‘Miseducation’ offers a lesson in cancel culture, friendship, love and humility

Buntu Petse as Mbali with Lasizwe making a guest appearance in Miseducation S1. Picture: Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Buntu Petse as Mbali with Lasizwe making a guest appearance in Miseducation S1. Picture: Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Published Sep 26, 2023


With “Miseducation” hogging the number one spot as the most-popular SA TV show on Netflix this week, it is safe to say that it is a hit with Mzansi. Especially among fans of the other critically acclaimed home-grown show, “Blood & Water”.

I managed to finish the six-part offering in one evening. I should point out that the binge-watching session had more to do with curiosity and less to do with the script or casting, per se.

If I could make a sort of comparison (not to “Blood & Water” as, tonally, it’s different), it would be a cross between “Gossip Girl” and “Never Have I Ever”, but within a South African context.

Looking back, my teen years were informed by shows like “Beverly Hills, 90210”, “Wonder Years”, “This Is My Life” and “Dawson’s Creek”. For those trying to figure out the maths, that places me in the Gen Z bracket.

As a South African, there weren’t many local and relatable shows. Sadly, I defaulted to Hollywood offerings, which, admittedly, were far removed from our reality but they provided entertainment and eye candy all the same.

Hey, I was a teen at the time. Hormones were running riot.

Before I start to sound like a rambling “old person”, the point I’m making is that teenagers of today have shows that speak to who they are.

In this fast-paced world of influencers, issues of sexuality, bullying, gender based violence (GBV) and racism affect teenagers as well. As they try to carve their place in the world, family issues, a lack of confidence, an insatiable curiosity and a yearning to belong are real struggles for them.

This show, produced by Burnt Onion Productions (of “How to Ruin Christmas” and “Entangled” fame), taps into that.

The cast and script embody the challenges faced by youngsters today. And the storytelling is layered.

Prev Reddy as Jay, Micaela Tucker as Natalie, Buntu Petse as Mbali in Miseducation S1. Picture: Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

At the heart of the tale is Buntu Petse as Mbali Hadebe. Fans will remember this industry newcomer as Nontle in SABC1’s “Generations: The Legacy”.

As such, I feel like this show will do well for her fledgling career.

The opening frames of the show are of Mbali throwing a party to end all parties. She’s in her element as the queen bee in her social circle.

Dressed in her best drip, she flaunts her politician mother’s wealth and influence. And she has the who’s who at her party.

But she went from being the life of the party to the pariah when it was crashed by law enforcement seeking to attach the assets of her politician mother Brenda (Baby Cele) due to her fraudulent activities.

Even worse, her nemesis posted the scandal in real time on social media.

Embarrassed beyond measure, Mbali decides to start fresh at a place where no one knows her. And when the idea of Grahamstown University is pitched, she is sold.

Day one on campus sucks. Aside from being drawn to Sivu (Lunga Shabalala), the disarming captain of the rowing team who is running for SRC president, her mother’s scandalous action is unwittingly revealed by Natalie (Michaela Tucker).

As Mbali eases into campus life, she warms up to her roommate Aphiwe (Luyanda Zwane), who is the only one from her family attending university. However, working and staying up to date with her assignments is a struggle for Aphiwe.

Mpho Sebeng as Caesar and Luyanda Zwane as Aphiwe in Miseducation S1. Picture: Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

Then there is Jay (Prev Reddy), also a first-year student, who is celebrating his liberation from his overbearing Indian family.

He has also not come out to his family. Jay has an entrepreneurial mind. A tech fundi, he becomes the go-to person for pills to stay awake, a virus to crash their computer and get them out of an assignment as well as an email service, St-uber.

Jay and Mbali quickly become BFFs with Natalie, who is Sivu’s sister, joining the clique later.

At first, the friendship is giving. Mbali is supportive of Jay, especially when he is assaulted by Caeser (Mpho Sebeng), who gives off Julius Malema vibes.

Aside from being one of the oldest students, he is an opportunist using the struggles of the students to further his agenda.

He is not a fan of Sivu because he feels he is a coconut, since he was adopted and raised by a white family.

Meanwhile, Mbali makes it her mission to get close to Sivu, who has a girlfriend already, to help her social standing on campus. She’s prepared to break a few rules to get what she wants until she is confronted with the harsh reality of what it means to be a true friend.

Ebenhaezer Dibakwane as Mubarak in Miseducation S1. Picture: Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

“Miseducation” is a sassy, playful and fun teen drama that, at times, meanders into an emotional and dramatic space. The mean girl vibe does come through but the story is also redemptive as it tackles forgiveness, humility and selflessness.

The cast also includes industry giants Antony Coleman, Graham Hopkins, Dawn Thandeka King and Camilla Waldman.

Be sure to keep an eye out for Lasizwe’s brief cameo (if you blink, you could very well miss it), as well as that of Ebenhaezer Dibakwane.

∎ “Miseducation” is streaming on Netflix