This film is held by the BFI (ID: 21089).


The claims made by South Africa on the protectorates of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland.

The film begins by offering a historical consideration of the three territories. First, Bechuanaland, which is 'mostly desert', and which is represented by shots of local agriculture, bushmen, and women preparing food. Secondly, the 'mountainous' Basutoland, which is represented by the Orange River, the 'primitive bridal paths', weaving and further farming, as the commentator emphasises the need for 'better farming methods and new industries'. Trading stores are shown next (mostly owned by Europeans) and the film then emphasises the role of 'educated Basutos' working for the government as clerks, teachers, doctors, agricultural officers and Police. The commentator states that 'witch doctors still exercise great influence' and suggests that this is a reaction against change and social development. Thirdly, the film shows the Swazis, 'a proud race, loyal to the old tribal ways'. The commentator notes their 'daily struggle for existence' and their reliance on the British: 'their money and energy have played a vital part in developing the country'. The film shows agricultural development schemes, and improvements in health and schooling.

The next section explores the links between the Territories and the Union of South Africa. It notes the economic ties and the transfer of labour into the Union. When showing footage of the mining community, the commentator notes the disruption these moves cause to tribal organisation and family life and states that some miners drift into the 'slums and shacks of the city'. The film then highlights the British efforts within the territories, outlining the model of 'indirect rule'. It acknowledges that 'inevitably difficulties arise', referring to the Seretse Khama case, but concludes that the 'people's loyalty to and faith in the British Crown remains strong'. Finally, the film asks 'On what then is South Africa's claims to the Territories based?' The film briefly reiterates the claims made by Smuts, Hertzog and Malan, but restates that Britain will continue to listen to the views of the local people. 'Surely it is right', the commentator concludes, 'that the wishes of the people themselves should be the overriding consideration in this modern age?'



This Modern Age Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Rank Organization, produced 41 issues of the theatrical magazine film, This Modern Age, between September 1946 and January 1951. British film historian Leo Enticknap notes that more than half of these (22) dealt with foreign affairs and, of these, 8 discussed the ‘forthcoming or putative independence of British Empire colonies and protectorates’ (Enticknap, 2000, 215).

The first of these was Palestine (1947), which Enticknap suggests was a ‘representative example’ as it presented the subject as a ‘filmed debate’ and was also the ‘first to be advertised and marketed in a way that stressed editorial impartiality’. Both the films and the publicity surrounding the release of these imperial subjects emphasised their even-handedness. In describing the series in 1950, the series distributor, GFD (General Film Distributors), wrote that ‘This Modern Age is not biased in any way… their [foreign] difficulties are boldly explained and all possible solutions given a hearing’ (Enticknap, 1999, 127, 131). In October 1950, Today’s Cinema wrote, with reference to The Fight in Malaya, that ‘The only possible fault that can be found with the films of this series dealing with foreign problems is that, in their commendable efforts to tell the unbiased truth, they sometimes lack the urgent dramatic quality that would, from the popular point of view, make such subjects more interesting’ (Enticknap, 1999, 138). Enticknap argued that the films often sought to counteract this problem by utilising other devices, noting as an example the ‘high quality synchronised recording of tribal rituals in “The Future of One Million Africans”’ (Enticknap, 1999, 146).

This Modern Age was distributed in Britain by GFD, and positioned as 20-minute items on a supporting programme. The Future of One Million Africans played on the Gaumont Circuit with Woman on the Run and Wyoming Mail, while it was also available for educational purposes in America through British Information Services (Eyles, 1996, 191).

Although the High Commission Territories of Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland were excluded from the Union when it achieved independence in 1910, Section 151 of the South Africa Act had anticipated their eventual transfer into the Union. The timing of this transfer, and the vagaries of this section, were widely debated over the next forty years, as a succession of South African governments called for their incorporation. This came to a head when Dr D. F. Malan’s Nationalist Government assumed power in 1948. Malan sought the complete removal of imperial control from South Africa and warned at the Commonwealth Conference of 1949 that his government was preparing a petition to the British government for their transfer. He emphasised, in particular, the territories’ economic dependency on South Africa, arguing in February 1950 that no other Commonwealth state would tolerate ‘being compelled to harbour territories, entirely dependent upon her economically and largely also for their defence, but belonging to and governed by another country’ (Spence, 1964, 242). Malan presented this as a slight on South Africa’s Commonwealth status, arguing that South Africa ‘feels herself relegated to the position of a semi-independent and third class country. South Africa feels she has good reason to be impatient’ (The Times, 7 February 1951, 6). Malan’s rhetoric of impatience, led many people, according to South African writer C.J. Driver, to fear that an ‘Anschluss was imminent’ (Driver, 2000, 76).

