Meet the women behind the iconic ‘Takalani Sesame’ characters

Characters from Takalani Sesame

Characters from Takalani Sesame

Published Aug 31, 2023


If you are from Mzansi, you must have had an encounter with the iconic characters of “Takalani Sesame” on SABC at some point in your life, or at least for the past 23 years.

Children of Mzansi have spent mornings and afternoons with the fun and vibrant “Takalani Sesame” crew and enjoyed endless hours of edutainment.

“Takalane Sesame” is the only South African kids programme broadcast in English and four additional local languages (isiZulu, isiNdebele, Sesotho, and Afrikaans).

Launched in 2000 and based on the international children's series “Sesame Street”, “Takalani Sesame” is a multimedia initiative designed to convey educational messages on literacy, numeracy, and life skills to young children.

Now meet the women who bring the characters to life.

Undoubtedly, Zuzu, Basma, and Kami are well-known to everyone familiar with “Takalani Sesame”, but do you know the ladies who bring these characters to life?

Tumi Maratele plays Zuzu, Bethany-Joy Jiyane plays Basma, Noziziwe Zulu provides the voice for Kami, Sharon Mekoa controls Kami’s right arm and Reshoketswe Maredi controls Zikwe's left arm.

Zuzu and Tumi Maratele. Pictures: Supplied

While women are increasingly finding roles in the film industry as director, camera wranglers, producers, and scriptwriters, the highly specialised field of puppeteering (or “muppeteering”) still remains a mystery to many.

“I think most people don't really know what I do, so they're always interested to know,” laughs Bethany-Joy.

Noziziwe agreed, pointing out that this is to her benefit because it eliminates the need for puppeteer auditions and, as she puts it, “people come looking for me!”

Sharon Mekoa, Kami and Noziziwe Zulu. Picture: Supplied

Meanwhile, both Mekoa and Maredi love the fact that, while puppeteering gives them the chance to work in the exciting and dynamic world of the arts, they can still enjoy a degree of anonymity because they do not have a public face – ideal for people who enjoy their privacy.

Maredi said: “I can honestly say that there is nothing I would rather be doing. I am living my dream.”

For Maratele , the voice of Zuzu, being a puppeteer is all about having fun.

“I always wanted to be in the arts. Even as I child, I took part in community theatre. We used crates to create a stage, then made up stories and acted them out. Now, as a puppeteer, I get to be a six-year-old again.

“I’m able to play all day – but the best part is being able to take what is, essentially, a lifeless puppet and breathe life into it, give it energy, give it a voice, give it a character and attitude. It’s amazing.”

Mekoa added: “If I wasn’t doing this, I would still find a way to work with children.”

As mothers, all the actresses behind the Muppets agree that the recent series, which looks at how to handle big feelings, is very helpful.

Mekoa continued: “It’s sometimes difficult to know how to guide a child without hurting their feelings, and taking part in this series certainly helped develop an understanding of how I can interact with my niece and nephew, as my own child is now 20 years old.”

Maredi said the series helped her manage her own big feelings too “because you can’t help someone with their emotions unless you understand your own, first”.

Zulu shared this sentiment. She admitted that although her teenage daughter and her have always enjoyed an open relationship, she never thought deeply about how the impact of feelings may have on behaviour.

And Maratele agreed: “This series came about shortly after the Covid pandemic, when we all felt scared, frustrated and even a little angry. I learned that it could help so much just to stop, take a deep breath, and then carry on.”

Catch the show on SABC2 at 3.30pm, weekdays, or the repeats on SABC 1 at 7am.