This film is held by the BFI (ID: 59538).


A travelogue taking the form of a car journey through the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

A car with luggage on its roof passes a sign saying 'Welcome to Bulawayo' as the voiceover emphasises the development of the city 'in the seventy years since the country's first encounter with European civilisation'. After street scenes, showing the statue of Cecil Rhodes, Europeans walk up the Matopo Hills to see Rhodes' grave. Next, we see the Zimbabwe Ruins, which is contrasted with the modern transport links - the Birchenough Bridge - before a visit to the Chimanimani Hills. European tourists enjoy this from a hotel. The car next enters Wankie National park, with the car's journey intercut with shots of wildlife, which the Europeans photograph from their car. Tourists view the Victoria Falls from a hotel, as a local waiter serves drinks. After further shots of the Falls, the film shows the Rhodes-Livingstone museum, then visits the Kafue National Park and its resident wildlife. Travelling through several Northern Rhodesian towns, including Lusaka, the film briefly shows the Copperbelt and then the rivers and lakes of the Northern Province, where locals fish.

The car passes through Kasama, showing waterfalls and then on to Lake Tanganyika and the Kalambo Falls. A European woman - the director's mother - paints a picture at the Kundalila (Cooing Dove) Falls, before the journey heads to the Eastern province. At the Luangwa valley, an African leads a European family through a game park while, on Lake Nyasa, Africans fish and dive into the water. The film shows dhows - that 'once carried savage warriors and miserable slaves, now their passengers are voluntary' - and then Europeans enjoying the beaches. Shots from Monkey Bay and Palm Beach follow, before the car heads to Zomba. From the official buildings, such as Government House, the journey heads to the mountains, showing Mount Mulanje and the 'evergreen tea plantations' at their foot, where locals help to 'provide Nyasaland's most valuable export'. Blantyre is 'the last stopping place for visitors' on their way to Salisbury, and is represented here by crowded market scenes. The car crosses the Zambezi by ferry in Mozambique and reaches Salisbury, where further European hospitality is depicted. In the East Districts, there are the Vumba mountains, where Europeans enjoy 'another holiday destination', and scenic views in Inyanga. Over a shot of two European men riding horses, the voiceover explains that 'our tour' ends here, where Africa 'is seen at her fairest and her best'.



In his memoirs, Filming Emerging Africa, director Geoffrey Mangin noted the popularity of the exotic African travelogue during the 1950s. It was, he suggested, a ‘good way to attract tourists – especially the more moneyed traveller’. Mangin had much experience in this field – dating back to 1946 when he produced Southern Rhodesia: Land of Sunshine in Kodachrome – and harboured ‘dreams of producing outstanding scenic “epics” which would encourage thousands to visit the relevant areas’ (Mangin, 1998, 40). In 1957 he made Border Highlands, a ten-minute film intended to encourage visitors to the Eastern Districts, and after the success of this film, producer Alan Izod asked Mangin to make ‘something more adventurous’. The subsequent production, a 35mm Eastmancolor film intended for worldwide distribution, was Fairest Africa (Mangin, 1998, 42).

Mangin described himself as a ‘kind of travel film explorer’, seeking to locate ‘photogenic scenery in remote parts of Nyasaland and Northern Rhodesia’. Peter Young, the Nyasaland Films Officer, suggested some areas to visit and Mangin proceeded, often with his mother, on his expedition. He explained that in each location he tried to arrange ‘adequate “people action” to imply that the places were accessible to visitors’, persuading ‘the few odd white locals’ to appear as tourists (Mangin, 1998, 42).

The completed film was edited by Denis Coppard, who also added background music, while Vernon Brelsford, ‘an acknowledged expert on the territories’, wrote the commentary for Mervyn Hamilton of the broadcasting service. Mangin’s next film – Pleasure Highway (aka Wish You Were Here) – would adopt a similar form, presenting a journey around the tourist attractions of Southern Rhodesia, although on this occasion the attractions were more explicitly seen through the eyes of a holidaying family (Mangin, 1998, 44). 

Louis Nell, a fellow cameraman at the Central African Film Unit (CAFU) noted that Mangin ‘pioneered the Unit’s 35mm colour travel promotion documentaries’ and stated that Wish You Were Here and Fairest Africa were the ‘first Southern Rhodesian films to obtain cinema release in South Africa and overseas’ (Nell, 1998, 180). Mangin explained that these films, which were mainly distributed by Rank and Columbia Pictures, appeared before the main feature in over 250 cinemas throughout the African subcontinent (Mangin, 1998, 44). The government report for the Federation explained that rights to the film had been sold for commercial distribution, but it was also screened non theatrically, for example at a meeting of the Nyasaland Society (Nyasaland Journal, 1960, 10). In 1958 Fairest Africa won the award for ‘World’s Best Cinema Travel Film of the Year’ at a Brussels festival and was subsequently available to hire in England from the Rhodesia House film lending library (Advisory Commission, 1960, 219). Kinematograph Weekly reviewed this ‘attractive and interesting two-reeler’ in November 1959, concluding that ‘this short with its informative commentary is comprehensive in design and excellent in execution’ (Kinematograph Weekly, 26 November 1959, 18). As late as October 1964, the film played at the Commonwealth Institute Cinema in Kensington, while Mangin received a letter noting that Pleasure Highway – which also played theatrically across America – was playing in local cinemas in Canada (The Times, 19 October 1964, 13). Mangin concluded that these films ‘did much to encourage visitors to Central Africa and placed the territories firmly on the world tourist map’ (Mangin, 1998, 45).