Given the racial politics of the Nationalist administration, the transfer of the territories assumed greater political significance. The Liberal Party organised a demonstration opposing the proposed transfer in May 1950, at which Lady Violet Bonham Carter, the Vice President of the party, complained ‘We are about to be asked to betray our solemn obligation to the peoples of these territories, and hand them over to what is virtually slave status’ (The Times, 17 May, 1950, 3). Malan’s demands, which would effectively see the extension of his segregationist policies to these territories, challenged Britain’s publicly promoted liberal imperialism and came at a moment when Britain was increasing its expenditure on colonial welfare and development as well as seeking to retain influence and support within its African colonies. However, the British Government was, as a Times editorial acknowledged, in an ‘exceptionally weak position’ after its handling of the Seretse Khama affair (The Times, 15 April 1950, 7). Seretse Khama, the heir to the largest kingdom in Bechuanaland, had married his English secretary, and in deference to outraged white South African sentiment, Britain had exiled the pair in 1951. A suppressed parliamentary report deemed him eminently fit for rule but for his ‘unfortunate marriage’. This, in turn, served to greatly undermine British authority within Bechuanaland, while also generating protests within Britain (Butler, 2002, 96).

Malan continued to argue that the situation with the territories was ‘untenable’, and by 1952 had become an ‘acute’ problem. His successor J.G. Strijdom also demanded their inclusion within the Union, and even as late as 1963 South Africa made one final appeal. However, historian Francis Wilson argued that by the 1960s the South African government welcomed the territories’ impending independence. The territories had become homes for many political refugees and the government feared that they might become bases for operations against the Republic. By excluding the territories from the Union, the government was able to declare these Africans as foreigners and to prevent them from interfering in the country’s internal affairs. The government policy thus shifted in the course of a decade from ‘incorporation to a policy of dispossession’ (Crowder, 1984, 301).



Setting itself apart from most contemporary newsreels and cinemagazines, This Modern Age prided itself on its ‘even-handed’ and sober treatment of major social and political issues. The Future of One Million Africans followed a familiar narrative framework, offering a historical overview of the territories, a consideration of British developments there, and a brief consideration of the South African claims, but ultimately it endorses the claims of the British to the territories. It emphasises the British role from the outset and notes that the chiefs ‘prefer the benevolent remote power’. The lands are presented in largely traditional terms, showing ‘native dances’, witch doctors, ‘primitive’ agricultural methods, and other ethnographic shots of an undeveloped land (the Swazis are ‘apparently happy and certainly picturesque’). The commentary emphasises the ‘undeveloped’ nature of these areas – ‘original bushmen, almost as wild as the game in the Kalahari desert which they hunt with poisoned arrow’ – but then highlights the developments introduced by the British in agriculture, health and education. It notes the money invested by the British government and while acknowledging, in its brief reference to Seretse Khama, that ‘mistakes have been committed’, concludes that ‘much economic and political progress has been made’.

The film presents an idealised image of British administration – ‘The British method, liberal-minded and progressive in purpose is what is called indirect rule’ – and highlights, in particular, the prominent roles assumed by local Africans within the territories, for example as agricultural officers and nurses. This mode of government and its rhetoric of African development is evidently intended to contrast with the South African model. However, there is no direct mention of the racial politics of Malan’s Nationalist Government, of its intentions for the territories, or of the political significance of the dispute.

In concluding, the film confines itself, as Monthly Film Bulletin noted, to the ‘admirable but non-controversial statement that “the wishes of the people must be considered”’ (MFB, 1950, 176). Once again the commentator aligns the British with the ‘wishes of the people’, presenting this as a vindication of Britain’s involvement and as a justification for its continuation. However, the film’s concluding sentiment that ‘surely it is right that the wishes of the people themselves should be the overriding consideration in this modern age’, appears increasingly incongruous when presented within the context of the developing nationalist and anti-British disputes throughout the Empire, most notably in this period in Kenya and Malaya.

Tom Rice (October 2009)


Works Cited

Butler, Lawrence, J., Britain and Empire: Adjusting to a Post-Imperial World (London: I.B. Tauris, 2002).

Driver, C.J., Patrick Duncan: South Africa and Pan-African (Oxford: James Currey Publishers, 2000).

Enticknap, Leo, The Non-Fiction Film in Post-War Britain, unpublished PhD thesis (1999).

Enticknap, Leo, ‘This Modern Age and the British Non-Fiction Film’, British Cinema Past and Present, eds. Justine Ashby and Andrew Higson (London: Routledge, 2000).

Eyles, Allen, Gaumont British Cinemas (Burgess Hill: Cinema Theatre Association, 1996).

‘Future of One Million Africans’, Monthly Film Bulletin, 17:193/203 (1950), 176.

Spence, J. E., British Policy towards the High Commission Territories, The Journal of Modern African Studies, Volume 2:2 (July 1964), 221-246.

‘The Protectorates’, The Times, 15 April 1950, 7.

‘Dr Malan and the Protectorates’, The Times, 3 May 1950, 7.

‘Britain’s Obligations to Protectorates: Liberals Oppose Transfer’, The Times, 17 May 1950, 3.

‘Protectorates in Africa: Dr Malan’s Case for Transfer, Reflection on Status’, The Times, 10 February 1951, 6.

Wilson, Francis, ‘Southern Africa’, in Michael Crowder ed., The Cambridge History of Africa, Volume 8 from 1940-1975 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).



Series Title:

Technical Data

Running Time:
21 minutes
Film Gauge (Format):
16mm Film
1934 ft

Production Credits

Production Countries:
Great Britain
Production Company
This Modern Age Ltd.