The third season of the prison drama series, Lockdown, started on an incendiary note this past Monday, when viewers caught a glimpse of the possible violent death of Warden Beauty (Slindile Nodangala) at the hands of her nemesis, Governor Deborah Banda (Pamela Nomvete).
The subject of women in prison is hardly new - as the popular American production, Orange Is The New Black (2013), attests - but Lockdown is up there with the best in the world.
There are still familiar menacing faces between the spartan walls of Thabazimbi Women’s Correctional Service - charismatic and eccentric characters such as Tyson (Lorcia Cooper), Maki (Linda Sebezo), Sharon (Lindiwe Ndlovu), Slenda (Nomsa Buthelezi) and Ma-Zet (Dawn Thandeka King).
If the first episode is anything to go by, then viewers should brace themselves for more violent power struggles among the tough inmates, scores to be settled with enemies as well as intense, bitter rivalries between the prisoners and warders.
The hilarious but dangerous Sue (Patricia Boyer) returns to add the element of race in a drama that’s definitely defined by female gender politics.
In this season, the producers have taken the storyline to another level, with an introduction of new characters.
Thembi Nyandeni, the headstrong, gun-toting Mkabayi Zungu in Isibaya, is Minister Mazibuko. The authorities have assigned the no-nonsense political head of correctional services to keep a close eye on the errant Thabazimbi staff.
Her daughter, Phindi Mazibuko, is played by Mmabatho Montsho, an actress with a number of popular TV dramas to her credit, but who is perhaps best remembered by moviegoers for her leading role as Nandi in the box office romantic comedy hit, Happiness Is a Four-Letter Word (2016). Phindi is a naive and idealistic criminal psychologist, who believes that hardened criminals like Sharon can be rehabilitated.
Then there’s Grace, played by Manaka Ranaka, best known for her role as Lucy in Generations - The Legacy. Also known as ZimZim, she brings a macabre side to the series, as a cannibal.
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The imperious Governor Banda has been put on suspension and replaced with Warden Beauty’s sister, a mysterious and enigmatic character simply known as The Governor. She is portrayed by Celeste Ntuli, a stand-up comedienne and actress best known for her Isibaya character, Siphokazi Zungu.
The Governor is out to avenge her sister’s death and that means mortal combat with Banda.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to exiled South African parents and educated in the UK, Pamela Nomvete, 55, made a name for herself on local television as superb**** Ntsiki Lukhele in Generations. It was a role that turned her into a cult figure before things went sour and she returned to London for a fresh start.
In her autobiography, Dancing to the Beat of the Drum, she revealed a personal crisis caused by a turbulent romantic relationship, battles with substance abuse and the quest to find emotional solace through Christianity and African spirituality.
She seems to have conquered her demons and it’s wonderful to see her on local screens again.
* Lockdown, 9pm, Mondays, on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161).