The image of Africa projected on screen did not feature many local Africans, and the explanation for this offered by Mangin indicates some of the racial prejudices and perceptions surrounding ethnographic representations of Africa during this period. Mangin stated that ‘as we could not offer primitive bare-bosomed dancers or colourful ongoing tribal ceremonies’ – in part because the women were, he suggested, ‘unphotogenic’ and wearing tatty dresses provided by missionaries – he had to concentrate instead on the ‘scenery’. Mangin wished to represent the African people in traditional ethnographic terms, but noted additional difficulties in filming locals. The locals were, he claimed, ‘friendly but could not understand English and had little idea what I was doing’, while the women ‘either ran away or grouped together emitting loud shrieks’ (Mangin, 1998, 42, 43). Mangin was, as James Burns noted, a supporter of the Rhodesian Front, and offered in 1962 ‘to assist the regime by secretly providing European and U.S. television networks with footage favourable to the government’, yet his political views were symptomatic of much of white Rhodesian society and his racial assumptions shared by many CAFU filmmakers (Burns, 2002, 73, 74). 



Although much of the CAFU output was intended for African audiences, Fairest Africa was produced for potential white tourists. This is evident from the commentary which directly addresses these potential tourists – for example, Blantyre is introduced as the ‘last stopping place for visitors’ on their way to Salisbury – while the film takes the form of a tourist road trip, following a car with luggage on top to each attraction. 

As a film for potential tourists, the film attempts to illustrate, in particular, the hospitality available and accessibility of these sites for European visitors. As Geoffrey Mangin acknowledged, shots frequently feature Europeans in the foreground – this was also apparent in Land of Sunshine and Border Highways – positioning Europeans within the attractions, and emphasising their suitability for tourists. This is also evident in the commentary, which notes for example that Wankie National Park has ‘thousands of visitors and holidaymakers coming in every year’. Furthermore, the scenic attractions are often filmed from hotels or restaurants, as emphasis is placed on the modern facilities provided. For example, Victoria Falls ‘which tourists from all over the world come to see and admire’ is introduced initially with a shot of a European group enjoying drinks in a nearby hotel, while at the Chimanimani mountains a European couple drink on a balcony. This serves to encourage European tourists, and also endorses a well-established colonial message in which the British ‘civilised’ and ‘developed’ what the film refers to as ‘darkest Africa’.

From the outset, the film celebrates ‘those who pioneered a wild country’ – showing the statue and grave of Rhodes and the Livingstone and Rhodes museum – while the commentator immediately emphasises this European ‘development’ of Africa. ‘Originally the home’, he states, ‘of a savage African king, Bulawayo has in the 70 years since the country’s first encounter with European civilisation, reached a maturity which elsewhere has grown slowly over the centuries’. This ‘development’ is presented both in technological terms – with an emphasis on modern transport and ‘fine modern buildings in the new style’ – and also in moral and social terms, as the commentator remarks that the dhows ‘once carried savage warriors and miserable slaves, now their passengers are voluntary’. However, in promoting, and sanitising, the experience for European tourists within Africa, the film offers little evidence of local African life. Mangin suggested that he did not include shots of the locals as their appearance did not conform to established British notions of ‘the African’. Evidently Mangin wished to incorporate this traditional representation – ‘bare bosomed’ and ‘colourful ongoing tribal ceremonies’ – within what is a very traditional colonial rhetoric of British development.

Fairest Africa certainly assumes greater significance on account of its widespread distribution both in Southern Africa and worldwide. While Mangin claimed that the film ‘did much to encourage visitors to Central Africa’, it also served to endorse, and generate support for, continued British influence within the Federation at a moment of growing social and political unrest.

Tom Rice (January 2009)


Works Cited

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

Great Britain, Advisory Commission on the Review of the Constitution of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (H.M.S.O., 1960).

‘Fairest Africa’, Kinematograph Weekly, 26 November 1959, 18.

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).

Nyasaland Journal, v. 13 ,1960.

The Times, 19 October 1964, 13.




Technical Data

Running Time:
15 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
599 ft

Production Credits

MANGIN, Geoffrey
IZOD, Alan
IZOD, Alan
MANGIN, Geoffrey
cast member
Production Company
Central African Film Unit