Telling South Africa’s story
Tjovitjo lived up to the hype when it premiered last Sunday. However, for a series based on dance – in this case sePantsula – the first episode had very little to offer with regards to this quintessentially South African style of swaggering footwork. What we were shown were tantalising glimpses of what to expect in forthcoming episodes. And if the explosive nature of the leading character, Mafred (Warren Masemola) is anything to go by, viewers should also expect raw street violence in generous measures.
Violence and dance in sePantsula are not strange bedfellows. In fact, they go hand in hand as the classic film, Mapantsula (1988) so graphically illustrates. The okapi dagger is part of the streetwise sub-culture. The fashion statement in the form of sleek Converse slacks, well-pressed shirts, Dobbs hats and Dickies footwear complete the dapper look. But beneath the veneer of dandyism always lurks the tsotsi instinct for violence.
With roots in the 1950s during the Sophiatown era, the recognition and celebration of sePantsula on the small screen is long overdue. In essence, it is a first for local television and underpins the importance of emphasising a South African heritage and identity by those with the relevant cultural background.
Vincent Moloi fits the bill perfectly. The Soweto-born producer and director has achieved an enviable reputation as a hard-working filmmaker who is dedicated to chronicling neglected South African stories that deserve a hearing around the proverbial fireplace.
Against the background of a bleak ghetto landscape that speaks of poverty and violence, the series showcases real-life sePantsula dancers who employ the art of choreography as a nonverbal language to narrate their experiences in a dangerous world where dreams for a decent future can be easily dashed by the lure of drugs and crime. It took the dedicated filmmaker a number of years to select some of the best dancers during a painstaking casting process. The dancers were, in turn, trained to act while the actors were trained to dance.
Moloi also organised a series of workshops facilitated by industry professionals to inspire the young dancers into becoming all-round performers. Although there were virtually no speaking roles in the first episode for the dancers, their genuine performances indicate that South African viewers have a gem of a production in this one. Masemola’s versatility and prodigious talents on stage and screen are well-documented. He seems tailor-made for this intriguing role of Tjovitjo’s antihero precisely, because he is blessed with an uncanny ability to become his characters.
Tjovitjo airs on SABC1 on Sundays at 8pm.
Warren Masemola as Mafred, the leading character in Tjovitjo.