JOHANNESBURG — The battle for the hearts and minds of South African soapie lovers has intensified with the entry of newcomers like SABC 1’s feuding families series Uzalo and oldies like Muvhango undergoing drastic storyline changes to increase viewer ratings.
Of major concern is the overkill and obsession by scriptwriters with prison storylines, as every leading character is thrown into jail to rot for their misdemeanours.
In many ways, soapies reflect our way of life, but often become the opium of people addicted to their daily fix of being glued to prime-time television soapie viewing.
Jail scenes reign in almost all local soapie productions and if it is not a lack of creativity on the part of the writers, the motivation is competition to pull off the best prison storylines.
When channel hopping, clicking the remote after 7pm, it seems one is on a nightly visit to Sun City, officially known as the Jo’burg Prison, judging by the extent of the orange overall prison uniforms dominating the screens.
The basic plot is almost similar – the villain must end up incarcerated – but more shocking, perhaps, is the violence characterising the jail scenes in a country that continues to grapple an escalating crime rate.
In SABC 2’s Muvhango, Thate mayor Mulalo (Hangwani Ramakuwela) is shaken when his wife Tebogo (Liteboho Molise) lands in jail even before her trial after being suspected of knocking over her hubby’s mistress with her car.
Inside she is treated like dirt by a hardcore, burly and tattooed female inmate bully who threatens her with violence and in the process she loses her unborn child soon after her release.
Rockville season three on pay-per-view Mzansi Magic is just a few episodes old. However, it seems ages that a pimp named “JB” Bogatsu (Shona Ferguson), the owner of a secret, high-class brothel, has been incarcerated, leaving his wife and daughter destitute.
He finds prison life tough when he is regularly beaten to a pulp during violent confrontations with a rival convict named Gomorrah (Hlomla Dandala).
The jail storyline formula is interesting while it lasts, yet it cannot be sustained forever because it puts the villain characters in unenviable situations of being incarcerated forever!
From its inception, Generations: The Legacy has Lucy (Manaka Ranaka) playing an ex-con and her mannerisms indicate that she is a hardened jailbird. She even goes to an extent of glamourising prison life, declaring she is prepared go back if need be.
The classic is etv’s Scandal!, where almost the whole cast is serving time and the jailbirds include murderer Lucas Nyathi (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube), his son Mangi Nyathi (Kagiso Modupe), his wife Shakira Nyathi (Dawn Matthews), Mjomane (Kamogelo Bareki) and Neo Mokheti (Jerry Mofokeng).
Even top cop Lerumo (Tshepo “Howza” Mosese) goes undercover as a prisoner in order to infiltrate a drug-smuggling ring.
The prison plot is the same because privacy in prison is not at a premium; snoopy convicts are constantly poking in their noses and meddling in others’ affairs.
Also on the free-to-air channel e.tv, Rhythm City’s David Genaro (Jamie Bartlett) is arrested, while inside he hatches a plan to get back his assets from a group of gangsters, of which he later becomes leader.
Mzansi Magic soapie Isibaya has had its fair share of prison scenes and the shenanigans of life under lock and key.
Patriarch underworld taxi boss Samson Ndlovu (Bheki Mkhwane) turns his nemesis Mpiyakhe (Siyabonga Thwala) into a zombie, but is held and languishes in jail for murder. Viewers hooked on his wicked ways are calling for his “release” .
In Zabalaza, also on Mzansi Magic, we see Sponono (Lindiwe Ndlovu), a hardened female criminal spending 10 years in jail for murdering a man who tried to rape her friend Gasta (Baby Cele).
Soapies may be fantasy, but addicts believe they are real because the storylines mirror daily lives, with greed and betrayal the norm.
As South Africa’s soapie landscape gets denser by the day, with new productions constantly hitting the small screen, Uzalo, which debuted on SABC 1 recently, should avoid the prison storyline route at all cost.
– Sunday World