Mtunzini.com is a South African television drama series produced by Moja Movie Factory which unfolds in the world of an internet-based magazine that operates from the small coastal town of Mtunzini, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Dialogue is predominantly in Zulu, with African languages making up 85% of all vernacular content. There are also English subtitles.
The series aired on SABC1 from 12 January, 2006 to 6 August, 2009. There are 39 hour-long episodes in three seasons. See "Seasons" below for seasonal broadcast dates and times.
Mtunzini.com unfolds in the world of an internet-based magazine that operates from the small coastal town of Mtunzini, Kwa-Zulu Natal.
Set against the backdrop of the high tech world of the World Wide Web, the young people who run the magazine unwittingly become involved, and ultimately solve, an intriguing murder-mystery every second week.
Mtunzini.com entrenches itself in Northern Zulu culture and the lives of everyday South Africans. It's a murder mystery woven into a small town drama.
The story of the Mtunzini.com crew – their loves, lives, broken beach buggies, teenage delinquencies, unrequited passions and famous vetkoeks – unfolds as a serial drama across the season.
Every two weeks there is a new murder investigation. Many of these investigations play out in Mtunzini and the nearby township Obanjeni.
The action also moves up and down the coast, though. Some murder stories play out in Durban, some as far afield as Joburg.
Each episode of mtunzini.com features an over-arching stand-alone A-story. This is the murder mystery. These stories tap into emerging national issues and contain as many twists as a snake.
The B-story plays off in the office, tracing the lives of the people who work there. The Thwala family and Waxy also live in the house on the river, so family story often merges with the office story.
Mtunzini.com merges technology and cyberspace with the lush surrounds and wild beauty of the Northern KZN coastline.
The website is based in a gorgeous house on a lagoon on the beach in the watery surrounds of the Mtunzini (Dolphin Coast) region. Hence the name of the site.
Bongani (Pepi Khambule/Thapelo Mokoena)
A tenacious investigative journalist and co-owner of mtunzini.com, Bongani Thwala (32/Zulu) was born into a political township home, his father a shop steward.
Debongz grew up an activist with a burning sense of justice, as did his childhood sweetheart, Nomvula, who he met at a youth league rally. His early dreams were all about joining MK and fighting in the struggle, but that was no longer necessary.
As Bongani and Nomvula were finishing high school, Nelson Mandela was released from prison and democracy dawned in South Africa.
Bongani applied for a bursary to study journalism. That Christmas was full of conflict for him. He learned he had been awarded the bursary on the same day that Nomvula told him she was pregnant. They married and moved in with his mother.
Debongz went to varsity and took two jobs to help support the family – in a newspaper’s photo archive and as a waiter. After his internship, he was snapped up by the independent press and soon began to make a name as an investigative journalist.
But things were not going as well at home. The pressure of Bongani’s long hours and conflict between Nomvula and her mother-in-law, Rose, caused the marriage to start falling apart and separation was inevitable.
Their baby girl, Busi, ended up living with Bongani and her grandmother, Rose. For all intents and purposes Rose had become Busi’s mother. Wanting her son to make a success of his future, Rose argued that it was best for Busi to believe that Rose was her mother.
Bongani struggled with the decision, but did what he thought best for Busi. She grew up believing Bongani was her brother. This is a secret shared only by Bongani and Rose. It is only at the end of the first season that Busi discovers the truth.
Bongani threw himself into his work and, after a slew of breaking stories, was headhunted by a big national paper and sent to head up their KZN desk. This meant leaving his family behind in Gauteng.
Everyone thought Bongani was heading for great things at the newspaper, but behind closed doors things were in fact coming to a crunch.
He and the paper’s new editor did not see eye to eye editorially and Bongani found himself becoming increasingly outspoken as he fought for his stories. Bongani wanted to tell the truth regardless of political fallout or upset to advertisers.
When he picked up on a corruption scandal, the editor advised him to drop the story. So Bongani pursued it even more ruthlessly. He delivered what he thought was the biggest story of his career. It involved cabinet ministers, a deputy premier, environmental scandal and a lashing of sex.
But when Bongani opened the paper that Sunday, his story had been watered down and dropped to the bottom of page three.
He left the paper after a blazing fight with the editor. Instead of selling the story to a rival paper, Debongz decided to go solo and underground. He bought some web space, created a crude site and broke the story on his own steam.
