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In its almost 17-year run, Muvhango has grown from a mere 13-part series to holding the enviable spot of South Africa’s second leading soap. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with Duma Ndlovu, the Venda soap’s creator and executive producer, to chat about SABC2 giving it the nod to air five days a week and the change in worlds with new – as well as familiar – faces entering the fray…
FOR years, the media have referred to him as “Duma ka Ndlovu”. And just as I was about to start the interview, the unassuming creator and executive producer had one small request.
“I’m so tired of people calling me ‘Duma ka’ – it is just Duma Ndlovu. I have tried to get them (the media) to change it. Please, could I ask you to do so (when you write the story)?”
Such politeness; how could I not oblige the legendary figure in South African television?
That sorted, we got on with our chat about Muvhango, which will be rolling out its five-day plan as of Friday.
Of course, while the date was officially confirmed last week, the plan has been in the offing since the Venda daily drama celebrated its 15th anniversary last year.
Ndlovu says: “It was a long time coming. We have been asking (for it). Our viewers have been asking. Just do remember, the last few years there has been turbulence at the broadcasting company.
“Luckily, by the time we cele- brated the 15-year anniversary it was announced. This is when we sat down with SABC2 and put pen to paper.”
The Tonight Ndlovu how the additional day affects the writers, production team and cast.
He explains: “When you shoot a four-day soapie, you shoot over 10 months. This now means an addition of about five weeks. Which means our actors are going to be working for a whole year.”
Tracing Muvhango’s earlier footprint, it started as a 13-part series in April 1997. Set in two different worlds – one Jozi, the other Thathe village, in Venda – the storylines and characters resonated so strongly with viewers that the programme was commissioned for a second season.
By the fourth season, it was classified as a soap and aired three days a week, which was later increased to four days.
Ndlovu continues: “About a year ago, we decided to bring in a new family. Initially it was the Mokoenas versus the Mukwevhos. Over time, the Mokoenas took a back seat.
“Now we have the Mojalefas – this rival family is purely from a business perspective. And it has allowed us to create a new space for actors. And to choose our new look. It gave us an opportunity to rebrand the soapie.
“We have been on the same visuals for a while. There has been a rotation of a number of people who have left. Come Friday, people are not going to recognise Muvhango (in a good way, of course). We have a new opening sequence, new music, new establishing shots… It is young, funky.
“I think it is going to be put on a different trajectory altogether.
“I was watching Generations the other day. If someone said: ‘We are giving Generations a run for its money’, I would be convinced, with the new look, that we are.”
Shedding light on the new “pawns” propelling the story arcs, he offers: “Basically, most of the new people anchor the new family. Lerumo Mojalefa (played by John Morapama) is the patriarch. We have his wife Moriti, played by a veteran actress of the old television days – Tshidi Vera.
“We also recast Ranthumeng Mokoena, the husband of Thandaza, because we didn’t want to kill the role. We brought in Brian Themba who, funnily enough, the original Ranthumeng was written for. He was one of the leads in The Lion King. I’m the casting director for it worldwide for Disney. When it was time to shoot (for the soap), his music career seemed like it was taking off so it was not convenient. We ended up casting someone else. And when Themba (Nofemele) walked away from the role, we thought it was the perfect time to bring Brian back.
“Of course, we wanted to shake Thandaza up; when he comes back, there is a woman who claims to be engaged to him.
“Buhle Samuels plays the part of Matshidiso (Mofokeng). Those are the new characters coinciding with the five-days-a-week launch.”
Given his many years in the industry, not to mention his revered status, Ndlovu feels the time has come for him to pass the baton to the younger generation.
In a nutshell: he won’t be as hands-on as he used to be.
He laughs: “People think I’m the Wizard of Oz. Now I’m only involved in the final stages of the team casting.
“I do see myself fading into the horizon. My time came and went. We have an associate producer, Mmamitse Thibedi. She and Tessa Made – they are the future. They are basically running the show and calling the shots.
“We are working with younger directors. All of them are in their thirties. That is the future of South African television. I think people like myself and other executive producers of my generation have overstayed our welcome. There are new kids on the block from Afda (South African School of Motion Picture Medium and Live Performance), Tshwane University of Technology and Durban University of Technology. These people are starting a new television with a new voice. As long as we are around, we are stumbling blocks for that new voice to come.”
On his journey to date, the film-maker, playwright and poet reflects: “I have always looked at Muvhango as an incubator for new talent. We have introduced the names of people we didn’t know before, whether it is Khanyi Mbau or Sindi Dlathu. We have developed more directors and producers.
“For the first time, I look back and Venda is one of the chic languages. People are throwing Venda jargon on the street. That contribution has been humbling. It is a humbling experience. When we started we didn’t think this would happen.”
Although his lips are sealed on what the writers have up their creative sleeves, Ndlovu has found a new project.
“I’m at Wits trying to finish my Master’s degree in dramatic arts. People are saying it’s impossible – but I love a good challenge,” he chuckles.
That modesty combined with his tireless quest to seek out and nurture new talent, while imparting his wealth of knowledge to all those around him, is what makes him a TV legend and mentor par excellence.
And bow to him, we do.
• Muvhango will air for five days a week as of Friday. It keeps its 9pm timeslot on SABC2.