Isibaya's African footprint by a loyal Zimbabwean fan

Written by TVSA Team from the blog TVSA Guest Columnists on 22 Dec 2016
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Isibaya's reach has extended across the continent since it first launched in 2013, along with many of Mzansi Magic's other shows.

Today we're pleased to feature this special tribute to the series, by Zimbabwean writer Jerà. 

As you'll see, it's a cool guide for anyone who hasn't watched the show and wants to start tuning in in the new year.

It's also an insightful interpretation of the series by an avid fan...

Isibaya brings rural life to the suburbs

I am a writer and, like all other fickle creatives, predicting my day is next to impossible. But there is one thing you can be certain of: at 20h30 CAT, you will find me in front of the television, unblinking and deaf to the outside world, the moment my favourite television show begins on DSTV’s Mzansi Magic channel.

It is set in the village of Bhubesini, a scenic locale where cattle moo and goats bleat. The women here are Africa’s answer to the wives of Stepford. Their devotion to their husbands - if you are a man - will leave you wanting to move to this quaint little valley where the men folk are waited upon by helpmeets who serve tea and umqombothi.

They will share their husbands with other wives and it all seems normal to them, because that is the way of the valley. The young men are pleased to pass their days herding livestock - for cattle and goats are the measure of wealth in Zulu culture - or engaging in the time honoured sport of stick fighting.

The older men sit with their fedora hats on their knees, drinking either the modern lager or the brew made from grain harvested from the soil in which their protective ancestors - abaphansi - lie.

Here, chief Ngubane, advised by his council, is the law of the land. Offenses are punishable by payment of livestock or, for the very serious crimes, banishment from Bhubesini. But viewers should not be deceived by the quaintness of this bucolic setting.

The unassuming villagers of Bhubesini can, in a heartbeat, transform into gun wielding hoards, if provoked. In the blink of an eye, life in Bhubesini can go from a friendly stick-fight to deadly gun battle.

The plot

The Zungu family, from the east of the valley have to remain vigilant of the Ndlovus, their enemies from the west of the dividing river.

The Zungus are the white hats, in Cowboys and Indians parlance, while the Ndlovus - led by Samson (Bheki Mkhwane) - are identifiable by an actual black hat and are often the instigators of conflict.

Protagonist, Mpiyakhe Zungu (Siyabonga Thwala), is an honourable man who runs a thriving taxi business from the valley. He is as ruthless as he is fair. Mpiyakhe’s greatest asset is a shrewd mind and immovable resolve in the face of a challenge.

Even his enemies hold him in high regard – indoda yamadoda, a man among men, he is often called. His two adoring wives, Siphokazi (Celeste Ntuli) and Phumelele (Ayanda Ngubane), are both wise and kind-hearted.

If Mpiyakhe is the head of the Zungu clan, then his sister, Mkabayi (Thembi Nyandeni), a silver haired scheming spinster, is the neck. Outwardly, Mkabyi is a childless woman who is only happy to offer advice to her nephews and nieces. But when the battle cry is sounded, MaNcwane - to call her by her clan name - is in the forefront, with a cocked and loaded AK rifle. She is not to be trifled with.

The chief protector of the Zungu clan is the muscular Fezile Khumalo (Andile Mxakaza). Standing next to his boss, Fezile has a buttlerish subservience about him, but is a no-nonsense henchman who will kill for Mpiyakhe, if not die for him.  

Mehlemamba, who uses his knowledge of herbs and magic for good, is the family sangoma. Bhekimuzi, watcher of the home, as his name suggests, stands sentry at the Zungu gate and Shadrack Kgokong (Samson Khumalo), manages Zungu’s fleet of taxis from the Johannesburg end.

Good versus evil

Despite the use of evil elixirs - crafted by the devious sangoma, Sunday Nkabinde -  Samson Ndlovu often emerges second best in this unending war of good versus evil. Ndlovu does not have any true friends, just lackies who fear him.

