Simunye, We Are 1: New school artists celebrate the legacy of South African TV

Before throwback Thursdays and flashback Fridays, Jam Alley and V-Mash (Vinolia Mashego) ended the weekday doldrums with a bang. With her bright blonde hair, sassy punch lines and loud, “Iyho bangani iyho!” she had us amped to start the weekend. Let’s not forget how V-Mash showed off her dance moves and gave away free chocolates and mngongo stereo CD players on the show either.

SABC One – or Simunye, as the TV channel that was launched in 1996 was known – positioned itself as the canvas upon which the stories of black South Africa could be portrayed, and these narratives continue to inspire us today.

Kgomotso Neto Tleane and Khotso Bantu Mahlangu

Back then, the R100 cash prize on Jam Alley was the ultimate jackpot. Yet, it was not as flashy as the lavish Moroka breakfasts depicted on Simunye’s soapie Generations, where protagonist Archie Moroka closed big business deals as part of the new elite black middle class. Since the channel’s inception, we’ve seen the terror of Chester and Papa Action at Yizo Yizo’s Supatsela High School, and the comical relief of S’dumo and ‘sis May on ‘Sgudi ‘Snaysi. We look back at how these old school TV shows still inspire us in our portrayals of life in South Africa today.

‘Sgudi ‘Snaysi

S’dumo, played by the legendary comic Joe Mafela on the hit comedy series ‘Sgudi ‘Snaysi, reminded us all of the ubiquitous old unemployed uncle who had big dreams and little success. The one who always knew how to make us laugh. In an illustration he’s working on that’s dedicated to the late Joe Mafela, Joburg-based illustrator Thabani Hlela references S’dumo and his girl crush Thoko, played by Thembi Mtshali.

Thabani captures the comical nature of S’dumo that drew audiences to their screens, who spent his days running from loan sharks and formulating crazy business ideas.

Thabani Hlela

Jam Alley

Reaching its peak in the mid ’90s, Jam Alley was an energetic and brash youth variety show that comprised of music, competitions and the effervescent energy that was V-Mash. The TV show was the inspiration behind MTN’s 2010 MTN Zone 100% Mahala campaign, as creatives Peter Khoury and Ray Ray used the nostalgic TV show as a point of reference for the popular adverts.

Yizo Yizo

Yizo Yizo is the hit series created by writer Mtutuzeli Matshoba and brought to life by directors Angus Gibson and Tebogo Mahlatsi. The show aired on Simunye from 1999 to 2004 featuring a true to life portrayal of life in and around fictional township school Supatsela. 

The show serves as the inspiration behind the photographic series The Honey. Produced by photographer Khomotso Neo Tleane and illustrator Rendani NemakhavhaniThe Honey is an exploration of blackness in South African townships and its characters, Honey and Gavini, are inspired by the dangerous crime duo, Chester and Papa Action – characters from the SABC series.

Kgomotso Neto Tleane and Khotso Bantu Mahlangu

Emzini Wezinsizwa

Celebrated Joburg animator Mdu Ntuli of Mdu Comics is known for his comical animations and sensational YouTube cartoons. Mdu’s 2013 illustration of the cast from the classic comedy show Emzini Wezinsizwa had Twitter begging for him to turn it into an animated series.

The retro show ran from 1994 to 2004, and shared the story of four migrant labourers living in a men’s hostel who had travelled form far and wide to find opportunities in Joburg. It resonated with many as it told the stories of long lost fathers and uncles who had left their homes for the big city, and it tackled many social issues like tribalism, poverty and spacial apartheid through its comedy.

Mdu comics

Zone 14

Using Orlando East as a backdrop, Zone 14 honed in on the dreams and aspirations of people young and old people who found themselves in their circumstances. The story featured a kasi soccer team called Tiger Boys, owned by tavern boss Bra Tiger (played by Owen Sejake) and funeral parlour Tycoon Sizwe Moloi (played by Patrick Ndlovu).

In her photo essays Ebhuwqhini and Umkhandi Wamabhokisi, Joburg-based photographer Jabulile Pearl Hlanze uses the dreams of township soccer players and a coffin maker to recreate the narrative of black people with big dreams as portrayed on Zone 14.

Ebhuqqhwini explores the story of the Katlehong Sunday soccer games, where dusty fields are turned into soccer stadiums, while Umkhandi Wamabhokisi looks at the story of the Sithole furniture and coffin makers located in Kwa Mai-Mai in the Joburg CBD.

The Bomb shelter
Jabulile Pearl Hlanze
Jabulile Pearl Hlanze

The many ways that Simunye’s shows of the past inform our art of today are testament to the fact that the way we see ourselves is rooted in culture, narrative, portraiture. It’s the South African legacy.

One Comment

  1. I love how each series is potrayied in different ways of Art. And those stories are our roots, they’re the stories we grew up watching and they bring soo many memories of oir childhood.