It was picked up by the other national papers and Bongani Thwala’s scoop became the news story of the year. He named the site mtunzini.com – after the town where he had rented a home along the coast.
The ensuing scandal and public hearings – where he was a key witness – culminated in the resignation of two cabinet ministers and led to several prestigious awards for Bongani.
The website received record hits and Bongani expanded it, creating a regional news service that other media could subscribe to and buy content from. The site slowly grew but before long Bongani, terrible with money, had been swallowed by the whale.
He consulted someone he’d worked with at the paper to help him audit his books. Enter Phaphama Molefe...
Bongani is always willing to try something new. He’s hip, witty and easy in his skin. He can sometimes be a bit stupid around women. Although it’s in his nature to trust people, painful experience has taught him not to believe a word anyone tells him.
He is meticulous about cross-checking his information and relies heavily on technology and the Web to help with his cases.
A township boy at heart, it has been a revelation since moving into the little house in Mtunzini, how peaceful nature makes him.
Bongani is not scared of asking questions, opening doors and tasting other cultures. He maintains a journalist/analyst profile on other national media and often lands himself in hot water because of his outspoken manner. For Debongz right is right and wrong is wrong.
Phaphama (KB Motsilanyane/Phuti Khomo)
Phaphama Molefe (28/Tswana) became the financial manager and co-owner of mtunzini.com when Bongani begged for her help with his accounts and it became evident that only a cash injection from an investor-partner would be able to save and grow the business.
She also strongly advised him to branch into entertainment listings, fashion, music and a dating service.
Bongani was so impressed by her vision for the site that he offered her a partnership right there and then. She took him for 50% and threw herself into the business.
Phaphama never talks about her past. All that is known is that, after studying a BCom, she gave up a career to travel with her husband. She arrived in Durban after the divorce and was made financial manager of the paper’s KZN bureau.
Bongani was attracted to her the instant he met her and asked her repeatedly to go on a date with him. She resisted for a year and then agreed under duress. The date was a disaster that saw her stomp from the restaurant. Although a truce was declared, the unrequited sexual tension between them is tangible.
Phaphama runs the finances tightly and takes no nonsense from anyone. In truth, the company is bringing out the best in her. She knows that Bongani has the talent to pursue the big stories.
Her plans for the non-news sections of the site work out so well that the company is soon in a position to employ someone to handle them, especially the dating service, which is proving a money-spinner.
Because of the site, Phaphama stays abreast with the latest in everything, which endears her to Busi.
From when she was a child, Phaphama’s passion in life has been photography. She frequently works with Debongz on stories in order to take the photos – and because she likes to have him where she can see him to make sure he isn’t blowing money.
Waxy (Siyabonga Shibe - Season 1 only)
Life at mtunzini.com wouldn’t be the same without Waxy (20/Zulu) – a Durban IT student doing his internship at the website. Waxy loads and maintains the site, helps design it and also handles the research on Bongani’s stories.
After computers, his big love is surfing – but he’s terrible at it. He’s into an eclectic range of sounds with a passion for old school electronica and hip-hop.
Waxy becomes involved in mtunzini.com investigations as the techno wizard, scouring the Net for data. Increasingly, Waxy travels with Bongani operating the digital camera. He’s a strange, original, witty brother who develops a bond with Busi. He’s very sincere and in his skin.
Yolisa (Thobi Mkhwanazi)
Which is pretty much the opposite of the loud and lively Yolisa (23/Zulu). Not everyone likes Yolisa, but she makes up for it by adoring herself on their behalf – or so it seems on the surface.
The sexy and hip young fashion school drop-out is far brighter than she first appears. She manages mtunzini.com’s dating service, fashion, trends and entertainment.
She writes her own column on the site – fashion advice with an edge that gets some subscribers (and colleagues) bristling.
Lately Yolisa has decided to go for more scandalous celebrity scoops and gossip and her stories are more and more frequently being found on the back page of the Sunday trade – with mtunzini.com’s byline at the end.
She’s got a naughty streak and is always looking out for a bit of fun. Being single, she gets to respond first to the new male subscribers on the dating service...
Sparks (Michael Zulu - Since Season 2)
Sparks is the IT guy at the website. He’s a technical wizard with a good eye for a murder investigation and he’s the latest staff member at mtunzini.com.
Rose (Magi Williams)
It is Rose Thwala (56/Zulu) who raised Busi. Bongani’s mother arrives in Mtunzini hot on the heels of her runaway “daughter”. It is agreed that Rose should stay to help Busi settle in.
