that are evidently local (ICASA, 2000:4). However this is not followed e.g. soap operas like Isidingo does not really reflect the African context because they do not have a culturalistic element within them in Isidingo they embrace English language and they dress in a modern way they do not really wear traditional clothes even when it is a heritage month they do nothing about it, their recent focus is on Christianity in ‘holy water ministry’ and gold in ‘sibeko gold’, and these two things ‘Christianity’ and ‘gold’ are some of the reasons behind colonialism they played and still play major role in the distraction of African cultures, I believe Isidingo is not reflecting African context

If the South African television and film industries were doing their right duty of reflecting the African context, Africans would have been proud of their cultural heritage but, instead they are in identity crisis because they are imitating western cultures on television due to globalization which is threating the survival of local culture /identity e.g. when looking at television programmes such as Selimathunzi, Top Billing, The Real, Steve Harvey show and Tyra Bank’s show one can tell that they are teaching African women new roles which are western based such as lightening their skin and as a results they do no longer recognise their comings or point of origins. Most of the advertisements that we see on television do not reflect the African context mostly those that portrays partial naked males and females according to African culture is a taboo for children to stare at naked parts of elders (Argyle,1975:158). For example the recent dairy milk advertisement where in a pregnant woman is shown sitting on a bus and inside her the triplets foetus are singing to express their jovial mood since the mother is eating a chocolate, this is wrong according to the African culture it is a curse on African women.

According to the South African Audience Research Foundation , it is estimated that more than 4.9 million South Africans watch the famous soapy Generations every day (SAARF, 2012). In recent years soap operas have begun to incorporate marginalised groups and more realistic storylines, possibly in an effort to boost decreasing ratings. E.g. When Generations first introduced a gay character, viewers made their opinions known and a controversial kiss between two gay male characters caused an outcry among traditionalists and community leaders because this is not a good reflection of African context but is of Western context in Africa a man does not marry another man rather he marries a woman.

(Chari, 2004) argues that the film and television industry can to some extent be a curse because it threatens our culture and it serves as carriers of stereotypes that are penetrating deeply within the cognition of our people e.g. when looking at a film like Gods Must Be crazy and Gods Must Be Fun one can simply affirm that the San people were exposed roughly because they were portrayed as being clumsy in both actions and words. And as such people in other continents could have concluded that Africans are stupid which is not an authentic representation of us at all.

According to the TV Hearings of 1997 etv promised to mirror 45% of local content and 40% of African staff which in total makes it 85% of the television programming content consisting of local content and material from Africa (etv regulatory context, 1997). Yet, these were just empty promises made to get the broadcasting license because when looking at their content they do not really reflect the African context at all they do it partially e.g. Their focus is more on western movies and also their entertainment shows are more into western context.

The media is viewed as a mirror of the society (Wolstein, 1997), this means that whatever that the film and television industry in South Africa presents is a reflection of Africa. Based on this point let us now dwell on the other part of the discussion, which proverbs that film and television industry in South Africa does reflect the African context. What we see on our television sets is a true reflection of us e.g. the complexities and difficulties that we see on the films ‘Sarafina’, ‘Tsotsi’, ‘Skin’, ‘Sometimes in April’ and ‘Zimbabwe’s forgotten children’ are true reflections of us as Africans and our historical issues of state repression, economic exploitation, class distinction and underdevelopment

Film and television industries in South Africa do reflect the African context. Film and television has turned culture into a valuable commodity worthy of conservancy and exhibition (Ripley, 1999). Just as Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1982) and Soyinka (1963) believes that culture is vital in shaping and disclosing how people view themselves. E.g. when looking at a programme like La Familia on SABC2 and the channel African Magic and also the film “Izululami” you can tell that they are really reflecting the African context by embracing African cultures and re-invigorating African values and ideals.

Even though Western content contain messages that ‘encode’ and perhaps even assert the superiority of Western beliefs and values, non-Western cultures do not simply accept the values offered by these programmes as a supernumerary for their own. Rather they just outlook it as amusement (Mizrach, 1998). Implied is that the film and television industry does reflect back our context to us although it often does portray the western context for the sake of diversity e.g. the film ‘Izuluzami’ reflects back the real South Africa’s rural decrepit life, and lots of peasants who are unemployed although in it there are western elements such as kids being independent and leading the family instead of parents doing so.

(Chari, 2002) hypothesizes that “the media can showcase national cultures by promoting local languages. This enhances people’s national pride and their aspirations for development. Film can also provide a platform for various cultures to mix and mingle so as to promote intercultural dialogue. As such people are able to appreciate their differences and respect them”. So the film and television industry does reflect African context e.g. in the film “Themba” they used pure Xhosa and this enhances pride of the native speakers.

The problem with South Africans is the issue of anger towards the western people due to the influence of apartheid. South Africans might be free politically but, they are not free spiritually, this is why Bob Marley Says “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery”. Most of the people who were the victims of apartheid begrudge white people, so whenever they see a programme reflecting the views and values of white people they get angry because of their hatred towards the whites this is why most of the people in South Africa hate the soap opera ‘7 De Laan’ and its ideology as affirmed by South African postcolonial critics.


Like any other medium, film and television are very hegemonic and pervasive mediums of expression. (Keys, 2002). The hegemonic process is assumed to be subtle and seductive, to such an extent in which most audience cannot resist the values embedded in messages and in fact they actively accept them” (McQuail, 2005:31). This essay focused on both lengths although I strongly believe that the film and television industry in SA does not really reflect African context.


Chari, T.J. 2002. Global Media Structures. Harare: ZOU

Fourie, P.J(ed). 2007 . Media studies: Media History, Media and Society, 2nd Ed. USA: Thompson Wadworth

Mabika, M. (2011). Globalisation, Local Content Policy and Youth Culture in Zimbabwe. Germany: VDM Verlag Dr. Muller e. K.

Devereux, E. 2007 in Malleus, R. 2001. Media and Culture. Harare: Zimbabwe Open University

McQuail, D. 2005. Mass Communication Theory. 5th edition. London: Sage

Mizrach, S. 1998. Do Electronic Mass Media have Negative Effects on Indigenous? People? Available at: Date accessed: 20/08/2015

Ngugi. wa Thiong'o, & Ngugi, wa Mirii, 1982 . I Will Marry When I Want. Oxford: Heinemann

Nendauni, L. 2015. An inquiry into how the fragmentation of colonialism unfolds and how African postcolonial critics and writers attempt to reverse the socio-economic imbalances and effects of colonialism. Unpublished B.A degree Literature essay in Media Studies. South Africa: Univen

Seale, C (ed). 2004. Researching Society and Culture. 2nd edition. London: SAGE

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Do South African Films and Television Truly Reflect the African Context?
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mr Lutendo Nendauni (Author), 2015, Do South African Films and Television Truly Reflect the African Context?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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