‘Shaka iLembe’ series filmed at Greater Cradle Nature Reserve

The set for Shaka iLembe which was filmed at Greater Cradle Nature Reserve. Picture: Supplied

The set for Shaka iLembe which was filmed at Greater Cradle Nature Reserve. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 15, 2023


South Africa is rich and abundant with beautiful and scenic locations where filmmakers can produce their films.

When it comes to the highly anticipated 12-part television series “Shaka iLembe”, which starts airing on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161) on June 18 at 8pm, the series was shot at The Greater Cradle Nature Reserve (GCNR) near Johannesburg.

GCNR is located within 9 000 hectares of pristine nature and this unique ecotourism destination is the birthplace of humankind, where human civilization began and is home to two active paleoanthropological sites as well as the Cradle Boutique Hotel, making it the obvious choice on which to build four crucial sets for the series.

According to Desiree Markgraaff, executive producer at Bomb Productions, which produced “Shaka iLembe“, the telling of this pre-colonial story is vitally important.

“African history is seldom depicted on screen and remains largely locked in academic volumes. We want to bring these exciting and important stories to life, to encourage young people to learn more about this epic history, to celebrate African kings and queens and real heroes from African history,” said Markgraaff.

In addition to large parts of the show being filmed on location across KwaZulu-Natal, more than 120 builders and thatchers from KwaZulu-Natal were engaged in building the GCNR’s sets, all experienced in traditional hut building methods.

They joined artisans from Gauteng to construct the four main kingdoms built within the GCNR, complete with raised watchtowers that served as an early warning system.

When the set, with its sculpturally beautiful rounded thatched huts was complete, filming began on the property.

The creative team comprised Oscar-nominated director Angus Gibson, and executive producers Nomzamo Mbatha, Nhlanhla Mtaka and Markgraaff.

They also worked with cultural and historical adviser Professor Hlonipha Mokoena while royal praise singer Inyosi Mdletshe called on the ancestors to bless the land and the project.

The filming of “Shaka iLembe” was also particularly poignant for the CEO of The Cradle Boutique Hotel and GCNR, Kobus Botha. He was a cameraman on the first Shaka Zulu television series that was filmed in 1986.

“For me it’s come full circle. What a privilege it has been to host this ground- breaking series. We at the Cradle Boutique Hotel and guests who joined our Origins Tours that traverse our property on game drives, have watched in wonder as the sets took shape. The authenticity was astonishing. We are delighted to have been chosen as a prime destination for the filming of this iconic story,” said Botha.

However, in keeping with the strict rules of the nature reserve, the filmmakers had to stick to a rigid building schedule and abide by the prescribed on-site protocols.

“No lasting structures are allowed to mar the pristine natural setting, ensuring that the land is allowed to return to its original state once the set has been dismantled,” said Botha.

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