This film is held by the BFI (ID: 59085).


The Jamboree - Lord Roallen attends international janboree in Salisbury.

Nyasaland Back to Normal - after emergency March 1959.

Round the Federation - Barobe chief knighted, manufacture's fair Kitwe agricultural show.

Operation Noah - Kariba Dam progress report.



Historian Ronald Hyam argues that ‘if one had to choose a single fateful date which signalled the moral end of the British Empire in Africa it would be 3 March 1959’. On this day, eleven Africans were killed (and a further 20 were seriously injured) at Hola Camp, a ‘rehabilitation’ centre for Mau Mau detainees in East Africa, ‘as a result of beatings administered to force them to work on an irrigation scheme’. It was also the day on which Dr Hastings Banda, the president of the Nyasaland Congress Party, was arrested at home (in his pyjamas) and flown to Southern Rhodesia with 72 fellow detainees as part of ‘Operation Sunrise’. At Nkata Bay, 20 Africans demonstrating against their arrests were shot dead. The Government declared a State of Emergency and further deaths would follow over the next few days (Hyam, 2006, 263).

The title of the second item within this edition of Rhodesian Spotlight is ‘Nyasaland back to Normal’ (the previous issue had an item entitled ‘Back to Normal in Nyasaland – after “small crisis”’). In reality, there was no return to ‘normal’ and this Emergency and the Government’s actions in March 1959 would prove to be contributing factors in the demise of the Federation and in the rapid moves towards decolonisation across the region. Indeed, while Nyasaland’s Governor, Robert Armitage, claimed that ‘we seem to have been getting back to normal by early April’, he nonetheless acknowledged that ‘I cannot report that there is any less anti-Federation feeling’ (Armitage, cited in Baker, 1997, 69).

By July 1959, Sir Patrick Devlin published his report into the disturbances. Widely read as a condemnation of the Government’s actions, the report stated on its first page that ‘Nyasaland has become, doubtless only temporarily, a police state… where it is unwise to express any but the most restrained criticism of government policy’ (Elkins, 2007, 351). In commenting on this phrase (‘police state’), historian John Darwin concluded that ‘no colonial government in living memory had been so savagely criticised by an official enquiry’ (Simpson, 2002, 18). The report repeatedly questioned whether it was appropriate for a British administration to act within the colonies in a manner that would be deemed wholly unacceptable within Britain. While, as Brian Simpson shows, much critical content was removed from the original report, the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan was incensed by the published report, which he described as ‘dynamite’. He dismissed Devlin as an Irishman ‘with that Fenian blood that makes Irishmen anti-Government on principle’. His Government launched a counter-attack, linking the situation in Nyasaland with the Mau Mau ‘and possibly with the Indian mutiny’ and hastily commissioned a rival ‘Armitage report’ (Simpson, 2002, 46; Hyam, 2006, 264). The link with Mau Mau, while used to justify government action and to exacerbate popular fears, was pertinent in at least one respect. The Devlin report was released at the exact same moment as a report on the Hola Camp. Historian Caroline Elkins in her critique of the British within Kenya argued that the debates over these reports in the House of Commons served as a ‘referendum’ on Britain’s colonial missions and showed that ‘it was becoming abundantly clear that there was blood on the hands of Britain’s so-called civilizers in other parts of the continent as well’ (Elkins, 2007, 351).

The newsreel refers to ‘the rioters’, ‘the agitators’ and talks of ‘wild ideologies’. Devlin saw the conflict instead as a clash between the Colonial Government and Congress. ‘Congress behaved as if Nyasaland was capable of functioning as a Democracy in the fullest sense’, he wrote, ‘and that Government was holding things back. The Government on the other hand became increasingly intolerant of any opposition on western and democratic lines because it considered it tantamount to the setting up of a rival authority’ (Simpson, 2002, 20). This ‘conflict’ was exacerbated on 25 January 1959 when the Congress Party proposed a ‘policy of non-cooperation and resistance to authority’. The colonial government responded to what it saw as a violent threat (subsequently referred to in incendiary terms as the ‘murder plot’) by declaring a State of Emergency and detaining members of Congress on 3 March.

