Just over two years after the screening of Makhume, the first Xitsonga movie on local channels, and after many years of petitioning by Xitsonga speakers to have their language fairly represented on the small box, the SABC has finally heeded the call.
Giyani – The Land of Blood is the first Xitsonga drama series and will premiere on April 1, Monday at 9:30pm. It will be broadcast on the same timeslot from Monday to Wednesday. The SABC2 telenovela marks a groundbreaking development in the history of local drama series since the launch of the Venda drama series, Muvhango in 1997.
It means that languages that are recognised by the Constitution but have been marginalised for years can finally claim their rightful role and status on local television channels.
Set in Giyani, the heart of Tsonga identity in Limpopo, the storyline is based on the adventures of feuding families, the Mudaus and Baloyis. The source of their bitter, generations-old dispute is a fertile valley has been a prosperous banana plantation for years.
Land has become a dominant theme in the country’s political discourse. It’s an issue that is debated in Parliament by legislators as much as it’s discussed by ordinary citizens in taxi ranks, trains and taverns.
The series explores this contentious subject through a successful restitution claim that’s supposed to benefit the entire community that was a victim of land dispossession under colonialism and apartheid.
Initially this land belonged to the Van Reenens, an Afrikaner family of banana farmers whose bountiful yield used to supply every major supermarket in the country. Under the new African ownership, the farm has been renamed Tiakeni – a Xitsonga phrase that can be roughly translated to mean ‘uplift yourselves’. It’s an appropriate call for self-reliance and self-sustenance for the mutual benefit of the entire community.
But will that happen or will greed, corruption and selfishness rule the day? The classic, ageless theme of forbidden love is thrown in the storyline for good measure.
In recent years the protests in Vuwani, a rural town situated between Giyani and Thohoyandou – Tsonga and Venda cultural centres respectively – have ignited generations-old ethnic tensions between the two linguistic communities.
There’s certainly an element of ethnic rivalry as one of the series’ numerous themes. But at the same time the fact that the protagonists, couple Gladys Mudau (Yvonne Chaka Chaka) and Richard Mudau (Ndivhuwo Mutsila) are of Tsonga and Venda heritage respectively encourages ethnic solidarity in the storyline.
It’s disappointing to read a number of ‘press releases’ on this telenovela stating that this is Chaka Chaka’s first acting role on television.
Fact it that the singer’s debut dates back to the eighties when she landed a big role in Ifa Lakwa Mthethwa (1987), a star-studded Zulu drama series along Dallas lines.
That was long before most or the rest of the cast on this one thought of acting on TV. Some were simply too young to be involved in any drama series. Born in Soweto to a Motlokwa father and Zulu mother, the Princess of Africa was married into a Tsonga royal family and speaks the language fluently.
Mutsila is a Venda speaker best known as Albert Mukwevho in Muvhango. He has since abandoned this role for behind-the-scenes responsibilities. He has been the mainstay of the Venda soapie since its inception and his departure was regrettable.
So it’s great to know that he will be gracing our screens again albeit in a different context. Another former Muvhango cast member is singer Linah Ngcobo. She established herself as a pop singer by the stage name of Ebony back in the eighties as well.
Another female singer who has joined the Giyani cast is Candy Mokwena. Better known by her stage name, Tsa Mandebele after her pop hit song of the same name, this is her new foray in television acting.
A Lovedu by birth, Mokwena is a fluent Xitsonga speaker and has previously worked with Tsonga singer, Eric Nkovani, alias Papa Penny as a member of his backing group, the Shaka Bundu Girls.
Still on the cast, this series brings together seasoned Xitsonga actors Obed Baloyi, Fumani Shilubana and Charles Baloyi.
The theme song is composed and performed by the foremost exponent of Xitsonga music, Thomas Chauke and his Shinyori Sisters. Giyani – The Land of Blood is the brainchild of Phathu Makwarela and Gwydion Beynon from Tshedza Pictures, the creators of the award-winning telenovela, The River.