‘Shaka iLembe’ is a masterpiece in the making

Nomzamo Mbatha as Queen Nandi in Shaka Ilembe. Picture: Supplied

Nomzamo Mbatha as Queen Nandi in Shaka Ilembe. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 25, 2023


Talk about goosebumps. That’s what I felt when I watched the first episode of Mzansi Magic’s hugely-anticipated historical drama, “Shaka iLembe”.

The first frames of the episode were a testament to the first-rate production value South Africa is capable of delivering.

Forget about matching Hollywood, the calibre of talent and creativity on our doorstep is unrivalled.

I was hooked by the poignant - and poetic - narration, wide pan shots of the beautiful landscapes of our beautiful country and the build-up to the storytelling.

Of course, viewers expect nothing less from the award-winning Bomb Production team.

Senzangakhona played by Senzokhule Radebe. Picture: Supplied

Angus Gibson wears the hats of a creator, series director and executive producer. And, true to form, with so many years of experience under his belt, he creates magic with the cast and creative team.

The series opens with a young Shaka being bullied by a group of rival teenage boys. They taunt him about being under his mother’s skirt.

But a young Shaka stands his ground. Not just that, he fearlessly fights back by placing his hand in a beehive to extract some of them to throw at the bullies to teach them a lesson.

Amid the pervading serenity of the kraals belonging to the different tribes, there is a playful tone to the introduction of the series before it grows menacing.

Of course, all eyes were on Nomzamo Mbatha as Nandi. The actress, who also wears the hat of executive producer, is a marvel to watch.

A natural beauty, she masterfully channels all the emotions of a young princess about to get married. She’s playful, mischievous, flirty and strong-willed.

The narrative builds to her crossing paths with the handsome Senzangakhona (Senzokhule Radebe). He is bowled over by her beauty and is keen to claim her as his.

But, in this world, where treaties and traditions must be honoured, it isn’t as easy to achieve.

In telling such a powerful story, though, there are many moving parts to it. This means, the writers also need to expand on how other characters play into the story. And they do that with such finesse.

Viewers are introduced to different characters and their backgrounds. Amid the unfolding discussion of unions to strengthen tribes, there is also talk of war.

The delicate balance between right and wrong is overruled by greed and power by some ruthless individuals. And an eye-for-an-eye stance becomes commonplace.

Witchcraft also underpins the series. And this is where Queen Ntombazi (Khabonina Qubeka) comes in. She takes out anyone who stands in the way of her plans, including her powerful husband.

The star clout of the series matches the epic storytelling. The attention to detail in every frame is praiseworthy.

I grew up watching Henry Cele bring Shaka to life in the 10-part TV series in the late 80s. And to, once again, embark on a nostalgic journey revisiting the rise of one of the most famous figures in South African history, it never gets old.

Kudos to the cast and crew for delivering a TV series that instils every viewer with immense pride.

“Shaka iLembe” is solid, imaginative storytelling with a commendable cast.

Shaka iLembe airs on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) on Sundays at 8pm.