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Drawn to the history of the Thukela Valley, which is one of the backdrops for iSibaya, writer-director-producer, Angus Gibson, of The Bomb Shelter production house, shed more light on the birth of Mzansi Magic’s second telenovela and its feuding taxi families – the Zungus and the Ndlovus, writes Debashine Thangevelo.
AS viewers bid farewell to the feuding families of the fashion world in John Kani’s iNkaba, they are thrust into the world of taxi drivers and taxi wars in iSibaya, which is produced by The Bomb Shelter production house.
Writer-director-producer, Angus Gibson, says: “If you know anything about the Thukela Valley (and its history), it is a very beautiful valley (in KZN). I became aware of it in the 1990s and felt it could be a very dramatic place to set a drama and, second, an intriguing industry.
“The other thing that interested me is that in South Africa at this moment, as a society, we are changing so fast. In one generation, we have people whose life experiences are shifting very dramatically. You have a father who has been to a school in the valley and a child who goes to a private school.
“Those shifts are an opportunity for drama and comedy. I was interested in that. Given those things and the taxi industry, which I feel is something so clearly at the heart of the world, and something we are all emotionally engaged in some way or another, I felt we would have this unending drama.”
Of the feuding families in the telenovela, Gibson shares: “At the heart of the story are the Zungu and the Ndlovu families. They have been at war for generations; initially it was over cattle, now it is about taxi routes.
“Our central character (Siyabonga Twala as Mpiyakhe Zungu) is the most powerful taxi owner in the valley. And he has established a base in Joburg, where he has taken a fourth wife (Mampho Brescia, who plays Iris Zungu) and built a mansion in Soweto. His other wives live down in the valley.
“And his children – daughter Thandeka (Nomzamo Mbatha) and son Jubulani (Palance Dladla) – have grown up with a private education. And it looks at how he negotiates these two worlds and the tension that’s bubbling under where a huge highway is being built and the contractors need a local partner.
“And it basically comes down to Mpiyakhe, who can choose to hold all this money and continue to pour flames over the feud that has been long-standing, or he can gather everybody together and share in the wealth of the contract.”
A telenovela has to have a sweeping love story embedded in the drama and that is the case with Thandeka falling for Sibusiso Ndlovu (Sdumo Mtshali), the son in the rival family.
Gibson continues: “This is a very rich world in the context, we have Iris, this gold-digging wife, who has servants from the valley. There is a sort of upstairs and downstairs kind of drama. Something like Downton Abbey meets new South Africa. And there is also the tension between the taxi drivers and the rival taxi associations.”
And there is a very intriguing twist as well. He hints: “We discover, after a while, that there is a strange force occupying the valley. And that supernatural thread runs through the narrative and becomes more and more apparent as the drama develops.”
Another interesting fact: part of the series was shot at Godfrey Moloi’s mansion.
“We restored it to its former glory. As you might know, he was one of the original taxi barons,” confirms Gibson.
Meanwhile, Vuyo Sokupa, the Head of Programming at Mzansi Magic, says: “iNkaba exceeded all of our expectations. We know that there is an audience for telenovelas.
“We chose iSibaya from several other shortlisted proposals because the narrative is very strong and very South African.
“Within the world of taxi drivers, there is this rural versus urban setting. It covers a wide social land- scape. Of course, you have your love story, a thread within the telenovela format. The way it unfolds is some- thing viewers will completely fall in love with.”
• iSibaya starts on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 107) on Monday and will air weekly from Monday to Thursday at 8.30pm.