CHOSEN BY SHAAMILA FATAAR
I have a long line up of favourite African series - those told by Africans, those filmed in Africa and those stories that are about Africans that the whole world can love and share. To define just one series that sits at the top of the list is impossible, so it's a bit of a cheat, but I would choose Shaka Zulu as my all-time favourite classic series, Jacob’s Cross for its reach and MTV Shuga for the socially powerful stories that were created throughout the seasons. These titles are all currently available on Showmax and they make for great viewing, but so as not to be too self-serving, I have selected another series which I believe is one the best, of all time, on the African continent. Yizo Yizo.
Back in 1999, writer-directors Teboho Mahlatsi and Angus Gibson challenged all conventions reserved for South African drama series by creating a highly visceral teen drama set in a fictional high school in Daveyton South Africa. The series was a no-holds barred look at violence, bullying, drug abuse, corruption and other matters of serious public discourse at schools in the country.
It grabbed the attention of students. It angered their parents and teachers. And it forced politicians to debate the edutainment value of a series that depicted a brutal prison rape scene and other gory scenes of violence, in a primetime television slot. At a time when social media didn’t exist, Yizo Yizo got South Africans talking about hard truths. And it set the bar high for drama series that would follow.
Yizo Yizo had a fluidity and language all of its own. The language of kwaito music lived and breathed in the land of forgotten youth. It was a brave new voice. And often it had an uncensored filter. But with this new voice came a new cinematic language too that was gritty, dark and traditionally reserved for music videos.
And in this world, seasoned actors like Patrick Ndlovu, as Principal Mthembu, came face to face with a new generation of stars like Ronnie Nyakale, whose Papa Action character has become the quintessential on-screen gangster.
Who can forget the scene in the first episode, when Papa Action forces Bobo to put his head into the toilet bowl while Shakes flushes the excrement all over his face?
Or when Principal Mthembu canes Papa Action shortly after he finds him trying to rape a class mate and Papa Action removes an oKapi knife from his pocket, staring the principle down with the threatening words, “In case I lose my temper”?
Other iconic characters featured in the series include Sophie Ndaba (Teacher Louisa Tlali), Fana Mokoena (Thulas), Ernest Msibi (Chester), Meshack Mavuso, whose character Javas coined the phrase “Ugrand jo? (Are you OK?)”, and the Gunman of the series, Christopher Kubheka, who tragically passed away in 2017.
Yizo Yizo returned for a second and third season, with the music and cast getting amped up. The show featured more kwaito stars than ever before, becoming a vehicle for the fashion, style and culture of this home-grown style of music. And in the cast, the kwaito influence was stronger than ever. The role of Papa Action was taken on by kwaito and rap artist, Bonginkosi Dlamini, aka Zola, while Thembi Seete from Boom Shaka fame also took a lead role.
Yizo Yizo pushed South African series to the extreme and has continued to leave a mark on this cinematic landscape. The influence of this series can be seen in feature films like Tsotsi and Jerusalema, and in iconic on-screen characters like Skroef from iNumber Number.
Should it make a turn to online streaming television, I have no doubt that new audiences will love this series as much as the countless fans who loved it when it first aired almost twenty years ago.
ABOUT SHAAMILA FATAAR
Shaamila Fataar is responsible for original programming at Showmax, where she played a key role in the success of their first original, Tali's Wedding Diary, which had four times as many first-day viewers as season seven of Game of Thrones on the platform.
Before Showmax, she ran her own production company with contracts from Supersport, M-Net Series, GO and KTV, and worked as a programming manager for Ster-Kinekor Theatres; as a supervising producer commissioning lifestyle, actuality and drama series series for KTV's youth channels; and as a freelance producer for the likes of Viacom, Endemol, Ochre and Diprente.
'YIZO YIZO' AWARDS
:: Human Rights Film Network Award: Special Mention, Venice, 2004
:: Second Place: Short Film Category, Festival Cinema Africano Milan, 2003
:: Best Series, Rencontres Internationales de Télévision de Reims, 2002
:: Governor of Tokyo Prize, Japan NHK Awards, 2002
:: Album of the Year, SAMAs, 2002
:: Best International Series, Cinema Tout Ecran, 2001
:: Best TV Programme, Duku Duku Awards, 2001
:: Metro FM Song of The Year (Zola's Ghetto Fabulous), 2002
:: Japan International Prize for Educational TV, 1999
:: Official selection, INPUT, 1999 and 2001
:: Best Drama Series, Avanti Awards, 1999
:: Best Director (Angus Gibson & Teboho Mahlatsi), Avanti Awards, 1999
:: Best Actor: Drama (Meshak Mavuso), Avanti Awards, 1999
:: Best Actress: Drama (Charmaine Mtinta), Avanti Awards, 1999
:: Best Supporting Actor: Drama (Ronnie Nyakale), Avanti Awards, 1999
:: Best Supporting Actress: Drama (Sthandiwe Kgoroge), Avanti Awards, 1999
:: Directors: Andrew Dosunmu, Angus Gibson, Barry Berk, Teboho Mahlatsi
:: Writers: Angus Gibson, Desiree Markgraaff, Harriet Perlman, Teboho Mahlatsi
:: Editor: Catherine Meyburgh, Jeremy Briers, Richard Starkey, Vuyani Sondlo
:: Cinematographer: Dewald Aukema & Rob Malpage
:: Music: Philip Miller
:: Production design: Martha Sibanyoni
:: Meshak Mavuso (Javas)
:: Charmaine Mtinta (Nomsa)
:: Ronnie Nyakale (Papa Action)
:: Sthandiwe Kgoroge (Zoe)
:: Patrick Ndlovu (Principal Mthembu)
:: Sophie Ndaba (Teacher Louisa Tlali)
:: Fana Mokoena (Thulas)
:: Ernest Msibi (Chester)
:: Christopher Kubheka (Gunman)
:: Zola (Papa Action)
:: Thembi Seete (Hazel)