Our (im)Perfect Wedding
Last week’s episode of the popular reality TV show mirrored the It questions our values and those of Mzansi Magic
If you ever thought a show that is meant to celebrate love and weddings could leave such a vile taste in most people’s mouths, then you’re one up on me. Since the very first episode, Our Perfect Wedding on the Mzansi Magic TV channel hit the right note. It went on, season after season, to achieve an almost iconic status with its audience. And now the show, because it so perfectly reflects the emotional roller coaster ride that black South Africans experience just before their wedding day, has become an institution we assemble to feast on religiously every Sunday.
We love the outrageously expensive weddings and feel sorry for the bridesmaids when the bride is a Bridezilla.
We comment on the outfits, the food, the relatives, the speeches. We are fully invested in the show. The couple might just as well be part of our family.
But this week’s episode fell from grace, with the show’s producers and the channel feeling the full might of the audience’s anger. Thanks to social media, the outrage spread like wildfire.
As an ardent advocate for authentic local TV content, I’ve always defended the programme against critics who say it promotes a “voyeuristic agenda” or “crass materialism”.
I believe this view is simplistic because it assumes that the participants are mindless subjects too blinded by the prospect of instant fame to make sensible decisions for themselves.
It is a condescending view of people who are capable of making decisions by themselves. They’ve already made a life-changing decision to marry. No one needs saving here.
The couple gets to have their special day watched by millions, while the TV audience can watch great content.
But last week, something went horribly wrong and Mzansi Magic’s golden goose lost its lustre as viewers vented their visceral ire.
The producers, Connect TV, and the channel saw nothing wrong in airing an episode celebrating the love of a couple who met and started dating when the bride was only 14 years old and the man was 28.
In a chilling account of how they met, the man boasted about how, when he worked as a taxi driver, he used to prowl the streets looking for schoolgirls to sleep with.
“I used to target them after school. I called it the school run,” he said as she sheepishly sat next to him. “I used to sleep with three or four a day,” he added.
The bride’s only contribution at this stage was to say: “He used to cheat on me a lot with yellow bones [township slang for light-skinned black people], but I won in the end. He’s now mine.”
“Yeah, even her mum called me over to her house to reprimand me, but I thought who does she think she is? Reprimanding me in her shack when I have my own house.”
So, you might be wondering, this is where the producers yelled cut and walked away, right?
No. Not only did they continue with the shoot right up to the two-day wedding celebrations, but Mzansi Magic aired it and loaded it on Catch Up.
The show had apparently gone through a screening process and was cleared by everyone. It was only after viewers complained on social media that the penny dropped for them.
So what went wrong here? I have two interlinked hypotheses.
One is that Mzansi Magic’s commissioning editors and the show’s producers were insensitive to a South African reality and negligently aired an episode celebrating what is not only illegal, but morally dubious.
The other is that we are all complicit in our silence over older men dating younger, and sometimes even underage, girls. The phenomenon of sugar daddies is so deeply and inherently part of our daily narrative, it has become the new “normal”. Maybe that is why the producers were blind to the glaring truths.
We see it all the time. Tragically, too often. The producers and editors are part of society too. M-Net CEO Yolisa Phahle – who oversees Mzansi Magic – has issued repeated apologies, and rightfully so.
Former Miss South Africa-turned-businesswoman and Connect TV boss Basetsana Kumalo also released a statement promising to review her teams’ internal processes. As they should, urgently.
Creating good content is an art form that draws its inspiration from real-life scenarios and our truths.
Content creators therefore have an enormous responsibility to not only correctly reflect the realities of the society it speaks to, but to also know that they have the power to influence societal behaviours and norms.
So it is incumbent upon us to always have our finger on the pulse of communities and to pay an incredible amount of attention to everything. We don’t exist in isolation from South Africa’s challenges and aspirations.
For example, since 2000, the number of South African teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 dying from Aidsrelated illnesses has tripled.
Every day, we are inundated with headlines of school teachers impregnating their pupils.
Sugar daddies are in high demand as girls and young women covet shiny and pretty things that will make them stand out.
So it is not unusual to see the most expensive cars parked at a university women’s residence or at a girl’s home. Most of us look the other way. Most of us are complicit.
So where do we draw the line? When should a content curator say: “I will not broadcast, publish or distribute that, even if the legal team gives the go-ahead.”
That’s where the brand’s values come into play. What are Mzansi Magic’s values? What is the house of Mzansi Magic built on? This is a conversation far beyond vetting.
This crisis should be an opportunity for Mzansi Magic to have an internal conversation on what it stands for. Most importantly, it will help the channel identify what it should not endorse.
Articulating its brand values, communicating them to every member of staff and holding each other accountable will help it make these tough decisions. So the next time it’s faced with a similar situation, at least someone in the team will say: “Hold on, we’re now normalising statutory rape. This is against our values.” Zwane-Siguqa is head of content at WeChat Africa.
Mzansi Magic is owned by Naspers, which has a stake in WeChat owners Tencent
Bavelile (left) and Fanie Mkhwanazi, who featured on Our Perfect Wedding on Sunday
DECOLONISING THE KISS The infamous kiss that was shared by a couple on a previous episode