OPINION: TV producers seem bewitched
Soapies and telenovelas have become hits and continue to grow in popularity on South African television screens.
This genre has become so popular that there are many of them available on different channels, from the SABC to commercial stations.
They are so numerous that some of their flighting times clash and leave viewers feeling like mosquitoes in a nudist camp. Which has led to a further innovation by DStv called Catch Up.
Their main attraction stems from the ability to dramatise some of the most mundane subjects. Soapies – also known as drama series – push the envelope so much so that some scenes and episodes make Rip Van Winkle’s story more believable.
However, there is a worrying trend where witchcraft is becoming more and more prominent in dramas featuring black families.
The latest is The Herd, which plays on Mzansi Magic during the prime 8pm Sunday evening slot.
The first episode featured Bhekisizwe Mthethwa (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube) making his wife a sacrificial lamb by slitting her throat so that he could prosper financially.
He was instructed to do this by the village sorcerer MaMngadi (Winnie Ntshaba), who promised him a better future if he was willing to make this serious sacrifice.
The sight of Mthethwa’s wife who is played by Samukele Mkhize – she also features in Isibaya as Mabuyi – lying in a kraal with a slit throat is quite scary. While it only featured in the first episode, it still appears time and again during The Herd’s promos that appear daily on Mzansi Magic.
As we speak, Mthethwa is again being coerced to kill his golden child, daughter Kayise (Sihle Ndaba) so that his cattle farming business can continue booming.
The level of witchcraft in The Herd is closely followed by that of Isibaya, where the resident witchdoctor Sunday Nkabinde (Zweli Msibi) established a thriving business by supposedly giving people massive powers.
There are scenes depicting scary rituals which sometimes involve human sacrifice, babies included.
At some stage he turned lead character – the rich taxi boss Mpiyakhe Zungu (Siyabonga Thwala) – into an umkhovu (zombi).
One drama series that was unequalled when it came to witchcraft was Igazi. It was all about power struggles and took everything to extremes.
It even featured a talking cat.
While theatricality drives such productions, the producers must bear in mind that entertainment and education are also key elements of television productions.
The Herd, Isibaya and the now-defunct Igazi can easily convince people that the only way to riches is through witchcraft.
This is a terrible portrayal of the black community as there are honourable, hard-working individuals who became wealthy the honest way.
There are many black families who made their riches through hard work and proper business practices, not witchcraft, if it even exists.
It was quite disturbing to hear that the director of local entertainment channels at M-Net, Reneilwe Sema, had allegedly said: “Sacrifice is at the heart of many human stories, particularly when looking at the family structure. It’s the man’s responsibility to take care of his loved ones and sometimes the pressure of supporting the family can drive a man to the edges of darkness.
“The Herd is essentially about that, the sacrifices we make for love.”
And then two weeks ago Ntshaba told City Press, on the set of The Herd, that “people might think it’s all play-play, but there are actually people who sacrifice family members for material gain”.
That is a crime and if she knows of people doing so, she should report them to the authorities so they can be dealt with.
Television must not be used to perpetuate the stereotype that, for a black person to be rich, there must always be a dark side.
Besides witchcraft, there is another stereotype being pushed by local productions, that for black families to be well off, they must be involved in some nefarious business.
In The Queen, the two rival families – the Khozas and Mabuzas – are involved in drugs and have never earned an honest living.
In The River, Lindiwe Dlamini (Sindi Dlathu) who plays a diamond-mining mogul, is an evil woman who not only manipulates, but kills people in order to enrich and maintain her lavish and glamorous lifestyle.
This is another misleading feature of soapies and telenovelas, where people get away with murder and on the occasion they get caught, lead posh lives in prison, which is not a true reflection of what really happens inside those institutions.
But that is a subject for another day.
Local television dramas do also tackle crucial and sensitive social issues such as how African families traditionally deal with infertility.
Imbewu: The Seed, currently playing on eTV, is dealing with this subject.
So is Generations: The Legacy.
The latter soapie has – over the years – delved into subjects such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people’s rights, teenage pregnancy, rape and is currently also dabbling in pregnancy through artificial insemination.
Isidingo has also mastered the art of dealing with current and important social issues.