Perhaps only his wife, Khanyi Majola, the resident busybody, loves him. But even if they loathe him, viewers will be intrigued by some of his inimitable quirks; first his love for boiled eggs, second his black fedora which marks him as the bad guy and thirdly his signature phrase, “number one.”

Samson’s brother, Mandla, is a bumbling buffoon whose chief responsibility is to make his older sibling look smarter. Mandla provides comic relief in an otherwise serious television show.

Chief Zwelibanzi Ngubane (Andile Gumbi) is a newly installed monarch, following the death of his father Bhekifa. The only thing Zweli shares with his father is DNA; whereas the late chief used brute force, Zweli prefers peaceful dialogue.

But if Zweli is “too kind” for a chief, then his power-hungry wife Sihle (Zinhle Mabena), who is as beautiful as she is evil, has enough wickedness inside of her for the both of them. Chief Ngubane is aware of the influential elders about him who seek to take advantage of his kindness, but remains blissfully ignorant of the malice of his queen.

Qondisile (Jessica Nkosi) - kind-hearted, beautiful and intelligent Queen Mother - is the survivor of an abusive marriage to the late Bhekifa Ngubane. She married Ngubane in order to preserve peace in the valley but her real love is Zungu’s enforcer, Fezile.

Love in a time of war

If the love of power is at the heart of the Zungu-Ndlovu fued, then Thandeka Zungu (Nomzamo Mbatha) and Sbusiso Ndlovu (Sdumo Mtshali) are the shaky bridge uniting the two clans on either side of the bloodstained river.

Going against his father’s wishes, the Ndlovu heir married the daughter of his father’s sworn enemy. Zungu has another rebellious child, Jabulani (Pallance Dladla), who constantly seeks daddy’s approval but only manages to find himself in his father’s bad books.

While keeping one eye open for the inevitable Ndlovu attack, Zungu has to be constantly aware that danger is also imminent from ruthless rival taxi boss, Judas Ngwenya. As with all shady characters, Judas trusts no one, other than his son and attack dog, Qaphelani.

What’s in a name?

As well as sticking to their given traits, the characters are also cleverly named:

Mpiyakhe - his war, his struggle. Perhaps it is his struggle to keep peace, while having to be at war with evil.
Bhekimuzi - it is his responsibility to watch the home.
Jabulani - means be happy. Can there be a more apt name for a party boy?
Judas - a despicable man, who can only be named after the Bible’s greatest traitor.
Mehlemamba - snake eyes seems an evil name, but Mehlo is watchful and sees things that occur beneath the surface, like a mamba.
Qhaphelani - it sounds like a word of caution, rather than a name. If you encounter Qhaphelani, expect him to either stab you or shoot you.
Mandla - if there is one thing that the younger Ndlovu loves more than alcohol it is power.
Blade - he is as keen eyed and as cold as a sharp knife.
Isibaya - the kraal or enclosure.

Social issues

Apart from addressing social issues - rape, corruption, disability, women’s equality - the series plays a role in the preservation of Zulu culture.

Save for taxi foreman, Kgokong and daughter Lerato, Iris, the citified ex wife of Zungu, her former helper, Kaone, Chief Ngubane’s aid, Blade Lekhalekhala and tavern owner, MaNtuli, all other characters speak Zulu.

Non-Zulu speaking viewers will take comfort in that the script has English subtitles, which give the show a wider appeal. The predominantly agrarian setting - where trends do not move as quickly as in the city - means that this show will most likely be a timeless African classic worth collecting on DVD.

If there is anything bad to say about Desiree Markgraaff's production, it is that 30 minutes, in an advert-choked prime time slot, is hardly enough for one to take in this riveting show. The creative team at Bomb Shelter Productions has certainly brought KwaZulu Natal straight to millions of living rooms across Africa.

My pen is capped.


Shows in this post: Isibaya

Channels in this post: Mzansi Magic

1 Comment

22 Dec 2016 22:07

Why isnt it online yet?

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