Was South African TV better 20 years ago?


Do you ever look back on your childhood and remember those TV shows that you will forever identify with? As a South African, there are a few that will never be forgotten and when they are watched today the memories pour back of being the kid glued to the television, barely understanding Afrikaans and Xhosa programs, reading the subtitles and watching religiously.

South African television has a history as bright, and culturally twisted as our country’s own history and 20 years later, the best thing we can do is to reminisce on South African television’s past.

As a South African, not knowing what Orkney Snork Nie is, is blasphemy. The series aired in May1989, and carried on entertaining for another brilliant 3 years. The creator of the show, Willie Esterhuizen, is still a household name and carried on his career as the creator of Vetkoekpaleis and as the famous Worsie. Esterhuizen had a knack for having a great storyline, discreetly adding in between the line jokes and even had a go at breaking cultural barriers.

One word that basically sums up all TV watching in the 2000′s years is Backstage, yes, Backstage. Never mind Scandal and Rhythm City, the reason to watch e.tv was Backstage. The series that aired in 2000 spent seven years on our screens, and basically ignited the dream of going to a performing arts college and well, to be Pam Andrews. The three words that best describe Backstage were dance, passion and betrayal and we loved every moment of it.

Then there was Stokvel. Even if you don’t remember the names ‘Mojo’ and ‘Lerata Khumalo’, there is no way you didn’t sing along to the intro of the local comedy that hit our screens in July 2003. The series that follows the stokvel meetings of the Khumalo couple and the other members like ‘Hazel’ and ‘Pinky’, and the hilarious drama in between, thank goodness for subtitles!

Then there was the battle of the 18:30 soapie timeslot, the soapies that divided our country into 3 nations every evening, Generations, 7de Laan and Isidingo. The choice had to be made, and once you made your choice there was no going back. The ever present soapies have lasted longer than any other South African shows and are still going strong, other than that…wobble with Generations recently firing 16 actors. But there’s always season 2.

Come a good few years later, South African TV today, is still entertaining, making us laugh and even cringe at times.

Our political history is something that will always be a part of our present and TV plays a huge part in keeping it that way, but thank goodness South African’s can find the humor even in politics. Just watch one episode of the Emmy nominated Late Night With Loyiso Gola and you will know exactly what I mean. The cast works hard to “speak truth to power and make fun of everyone equally, a trait we should all have.

jennie_d_topbillingThen there’s every Thursday night at around 8:30 when South Africans become celebrity experts, food critics, wedding planners and travel enthusiasts while watching Top Billing, all this and then not to forget the jaw dropping beauties that present the show. In the shows most controversial moment, Top Billing was the only program in Africa to air the forest wedding of Gert Johan Coetzee and his lover, Vicky Visagie and we waved our gay pride flags high.

And then things got dirty, but the best kind of dirty, because in 2012 e.tv brought us 4Play: Sex Tips 4 Girls, and it may come as a surprise but this wasn’t late night e.tv, this is a drama that gave us femininity, sex and HIV. South Africa took on a touchy subject, added 4 ladies and stilettos and gave woman what they wanted.

The moment reality TV hit our screens, television took an interesting turn, we’ve had Big Brother, we’ve had Idols but with shows like Master Chef and Come Dine With Me being shot in SA, a whole other side of our country was revealed, and with the contestants that starred on these shows, the rest of South Africa found themselves asking “Where the heck do they find these people?!” But without fail, they tuned in weekly to watch the drama unfold.

The then and now of local television series reveal that throughout the years TV has played a huge part in teaching our nation, breaking cultural, racial, religious, and even sexist barriers, it has embraced twenty years of democracy and today South African television is growing into what could be one of our nations greatest attributes.

We will never forget the days spent watching Takelani Sesame, Madam & Eve, even the random episode of Egoli! South African television, over 20 years later and still doing something right!


Tayla Whitehead @taylaalaaaa

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