Seeing South African television embracing more nuanced, complex and richer reflections of reality in their approach to storytelling is definitely a relief as someone had to step away from the witchcraft storyline, the rival families who own funeral businesses with dark family secrets, or the Zulu girl who comes to Joburg and loses herself.
Here are 5 shows you definitely must see!
For long, the common critique has targeted the reluctance by South African broadcasters to depart from old tropes of the black experience and give us something new and elevated. You watch How To Get Away With Murder, or Scandal, or The Chi, even Atlanta, and get a sense that Hollywood is moving beyond stale and problematic portrayals of blackness.
It’s not that Hollywood is without its problems when it comes to their relationship with blackness; we know nothing could be further from the truth. It’s that we are seeing a growing commitment to transform storytelling and commissioning over there.
The Republic shuns the limited spectrum of local television to take on the broader political ecosystem that is such a colourful topic for everyday conversations in South Africa. The world through the lenses of a female president is perfectly utopian, yet very current in its treatment of women as more.
The shots from the Union Buildings are appreciated; it gets us out of the same shebeen we kept seeing on the channels.
The drama follows the political worlds of President Lufuno (Florence Masebe), who is kidnapped as part of a filthy ploy to extort hefty funds from the government.
Award winning actor, Warren Masemola, plays a certain Thabang Manaka, a fallen hero trying to make amends for his past mistakes. The show also stars critically acclaimed actress, Masasa Mbangeni, who nails the role of a Bridget Ranaka, who leads the President’s PR team.
The main storyline attempts to mirror contemporary politics and the drama therein. In 2009 when president Kgalema Motlanthe’s term in office ended, he was replaced by President Hendrik Mbuli whose presidency was riddled with corruption and looting of state funds.
Mbuli is fired from government making way for the party’s secretary Lufuno to take the reins as president. We meet President Mulaudzi who has spent two years fighting corruption and prosecuting those who benefitted from Mbuli’s presidency – including Mbuli himself.
WHAT WE LOVE ABOUT THE REPUBLIC
The drone shots are pure luxury, especially when they scale the Union Buildings. It creates a unique atmosphere and feeling that gives off a hint of that ‘current affairs’ texture.
I love that the show is daring, tackling issues that affect every South African on a larger scale, and finds a way to translate them into an entertaining drama that does not exist on the periphery of the conversations being had in every South African household.
We didn’t know Florence Masebe as President is everything we’ve prayed for. Also, Florence Masebe should run for President in real life.
The Showmax original chronicles a gripping tale of two young men who navigate their journey to manhood through traditional rites and the social systems that define codes of masculinity.
Asanda (Lihleli Ntini) and Monwabisi (Oros Mampofu) are burdened by the hooks of patriarchy and old family rifts in this brand new series, currently airing its first season on 1Magic, DStv channel 103.
The 13-part drama series also offers a multi layered reading into the very politicised systems in which deeply rooted systemic racism – and the patriarchy embodied and enacted by the characters – finds a brilliantly written platform.
One episode in, and the legitimacy of Ms Busika’s capabilities comes under fire during a job interview, in which the panel is predominantly white and male, two privileged positions of power that blind them from seeing her relevance at the all boys school.
Despite the toxic resistance, she wants to join this predominantly white school, in which patriarchal hegemony is at its fiercest. She’s also upfront about her intentions to transform the culture in the school, a mission which falls on reluctant ears.
The blowback from the panel is, of course, quite chilling.
The show follows the lives of two boys, Asanda and Monwabisi, whose heated rivalry is rooted in an old strife between their families.
The rivalry, which impact different areas of their lives, including their game on the rugby field, their approach to academics and even dating, threatens to send a gun blazing.
The feud is unlikely to go away anytime soon; there’s a murder conspiracy at the root of the war between the families that almost rules out any possibility of a reconciliation.
What we saw during the season one episode of the show, instead, was a troubling glimpse of a gun going off in Monwabisi ‘s hands, who seems pretty adamant to blow Asanda’s brains on the spot.
WHAT WE LOVE
There’s only one episode out, but there’s no lack of evidence that the writing on the show is good.
The most explosive moments have been delivered with a sense of subtlety that allows the audience to engage with key moments very personally. When Ms Busika faces a panel consisting of mostly white men, many people will know the unspoken tensions instantly.
The cast is refreshingly good. We love the blend of veteran thespians, such as Connie Chiume and Zikhona Sodlaka with younger talent like Oros Mampofu and Lihleli Ntini.
