Hlomla Dandala plays Zweli Dikana in the compelling new telenovela, The River. Picture: Supplied

The telenovela fad continues to proliferate in our TV industry. The River, one of many such offerings is keeping viewers glued to that coveted prime time 8pm slot.

And the casting of heavyweights such as Hlomla Dandala, Sindi Dlathu, Don Mlangeni and Moshidi Motshegwa was an incentive enough for TV buffs to tune in. Of course, the overwhelming curiosity to see if this show lived up to the hype could have been another mitigating factor. 

But I’m not about to debate the strengths/weaknesses of the show. 

The focus is on Dandala, an actor, presenter and director, who is a marvel to watch in whatever role he immerses himself. 

On agreeing to play Zweli Dikana, a police commissioner, he says, “I had worked with Phathu (Makwarela) and Gwydion (Beynon), the head writers and executive producers of The River, before on Rockville, where they were the head writers.” 

“So I happened to bump into one of the producers and she told me about this show, and that they would like me to be a part of it. 

“Being a big fan of the duo’s writing, half the job was done. 

“And when I heard that Sindi Dlathu would be playing my wife, along with other names like Moshidi Motshegwa, Don Mlangeni, Tinah Mnumzana as well as many other talented actors, it was a no-brainer. I wanted to be a part of it.”

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He says, “The story is very current, relevant, and is told in a very fresh way”. 

“It mirrors what is happening in our own country where the rich people are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer. I found the script fresh, and I enjoyed the twists in the storyline.”

Admittedly, he is in his element in suave and powerful roles. 


Peeling back the layers of his character, he offers, “Zweli is the nicest guy you’ll ever find on TV. 

“He is the father and husband you always wish you had. His flaw is that he always chooses to see the best in people, and that’s sometimes to his detriment. 

“He was born and raised in the Eastern Cape by a single mother, who was assisted by a lot of his aunts. 

“So he grew up around a lot of women, which somewhat made him empathetic to the issues of women. And then at work, he’s probably one of the province’s most respected police commanders because of the work he’s done and the change he’s brought in his community. He’s also a fun guy with lots of friends, always hosting parties at his house.”

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The River draws parallels between the social stratus of the affluent Dlaminis and the struggling Mokoenas. Of course, the narrative explores the conflicts and challenges faced by the families when their paths cross. 

Shedding light on Zweli’s affluent lifestyle and how he views the less fortunate people lingering on the periphery of his world, Dandala reveals, “I could probably take it as far as saying Zweli is the bridge between the rich and the poor. 

“The rich being Lindiwe and his family, and the poor being the community he is servicing, and possibly his colleagues.”

Hlomla Dandala. Picture: Supplied

Zweli and Lindiwe have worked hard, and are unapologetic about the money that they’ve made. They’re aware of their privilege and the gap between them and the people below them (hence the show’s tag line, the haves and the have-nots). 

“At the core, Zweli feels for the less-fortunate, but he distances himself from them. It’s almost like he feels that someone else needs to deal with those problems, since he’s busy trying to solve crimes and clean up the streets of his neighbourhoods. Flora, his helper, is probably the only daily reminder in his immediate world, who represents just how tough the world is out there.”

Although Dandala and Dlathu have been in the industry for a while, this is the first time they are sharing screen time together. 

He says, “She’s probably one of the most professional people I’ve ever come across, and working with someone like that is an absolute dream. I also love how we have so much chemistry on screen, and that’s a testament to how well we work together on set.”

Hlomla Dandala. Picture: Supplied

One person he does know well, though, is Mlangeni, his former Isidingo co-star. 

“It’s almost like I always have to pinch myself when watching someone like Bra Don on screen. 

“Probably one of the finest actors of our time. Unfortunately on The River, I never got to work with him because my on-screen wife killed his character in episode one. 

“But the work that he does in that one episode is magical, and I hope that the young ones watch and see the preparation and effort he put on those few scenes. 

“That’s a character that remains with you forever, as small as it seemed, because that was the inciting incident.”

While fans get to soak up all the drama of this new offering, Dandala, who is also in Scandal,  has a few other projects that will soon be unveiled.