‘Come Back, Africa’ (1959) is an explosive film; a strongly political piece, its show the hardship, joy and pain of township life, otherwise closed to the world by the Apartheid regime’s strict hold. Enriched through Lionel Rogosin’s collaboration with the Drum writers Lewis Nkosi and Bloke Modisane on the script, the film possesses a ‘Kafkan sterility’ (Modisane 1990), and tells the archetypal story of the rural man forced toward the city through hardship and the prospect of a better life, something Modisane speaks of with bitterness in his autobiography Blame Me On History (published in 1963).
This film is exquisitely crafted and structured. The actors may be amateurs but, as Brecht knew, this is not the same as being bad, and there are several terrific performances in Come Back, Africa; performances that are only richer for their volatility. Nkosi and Modisane both appear, as does fellow Drum writer Can Themba. The long shebeen scene, in which only Miriam Makeba’s arrival can end a drunken debate ranging across issues local, national and existential, is among the greatest pieces of cinema I’ve seen.