‘Outlaws’ steals the hearts of viewers with its legacy storytelling and ingenious casting

The cast of Outlaws, from left, Thembinkosi Mthembu, Siyabonga Shibe, Mnqobi Kunene, Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku, Mmabatho Mogomotsi, Lehlohonolo Mayeza and Keketso Mpilo. Picture: Showmax

The cast of Outlaws, from left, Thembinkosi Mthembu, Siyabonga Shibe, Mnqobi Kunene, Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku, Mmabatho Mogomotsi, Lehlohonolo Mayeza and Keketso Mpilo. Picture: Showmax

Published Sep 11, 2023


On the back of the recently-held FAME Week Africa, one conversation stood out: local content. It is the key focus as well as the holy grail of streaming platforms and networks. And that is what they are investing heavily in.

It’s unsurprising though as the home-grown content has been arriving thick and fast on TV and streaming platforms.

This week, “Outlaws” dropped on Showmax. I caught the first two episodes. But before sharing my thoughts on them, I wanted to point out how Mzansi is tapping into shows about legacy, family and conflict in the same masterful way that “Dallas” and “Dynasty” did in the ‘80s.

There’s a sense of pride that comes into play with such storytelling, where honour and family form the foundation.

Also, having the right actors anchor the show is as important.

The one thing that stands out about this show is its genre: modern-day Western. In the local landscape, that makes it unique.

That it is from the Tshedza Pictures stable is a further endorsement of the calibre of work that went into it.

After all, Phathu Makwarela and Gwydion Beynon have proved their Midas touch with critically acclaimed shows and, in some cases, award-winning, like “The River”, “Legacy”, “Giyani: Land of Blood” and “Adulting”.

“Outlaws” unpacks the rivalry between the Zulu Biyela clan, who are cattle farmers, and the Ts’eoles, who are Basotho and notorious for cattle-raiding.

And this plays out, rather bitter-sweetly in the first two episodes, where the seeds of the brewing war are planted.

Expanding on why it was important for them to tell this particular story in the current social climate of SA, Phathu said: “Cattle theft is a massive issue in South Africa.

“Farming communities are being terrorised daily by cattle thieves, but while it’s something that crops up in news reports from time to time, it’s not something that’s ever been reflected in popular culture.

“It’s like there’s a war going on that nobody is talking about. It’s such a rich and dramatic backdrop for a story.”

Beynon added: “On top of that, so many of our stories on South African television take place in urban areas; we felt like rural life is seldom portrayed on screen. ‘Outlaws’ really take us to the farms, to the fields, and to the mountains of South Africa and Lesotho.

“So many South Africans have a connection to these landscapes; we wanted to create a show that celebrates them.”

From a cinematography perspective, the sweeping rustic landscape shots, which were also handled marvellously by Bomb Productions in “Shaka iLembe”, enhance the storytelling.

Africa has a rich tapestry of stories, many of which are yet to be told, and film-makers are now unearthing the stories and immortalising them on camera.

Tact is important when building a narrative that has many layers and twists. And Pathu and Gwydion have been mindful of this.

Thembinkosi Mthembu in “Outlaws”. Picture: Showmax

In episode one, the Biyelas are introduced. Siyabonga Shibe is introduced as Bheki, the family patriarch, and Nolwazi Shange as his wife, Nandi. He is the epitome of proud, strong and fearless.

But that tough exterior softens around his children: daughter Sihle (Nirvana Nokwe-Mseleku), a doctor and a real daddy’s girl, and his son, Bandile (Thembinkosi Mthembu).

The mood is light in the opening scenes of the first episode. And is becoming par for the course, nudity isn’t glossed over anymore. This was evident in a nude scene with Sihle and her fiancé Mnqobi Kunene (Kwanele Dlamini).

On the flip side, there are the Ts’eoles, who are ruled with a firm hand by Moretlo (Mmabatho Mogomotsi). Her wishes are executed by Leruo (Lehlohonolo Mayeza).

But his cousin, Tlali (Keketso Mpitso), is a hothead. His unpredictable nature becomes a troubling issue when it results in an unforeseen tragedy.

The line between revenge and justice blur, placing the two families on a collision course.

The production struck gold with its cast as well. At the moment, fans are going gaga over Mthembu.

Beynon commented: “We have to give huge credit to our casting director, Keneilwe Matidze, for assembling our incredible cast.

“The story is deep; it goes to very real and dark places, and we needed actors who could take us there. It doesn’t matter how great your story is on the page, if your actors can’t bring it to life, it’s never going to work.

“So, we’re incredibly proud of the craft and care that our actors bring to the story.”

Legacy stories are becoming the new breeding ground for SA film-makers and “Outlaws”, which is steeped in history, is a wonderful testament to thetrend.

Also, the narrative, while entertaining, is relatable, as are the conflicted characters.

∎ “Outlaws” is streaming on Showmax, with new episodes dropping every Wednesday.