Telling South Africa’s story

The Sunday Independent - - LIFE TV - SAM MATHE

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.

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