A DEATH, a wedding, gunshots, then – a kiss!
Could this really be Muvhango – a show that hadn’t shown much lip-locking in its 21-year history? Kissing was once banned because producers wanted gogos, parents and kids to watch the ultimate family soapie together. So just what was going on? Well, as fans well know, a nail-biting cliffhanger saw Thandaza (Sindi Dlathu) hospitalised with brain cancer – and the following day’s episode flashed forward 18 months, introducing brand- new characters and storylines.
It was the show’s 3 000th episode and hotly anticipated by the more than 2 million South Africans who tune in to SABC2 every weeknight to watch the show. But no one saw this twist coming and fans caused a social media storm after being confused by the time jump.
Episode 3 000 showcased the out-of-the-blue wedding of James Motsamai (Dingaan Mokebe) and Moliehi Zikalala (Vatiswa Ndara), an older businesswoman with a dark past. Then they kissed! Cue shock and horror. Dingaan, who has gone from a bit player to the series’ leading man, says he’s avoided online negativity about the changes, but enjoys the fact many fans have also told him they love the new incarnation of the show.
“I play golf and people come up to me and tell me, ‘We love the new Muvhango, we love the new look’,” he says. “People say I married a hot sugar mama!”
He’s philosophical about the negativity, he adds. “At least it means people are watching. In this industry you need to be strong, physically and mentally. When you go to our fan page you will see things that will
crush you. One comment said, ‘This is the reason they don’t win awards’, and I took it personally. But then I remembered the millions who love what we do and brushed it off.”
DRUM is on the set of the soapie where Dingaan (40) and Vatiswa (47) have invited us into their dressing room while they finish shooting an early morning scene.
When they join us Vatiswa can’t stop laughing at Dingaan’s jokes. Dingaan, who has been on Muvhango for 15 years, is clearly a charmer.
But he gets serious when he talks about the “exciting direction” the 21-year-old show is taking.
“The writers and producers decided it was time to revamp it. The stories were getting tired. Change can be painful but this was good because we were moving forward. We needed to move with the times. We needed to get professional, good-looking people,” he says, his eyes fixed on his costar, who rolls her eyes at him.
Vatiswa is best known as the bad girl of local dramas, having played an abusive, alcoholic mother in SABC1’s Home Affairs, a ruthless soccer boss in e.tv’s Shooting Stars and the power-hungry Nomarussia in Mzansi Magic’s Igazi – a woman who was willing to kill so her son could be crowned king of their village.
Now in Muvhango she plays a businesswoman who runs her late husband’s construction empire. She and James married to combine and grow their respective business empires.
Dingaan admits he was initially unsure about his character’s new storyline.
“When the writers sat me down and told me about it, I was like, ‘No, I can’t’. It went against everything my character believed in.
“James has been a responsible guy. Everything he has done has been calculated.lated. At work and at home he’s a mediator and peacemaker. I thought, ‘Why would James go from being so responsible to marrying someone older than him?’ I really didn’t like it.”
But, he says, the writers persevered and succeeded in selling him on the new plot.
“And when I found out I would be working with Vatiswa, I loved it!” he says, adding he found out she would be play-play- ing his wife only when he got to work to shoot the wedding scene.
Vatiswa too only received the script on the day shooting began back in February. “I just had to go with it,” she recalls. “For me it’s a worry to go into something that’s always been there and the recipe has always worked. You come in, and you think, ‘ Oh gosh, what am I going to do? How am I going to fit into everything?’ It was like okay, ‘I’m here now – do the best you can and just go with the flow’.”
In the end her only fear was “whether my [TV] husband was going to love me,” she says, looking at Dingaan.
WHEN Dingaan joined the soapie in 2003 James was a minor character and the actor had to be on set only twice a month or so. Now he’s the leading man. “I used to earn R2 200 a month when I started on Muvhango,” he recalls. “I did that for six months. When I came here I had just left playing a bartender in Generations, where I never had any lines. I owe everything to this production.”
Despite embracing the facelift of the new-new- look Muvhango, he’ll miss his friend and colleague, Sindi.
‘Change can be painful but this was good because we were moving forward’
“I’ve been with her since day one. She was like a sister, a colleague and everything else. She was one of the people I was very close to. When she left there was a void,” he says. But he does reveal that Thandaza didn’t die in soapie-land – and could well come back.
For now, though, he and his new leading lady can’t get enough of each other.
“I’m still getting to know James but I love how he’s a man who takes control when he wants to. That’s the kind of man I like,” Vatiswa says. “What do I love about Dingaan? He’s funny! I have so much fun every time we go on set.”
“We’re still in the honeymoon phase,” Dingaan adds, laughing. “I love that she’s so free-spirited.”
Vatiswa relishes where she is now in her life.
“This is not like other soapies. What I like here is that people don’t take themselves too seriously. That’s such a beautiful thing because on any other set you are made to feel you’re new. Here I didn’t get that at all.”
“My dream is for her to stay here for another 10 years,” Dingaan says. “At some point I’m going to move behind the scenes and she must take over. Moliehi was only meant to be here for three months but I don’t think that’s going to happen anymore.”
“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Vatiswa admits.
“I hope we get that across to families watching at home. I want to educate and inspire them too.”
And who knows, maybe they can do that – one little previously taboo kiss at a time.