The evils of apartheid, and the pervasiveness of the system, meant that it was a war that required a multi-pronged attack. While the ANC, and other opposition parties, first began their fight with passive resistance, their came a point when a change of tack was required. The work of Umkhonto we Sizwe is relatively well known, but it wasn’t just the taking up of arms that eventually forced the South African government to relent – international pressure in the form of economic sanctions, sport boycotts, and divestment campaigns were also a major factor in bringing the system of apartheid to its knees.

Have You Heard from Johannesburg is a series of documentary films by American director, Connie Field, that looks at the anti-apartheid movement from an international perspective, focusing on the various components of the struggle that were effected from abroad. In a 2010 interview with the New York Times Field talks about the Johannesburg project which consumed more than ten years of her life, offering her perspective on the films:

This was the largest and most globalised human rights struggle of the 20th century, and unique in that what the outside world was asked to do was very strategic……It’s really a model of how people in a country in an oppressive situation can work with people elsewhere to move from racism and colonialism to more democratic societies.

Demonstrations outside the South African Embassy, New York, 17th June 1991
Demonstrations outside the South African Embassy, New York, 17th June 1991

The films, which take their name from the 1970s song, Johannesburg, by Gil Scott-Heron cover nearly five decades, from 1948 when SA implemented its first apartheid laws, to 1990 with the release of Nelson Mandela. While there is no central character, Oliver Tambo features widely across the documentaries, and is a figure about whom Field believes not enough is known or celebrated.

The seven films that make of the ‘Johannesburg’ series were shortened to five episodes for television and broadcast on PBS in America in 2012. Click here to watch some excerpts from this fascinating series of award-winning documentaries.

Images courtesy of and


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