Smyth, Rosaleen. “The Central African Film Unit’s Images of Empire, 1948–1963.” Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 3.2 (1983): 131-147.

The Central African Film Unit (CAFU) was a government-sponsored regional film unit serving the three territories of Northern Rhodesia, Southern Rhodesia, and Nyasaland from 1948 until 1963. Originally the primary objective of the CAFU was to make instructional films for African audiences whilst other objectives were the making of tourist and publicity films for overseas, and film for Europeans in Central Africa. However, when the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was established in l 953 the CAFU became part of the Federal Department of Information and the priorities altered; though some instructional films for Africans continued to be made the main concern of the unit now became the making of publicity and propaganda films to popularize the Federation at home and abroad. This article will focus on the instructional films  by the CAFU in as much as they were of a special type designed to get basic concepts about better living across to audiences who were largely illiterate. Three important questions emerge. To what extent did the CAFU filmmakers succeed in contributing to African development? What was the influence of local politics on the unit’s work? Finally, viewing this corpus of instructional films as a record of Central Africa’s colonial past, what images of Empire do they offer?    

Smyth, R. (1983). The development of film in Northern Rhodesia [Unpublished doctoral thesis]. University of London. Download


This work studies the use made of the mass media by the British colonial administration in Northern Rhodesia to put across educational, cultural, and political propaganda to the African population. The initial step was taken after an inquiry into a strike by African miners on the Copperbelt in 1935 publicized the fact that the widespread circulation of ‘subversive’ Watch Tower literature was being facilitated by the lack of secular reading material in simple English and the local languages. The government responded by starting its own newspaper, Mutende, and by sponsoring a committee to produce ‘wholesome’ literature. War hastened the development of government propaganda services. An information office was established in 1939, which used press, radio, and film to disseminate war propaganda. Africans did cooperate in the war effort, but some propaganda had an unsettling effect—talk about Nazi oppression provoked some Africans to reflect on their own lack of freedom.

After the war, the range of government propaganda broadened, with special emphasis being placed on public relations and community development. The period was dominated by the white settlers’ campaign for closer union with Southern Rhodesia. Before the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was established in 1953, broadcasting and some film and literature production had already been organized on a regional basis. At first, the Information Department was unsympathetic to the settlers’ political ambitions, but once the British government had agreed to the Federation proposals, the department began to put out pro-Federal propaganda in an attempt to overcome African hostility to the plan.

Government propaganda services had assisted in the creation of an informed African opinion, but Africans could not be persuaded to accept a federation which was considered inimical to their interests. In the long term, the administration’s educational and cultural propaganda contributed to the socialization of Northern Rhodesian Africans into a Western technological society—with a British bias.