Foreign Policy Blogs

Amandla: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony (2002)

This documentary focuses on a lesser known yet equally important part of the apartheid history of South Africa: the music it engendered.
Director Lee Hirsch chronicles the time of apartheid from its inception in 1948 to its demise in the 1990s. He does so in part by showing footage of riots and demonstrations but also playing the songs that were being sung at different times in the country.
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“Amandla!” shows how blacks were forced to leave their towns and live in government-created shantytowns outside of urban areas. And Hirsch lets his subjects – many musicians, poets, and activists – to speak or sing from the heart to describe what they went through under apartheid.
In many ways, there is a parallel between black songs in South Africa and the spirituals sung by blacks in slavery-era United States. The songs are a way of communicating, of lamenting, and of shoring up.
When much of the music was banned from the airwaves still the people sang them, proud in their defiance of white-only rule.
The documentary also illuminates the life and execution of musician and activist Vuyisile Mini. Mini wrote a popular song “Beware Verwoerd” which warns the creator of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, that his time will soon be at and end and that blacks will one day rule.


And many of the songs are militant, which is understandable because of the failure to bring about change peacefully. Part of the movie reveals how a new form of dance and song, the toyi-toyi, was integral in showing black power to white soldiers and police officers.
This film provides a snapshot of 50 years’ worth of music that played an enormous role in affecting real change.
“Amandla!” is available to rent.
Fellow blogger Kimberly Curtis says the entire film is legally available on YouTube courtesy of Lionsgate. Here is the link.
Murphy can be reached at: [email protected]



Sean Patrick Murphy

Sean Patrick Murphy is a graduate of Bennington College, where he majored in politics and Latin American literature. He has worked for Current History magazine, Physicians for Human Rights, and Citizens for Global Solutions (formerly the World Federalist Association). He lives outside Philadelphia.

Areas of Focus:
Cinematography; Independent Films; Documentary;