LIVING THE DREAM WITH SOMIZI
Personally, I find Living The Dream with Somizi to be understated in its transformative role in dismantling the hooks of heteronormativity that keep the lives and realities of the LGBTQI+ community ‘othered’ and unknown.
The show is loved mainly because Somizi is so damn entertaining, for one. But this time, there are deeper moments for the culture.
On its fourth season on Mzansi Magic, DStv channel 161, the reality show combines the usual glossy texture with some less than smooth realities that confront Somizi in his journey to marriage.
The media icon and his fiancé, Mohale Motaung, are clearly in love. It shows every time they are on screen and it’s a refreshing sight, one which gives new tools for understanding the unique situations facing a gay couple as they journey to marriage.
What’s really important about this season for me, is the fact that you get to see how marriage really does involve the marrying of the two families, which presents unique challenges where gay couples are involved.
The usual panics and stresses that attend to the organising of weddings look really good on Somizi, who loves everything being over the top. In sharing his life, Somgaga really is unsettling older frameworks of knowing queer relationships.
WHAT WE LOVE
This season features on this list because Somizi embodies the true essence of authenticity. He gets to be entertaining and loved by everyone for his larger than life personality, but he also allows himself to be vulnerable. It’s really such an interesting show to watch right now.
There’s literally nothing not to love about Bonang, who has worked her way to arguably being the country’s most talked about media personality.
As greedy as we can be, she gives us absolutely everything! The chic fashion and glam, the quotables that have come to capture the culture and the T-shirt section of an online store, the theatrics, the globetrotting and lots of champagne, darling!
She’s such a delight to watch and there aren’t many who can dispute that.
Though to be quite honest, I struggled to get into the show when it first started in 2017.
Bonang, in my imagination, had been very elusive. She had that rare enigma that the world’s biggest stars are able to possess while sustaining a crazy amount of interest in their lives. She’d mastered the art of keeping a low profile while capturing headlines, often in absentia. So when I found out she had a reality show coming out, I didn’t know what to think.
The first season came. It was okay. Fun.
We got a glimpse into her world, and what kinds of environments bring about the thriving of the most successful figures in SA pop culture. We got the work ethic that knew no bounds, we got an almost-there document of her then relationship with AKA and the hilarious chronicles of her friendships with Lorna and fave cousin, Pinky Girl.
It’s during season two that I really started to get the whole vibe.This is a fun reality show that follows Bonang Matheba being Bonang Matheba. Nothing more, nothing less.
It’s what you order for a Friday night session with the day ones. There’s a lot to laugh about, enough to celebrate and enough to yank your mind off things. “This season is about money”. she promises.
Where there’s drama, it’s because she’s not finding the perfect dress for the next party she wants to throw.
Where there’s panic it’s because a gown has not been delivered minutes before she takes to stage at a conference attended by noted dignitaries
So when season three finally premiered on 1Magic recently, I’d already been converted into a superfan of the show. This time though, the entrepreneur shows us new levels of her journey as the CEO of her MCC brand, The House of BNG.
She’s managed to parlay the power of her own brand to help the take off of her successful bubbly. Viewers of the show will know that her love for champagne gave birth to many a viral sayings.
WHAT WE LOVE
It’s inspiring. If I had a daughter, I would want her to watch (with me, because I’d have to say something about not drinking champagne and driving etc). Watching Bonang’s growth has been a truly uplifting and rewarding experience. She’s in charge of how she’s presented, and it’s because that image later translates to emerging empires. She makes it make sense, and we are here for all of it.
SURVIVOR SA: ISLAND OF SECRETS
It took me a while to try out the local franchise of this iconic show, simply because I love the main version so much that I couldn’t bear the sight of watching a sad slump. However, after much hype on social media, I finally gave it a go.
… Never regretted it! The 7th season of Survivor SA is literally one of the best things I’ve seen in competitive South African reality television.
The quality, the casting (which could obviously do with some more diversity), and all the machinations that make this show so damn addictive are all in there.
If you like the original Survivor, the local version will certainly interest you. The psychological schemes the contestants deploy to advance their game are just as cold and as cutting. Tribal council is just as interesting (sometimes bizarre, obvs), Nico holds his own as the host and the show, all round is quite exhilarating to watch.
WHAT WE LOVE
We love everything about it that you’d like about Survivor. The occasional blindsides, survival in the tropical locations, the backstabbing and the works. It’s just really good television.