This film is held by the BFI (ID: 722878).


Mulenga is hired to do odd jobs in the grounds of a big house. However, another employee deviously tries to spoil Mulenga's chances of holding on to his position. When their employer learns of the plot, the scheming rival is dismissed, and Mulenga is hired in his place.

Mulenga approaches an African man cleaning a car, and asks for work. The man introduces Mulenga to his employer, a white man in shorts and bow tie, who sets Mulenga to work on a series of odd jobs. Mulenga immediately falls over in slapstick fashion, and then takes a hose and goes to water the plants. The other worker, keen to undermine Mulenga, puts his foot over the hose, releasing it as Mulenga holds it up to his face. The worker plays further tricks on Mulenga. First, Mulenga walks straight onto a rake, falling back onto some flowers. Then, as Mulenga attempts to hang up the laundry, his nemesis unties the line and the clothes fall down. Next, his rival removes each item as soon as Mulenga hangs them up. As Mulenga is told off by the wife of his employer, he discovers the missing clothes hidden in the basket of his rival's bicycle. Mulenga now runs after the villain, gaining his revenge, as he sprays him with water, throws a rake on the floor (which the villain obligingly walks over) and finally ties him up in the washing line. Mulenga jumps and celebrates as a policeman handcuffs the villain. His employer returns in his car and congratulates Mulenga. In the final scene, a uniformed Mulenga is now cleaning the car and opening the door for the couple, having assumed his rival's job.



When the Central African Film Unit began film production in September 1948, its first film was a two-reel comedy produced by Louis Nell, entitled Mulenga Goes to Town. Although CAFU would focus predominantly on more informative and instructional films, the creation of Mulenga responded to the oft-quoted liking amongst African audiences for Charlie Chaplin. Mulenga was a ‘born buffoon’, while the film relied on slapstick humour and, as Colonial Cinema noted, ‘visual storytelling’ as ‘the film contains no captions and none is needed’ (Nell, 1998, 104).

Film historian James Burns noted how some audience members complained of the ‘unrealistic and unflattering behaviour of Africans’, objecting to the title character’s clownish behaviour (Burns, 2002, 118). The film, both thematically and stylistically, closely followed the now established conventions for African audiences, outlined by William Sellers, the head of the Colonial Film Unit. Filmmaker Louis Nell noted that the theme of Mulenga Goes to Town – ‘The raw villager who goes to town and comes to grief’ – was widely used, ‘either to enlighten newcomers visiting towns or to discourage them from going’ (Nell, 1998, 104). Mulenga Gets a Job also works within a clear moral framework and, in its editing and shot-repetition, caters for the perceived requirements of African audiences. Burns noted that on viewing the first Mulenga title, white audiences ‘assumed that the plodding pace and simple techniques were appropriate for African audiences’ (Burns, 2002, 119).

The CAFU films were, for the most part, silent. While this encouraged ‘visual storytelling’, they were usually accompanied by a commentary spoken in the appropriate vernacular. This was often fraught with problems, as the scripts were poorly translated, or commentators, with no script to work from, found themselves making up their own story (Burns, 2002, 109-111). Geoffrey Mangin, a member of the CAFU, noted that the commentary was often performed by Gideon Naminesuh, a veteran among the Unit’s African staff, who would deliver it in different dialects at each mobile cinema screening (Mangin, 1998, 25).

The success and popularity of Mulenga Goes to Town led to further productions in the series, including Mulenga Wins a Bride, Mulenga’s Unlucky Day and Mulenga Gets a Job. Mulenga Gets a Job was directed by Stephen Peet, who as director–cameraman headed a field unit working from Salisbury (Louis Nell was in charge of the other unit, based at Lusaka). Peet was a Quaker and specialised in films showing ‘social uplift’. While Peet was, Burns acknowledges, a ‘more progressive and thoughtful colonial civil servant than most’, his ‘work embraced the same themes as those of his colleagues, and all championed the colonial hierarchy’ (Burns, 2002, 71, 73). Peet worked for CAFU for six years, and would later become an acclaimed maker of BBC television documentaries, particularly associated with the long-running oral history series Yesterday’s Witness.



Mulenga Gets a Job illustrates the specific filmic requirements that European filmmakers and, in particular, the CAFU, deemed necessary for African audiences. Embracing slapstick (Mulenga falls over almost immediately) and visual comedy (without the need for subtitles or complicated commentary), Mulenga Gets a Job contains few characters and little extraneous activity within the frame. Furthermore, while the film uses multiple cuts, the editing technique harks back to the earliest days of filmmaking, directing the audience between images. For example, in the scene in which Mulenga gets sprayed by the hose, Stephen Peet first presents a shot of the hose, followed by a shot of the villain placing his foot on it. The film then shows Mulenga looking at the hose, followed by a shot of the man releasing his foot, and finally in the next shot, we see the water spraying Mulenga. While the film may use close-ups and more cuts than was often deemed suitable – as opposed to filming the scene in a longer single shot featuring both characters – it also shows an attempt to ‘educate’ the African audiences in narrative techniques.

The film presents a clear moral, showing that ‘what goes around comes around’ as the villain is punished, losing his job and getting arrested. In presenting this moral, the film uses repetition, as all of the tricks played on Mulenga are then played on his nemesis. While the film presents an African protagonist, the series received some criticism from African audiences for presenting Mulenga as a ‘born buffoon’. The film’s conclusion does attempt to show his transformation to a valued worker. This is signified, in part, through costume, as Mulenga changes from his initial ripped shirt to a white uniform, smiling in the final shot as he opens the car door for the European couple. However, in showing the transformation and development of Mulenga, the film presents work in the service of a European household as the ultimate aspirational ambition for the African character, as the film’s narrative goal is intertwined with the broader social goal of creating more productive and useful subjects.

Tom Rice (October 2009)


Works Cited

Burns, J. M., Flickering Shadows: Cinema and Identity in Colonial Zimbabwe (Ohio: Ohio University Research in International Studies, 2002).

The Central African Film Unit Catalogue, accessed at the BFI.

‘Central African Film Unit’, Colonial Cinema, September 1949, 27-28.

Mangin, Geoffrey, Filming Emerging Africa: A Pioneer Cinematographer’s Scrapbook – from the 1940s to the 1960s (February 1998).

Nell, Louis, Images of Yesteryear: Film-Making in Central Africa (Harper Collins (Zimbabwe), 1998).

Smyth, Rosaleen, ‘The Central African Film Unit’s Images of Empire, 1948-1963’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, Vol. 3, No.2, 1983, 131-147.




Technical Data


Production Credits

Production Countries:
Camera Operator
PEET, Stephen
PEET, Stephen
IZOD, Alan
BROWN, Denys
Production Company
Central African Film Unit





Production Organisations