Rhodesian Spotlight was produced for white audiences within the Federation. Geoffrey Mangin, one of the members of the Central African Film Unit who worked on the newsreel, explained that the 8-minute 35mm ‘magazine-type’ newsreel was shown every three weeks in the supporting programme before the main feature in public cinemas. ‘The powers-that-be were keen to show how federation was progressing, so we were assigned to film stories of new developments, traditional gatherings, sporting activities, visiting VIPs and so on. I found it rewarding’, he continued, ‘operating from a privileged viewpoint at historic occasions in a fast developing country’ (Mangin, 1998, 32). The newsreels were staunchly pro-Federation, endorsing government policy throughout. For the most part, they avoided overtly political subjects, with mentions of unrest within the region extremely rare. 



While Rhodesian Spotlight No. 87 does contain an item on the Emergency and ‘disturbances’ in Nyasaland, its representation of these events is intended to dismiss them as brief incidents instigated by a minority of ‘agitators’ and certainly not as a broader threat to the Federation or to British rule. First, the item is entitled ‘Nyasaland back to normal’, and as in the previous issue, the newsreel defiantly claims that the problems have been resolved (the situation is only discussed on film once Nyasaland has returned to ‘normal’). Second, the film offers no consideration of the background to these events, or the motivations behind the unrest, talking merely of ‘wild ideologies’. The film completely avoids discussing the ‘disturbances’ in political terms (or as anti-colonial). It rather talks of ‘mob madness’ and emphasises that the rioters attacked those that ‘do most for the Africans’ as it shows missions, vets and agricultural officers threatened. This, then, is presented as an attack on British development, progress and social welfare. An attack that the commentator suggests was not widely supported (‘the sort of cooperation that prompted many Africans to remain loyal’).

The item should not though be viewed in isolation, and it is significant that once again the major social and political events within the Federation should be so briefly covered and subsumed within items on the scouts, official ceremonies and on conservation work within the area. These surrounding items are important also in contextualising the events presented within ‘Nyasaland back to normal’. The first item on the Jamboree held at Ruwa Park, Salisbury, shows scouts from Tanganyika and Basutoland, each bringing something of ‘its own originality to the Jamboree’. As a metaphor for the Empire, the item shows the scouts from various countries all coming together, emphasising in particular the role of children in preparing for the ‘tasks of tomorrow’ and highlighting ‘what a power for good it [the scouts] has been’.

The item immediately following the footage of the ‘disturbances’ (or at least its aftermath) shows the Paramount Chief of Barotse receiving a knighthood. He is described as ‘one of the greatest Africans of our times’ as the film highlights recognition for African authority and British and African collaboration. The film concludes with yet more footage of Operation Noah, which was extensively covered by the Central African Film Unit both for its newsreel and on lengthier releases (for example, Bring Forth Every Living Thing). Again this message of conservation and, in particular, or rescuing and protecting the local wildlife (rushing off to a ‘new found freedom’) counters the images of destruction shown in the earlier item. It presents the Europeans in paternal terms as moral protectors, looking after those that most need help. On closer inspection, this message sits slightly less comfortably with the ongoing messages of progress littered throughout the newsreel. For example, the first item spoke of Kariba as an example of ‘building for the future’, while the third item illustrates further industrial process. The flooding of the Zambezi valley and the resultant drowning of thousands of animals was a direct result of the construction of the Kariba Dam and the creation of Lake Kariba. The film certainly does not draw a link between the message of ‘progress’ and the destructive scenes shown both in the Nyasaland disturbances and in Operation Noah. Instead the film presents the aftermath of these incidents, depicting British and Government figures, not as causes of the problems, but rather as those left to dutifully clean up the mess. 

Tom Rice (July 2010)


Works Cited

Baker, Colin, State of Emergency: Crisis in Central Africa, Nyasaland 1959-1960 (London: I. B. Tauris, 1997).

Elkins, Caroline, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya (New York: Owl Books, 2005).

Simpson, B., ‘The Devlin Commission (1959): Colonialism, Emergencies, and the Rule of Law’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Volume 2002 22(1), 17-52.



Series Title:

Technical Data


Production Credits

Production Countries:
Central African Federation
Director of Photography
Director of Photography
HAY, Michael
Director of Photography
Director of Photography
Production Company
Central African Film Unit