But before long nobody can imagine life without Ma Rose organising the office, helping run the business, cooking the meals and trying to fix Waxy’s eating habits.
Rose worked as a PA for 12 years, but resigned to spend more time at home in Soweto with Busi. Then her husband left her – something that Busi blames Rose for. Rose’s sense of purpose hits its biggest crisis ever when Busi runs away.
Mtunzini.com is what helps her find purpose again and her outlook on life starts to change, becoming more cheerful. Rose gets to know Mtunzini intimately and her instinct for gossip helps many a case move forward.
Busi (Zinhle Mabena)
Busi Thwala (13/Zulu) is Bongani’s daughter. She returns to his life on a Greyhound bus after running away from her grandmother because of trouble at school. She begs to be allowed to stay and attend school near Bongani.
Within days she’s on the beach pretending to be 16, kissing surfers and drinking. When Debongz sees what’s up with Busi he knows she could go off the rails – if she hasn’t already – and agrees to let her stay.
Busi’s in for the culture shock of her life, though. Mtunzini Primary is very different to her Model C school in Jozi. Soon enough she befriends Zuki.
But Busi is in for a dose of culture shock as she gets to know life in a more traditional Zulu region. And her world is set to fall apart when she finds out the truth about her parentage...
Detective Ndovela (Bongani Madondo - Since Season 2)
Detective Ndovela is a man of obsessive habits and deep-rooted morals. He loves his impoverished family passionately and is committed to being the best policeman he can possibly be. As the local detective, he has a lot to do with Bongani and his team.
Sizwe (Percy Ingle - Since Season 2)
Sizwe Bhembe is mtunzini.com’s landlord. He hails from Swaziland, where he already has several successful businesses – property, tour buses and shopping mall developments. He is one of the best-known citizens of the small coastal town – and he’s about to become a big part of the mtunzini.com family.
Thuli (Princess Hlatswayo - Since Season 2)
Thuli Mlambo is an Mtunzini local and Sizwe Bhembe’s secretary. She loves her job and loves her boss – it’s just that she doesn’t love hard work as much as she does gossiping on the phone.
Sindi (Cleopatra Simelane - Since Season 2)
Sindi is a pretty but wayward teenager born into an impoverished family with no father present. She lives in Ndabayakhe just outside Mtunzini and she’ll do whatever she has to to survive.
Lindile (Tazz Nginda - Since Season 2)
Lindile is a successful Jozi businessman and Phaphama’s ex-husband. He realised too late that he spent too much time worrying about work and not enough about his wife. Now he wants her back...
KB Motsilanyane - who played the leading role of Phaphama Molefe in the first season - left the show in order to take up the role of Lucilla Vilakazi in the e.tv soapie Rhythm City, in 2007.
Her role was taken over by Phuti Khomo from Season 2 onwards.
The lead character - Bongani - was recast for the third season. Thapelo Mokoena replaced Pepi Khambule in the role.
Another major character to leave the show was Waxy, played by Siyabonga Shibe. Both Khambule and Shibe left the show amidst controversy about their salaries.
In September 2007 Shibe quit the show, claiming the producers wouldn't pay him what he was worth. His character wasn't recast for the second season; instead a new character, Sparks, was created, played by Michael Zulu.
In March 2008 Khambule was fired from the show after sending a heavy-handed email of complaint to the head of SABC drama, threatening to resign in protest at what he perceived to be too low a salary and prejudicial behaviour towards him by the show's director.
Despite earning a salary of R24,000 per month, he claimed he was not able to afford transport and the R1,000 pay rise he was given the previous year was not enough.
He was promptly fired by the SABC.
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Click "Seasons" tab at top of page to access crew details per season.
Click "Episodes" tab at top of page to access all episode synopses, grouped by season.
Note: the first season was rebroadcast in 2007, as production on the second season was delayed. The second season finally aired in 2008.
Season 1 (13 episodes)
Premiere: 12 January 2006 | Finale: 13 April 2006 | Thursdays, 21h00
Premiere: 20 February 2007 | Finale: 12 June 2007 | Tuesdays, 22h00
Season 2 (13 episodes)
Premiere: 10 January 2008 | 3 April 2008 | Thursdays, 21h00
Season 3 (13 episodes)
Premiere: 14 May 2009 | Finale: 6 August 2009 | Thursdays, 20h30