The 1980 film The Gods Must Be Crazy by South African director Jamie Uys is a clever propaganda film disguised as an innocent comedy that’s even suitable for children to watch. It
is what I would call “intellectual racism”. In a way, I would much rather prefer blatant racism because it’s easier to fight. But intellectual racism is immediately denied when it’s confronted. People often don’t understand how a movie like this could be propaganda. They operate under the assumption that only movies like Triumph of the Will are propaganda pieces. The Gods is less obvious, but it is still heavily propagandistic.
Consider that Gods was produced during the oppressive apartheid regime. Already we should be on the lookout for political overtones. When the movie begins, a narrator describes the lives of the “Bushmen” in South Africa. He speaks in a declarative, documentary-style voice. We are shown images of Bushmen, otherwise known as the San people, hunting and finding water in the desert. The film seems to offer evidence supporting the claims of the apartheid governments that the blacks were living decently well and receiving fair treatment. This is all false, so let me explain how this movie is actually a piece of propaganda.
The San have lived as nomads in the past. But in fact at an earlier time in their history, the South African government was in the process of exterminated the San. The notion that some San in the 1980s remained untouched by “civilization” is a cruel joke. The documentary-style narration would have us believe that the San have always been untouched. But especially in the 20 years before Gods was produced the San had been forced to endure all the “benefits” of South Africa’s apartheid policies in Namibia. They were constantly moved around, and forced to live in a small place called “Bushmanland,” which was government-operated, with administrations running everything, even food. They later turned Bushmanland into a game park and moved the San to an arid and poorly-watered corner of it. Ironically, the narrator of the film explains how the Bushmen can find water in almost any climate.
At one point in the movie we see Xi shooting his bow and arrow at a bunch of guerrilla fighters who seem to be led by a Cuban. The metaphor is all too blunt. The guerrillas represent SWAPO (Southwest African People’s Organization) who were Namibian independence fighters at the time. Namibia at this time was still South Africa, and the South African government recruited the San to fight Namibians. In fact the army was the largest employer in Bushmanland during this time. The South African government created animosity between Namibians and the San. To anyone who knows the history of Dutch colonization, the animosity created between San and Namibians is all too reminiscent of the kind between Tutsis and Hutu in Rwanda.
If you read articles from the pro-government South African press, you would know just how racist it was. I can give you examples. “Bushmen are being taught a new way of life by the White man…. More than a thousand Bushmen at Caprivi have already discarded the bow and arrow for the R1 Rifle and their wives are making cotton instead of skin.” That appeared in the Windhoek Advertiser, 1977. This was part of the “education” of the San. They were taught Western skills and how to use rifles. They were told that SWAPO took their daughters and raped them.
The entire basis of the film, that San people in South Africa are doing fine, they have everything they need, and they are happy, etc. is based on a lie. The narrator says the Bushmen are “the most contented people on the earth.” This is a propagandistic message. It lends ideological support to apartheid. The rest of the world sat back and laughed at this film while the South African government oppressed their people. The film won many awards and is still popular to this day. But many people watch it now and still do not get the message.