Generations: Minister’s intervention necessary for our TV culture

By Onke Madikizela (@mangutyan)

Generations was culturally significant because of it’s portrayal of a new black middle class at a time when it barely existed. There have been many shows since pushing the envelope in similar and different ways. But not enough.

I recently read an interview with legendary Burkina-Faso director Idrissa Ouedraogo where he said, “the only way for a people to exist is to produce its own culture, especially TV culture”.

I loved this quote because I think it articulated the most important reason why we need to preserve and produce more stories like Generations. It is also the reason why I feel that the Generations saga did require the intervention of the Minister of Arts and Culture, knowing that many people felt that it was not that serious and that the minister should have attended to more important things.

The idea that people can only be challenged by foreign culture is not true, our own culture and people evolve and therefore we can challenge each other through our own stories.

Generations Sello

In a conversation with my friends a few weeks ago, I’d ‘predicted’ that if we don’t intervene, weekdays 8 pm would be replaced by some high-budget white-owned and white-written stereotype of black South Africans.

I was proved wrong in many respects. What we do have now is Skeem Sam’, which was created by Winnie Serite and produced by PEU Communication Solutions (the ownership of which I could not verify) in association with the Gauteng Film Commission and SABC Education. This drama series turned soapie, follows the lives of teenage boys in Limpopo with the aim of showing that “real men are made, not born.”

Skeem Sam’ is a great show. My family (parents and siblings) and I watched the first season religiously exactly because of the “real men are developed not born” theme. That this Pedi/Tshwana show has been able to engage a Xhosa family like that is an amazing achievement, especially because while our understanding of Pedi/Tshwana is not bad but being Joburgers, most of the time was spent reading the sub-titles.

I think it is still good even now and can keep us tuned while Generations shoots new episodes. I don’t know what it is about Skeem Sam’, whether it has a great script or great actors, maybe its both. But its also one of our success stories

That said, there is still much to be said about the legacy of Generations. Don’t get me started about how Generations broke new ground when it came out around the early 90’s representing black South Africans in a way never seen before, or I’d never seen.

From the wealth they had created, they lived a life many of us could only dream of, but in many ways still reflected us. Remember the shots of the Moroka house? They lived in an ‘upstairs’ in Houghton and drove nice cars and shopped overseas and wore African clothes too. The Moroka’s had family in exile and Alex. There were gold diggers and cunning businessmen.

 

No poverty, struggling voodoo porn. Instead, we were presented with black South Africans who were rich because they owned businesses, not because they worked for people.This wasn’t any business. They were media giants.

Remember how Sello Make ka Ncube just killed his role as Archie? This was an incredibly powerful businessman married to a sangoma who then discovers 20 years later that he has an illegitimate child in Alex and doesn’t deny her but goes looking for her and comes back frustrated after getting lost.

The Morokas went to church and still gave thanks to abaphantsi. Karabo would have marital problems and suffer from depression and go to a Western doctor and then still go home and tshisa impepho. Generations had actors representing the rest of the continent. It had amazing female actors, remember Ntsiki and Julia?

The Moroka’s media company’s competition was not white media agencies but a fellow black media giant. The token white people in Generations weren’t as rich as the black people. They were regular South African whites who respected the black people, had problem like everyone else (such as alcoholism) and adopted black kids.

It seemed Generations was not too interested in white people and were not interested in seeking out their approval.

Generations 15

To me, Generations did for South Africa coming into a new democracy what the Bill Cosby show did for comedy and the idea of black family in America.

I remember watching a doccie on Black Comedy and the Bill Cosby show and comedians had comments along the lines of “Woah…I was watching the Cosby show on some there is a mommy and a daddy under one roof, and they’re HAPPILY married? And the toilet is upstairs? Each kid has their own room? They don’t get spanked? And the dad has a job as a doctor? The wife is a lawyer? All their kids are going to college? They talk and laugh as a family? Like what the f***” ”

People may want to dog Generations now but new writers (like myself) can aspire to seeing their scripts on TV because shows like Generations paved the way.

As proof of this, around New Years every year SABC airs the old episodes of Generations and if you really watch and think about what year this was, then you will know that Generations was a real prophecy for the black middle class. It is the best representation of black people I have seen in any TV story – it was honest, nuanced and ambitiously prophetic.

What I see being produced most often are unoriginal stories and when we see do see wealthy black people, they often just mimick the lifestyles of rich white people.

Generations 4

That said, there are some gems on our local screens, outside of the obvious shows such as Isibaya and Muvhango, that should be noted:

Ihawu Lesizwe is an an amazing new political drama series about young black people challenging the government.

eKasi: Our Stories, which, to my mind, is South Africa’s Nollywood equivalent. I love these because they reflect my real eKasi experiences. If there’s poverty in our stories at least we should be the ones experiencing it and telling the stories.

Shreds and Dreams (written by Bongi Ndaba and Portia Gumede) was an amazing show about four rural girls adjusting to life in Johannesburg and has made an awesome comeback with a new season this year.

uMfolozi Street is also great, despite having low production value. It has great actors in the cast and I enjoy how its one story made up of a group of stories about each individual character.

Sticks and Stones is a good show centering around a woman, Ubom’ Sana, a black Xhosa model trying to make it in Johannesburg.

I also think Isidingo adding the Sibeko’s was a great move. This gave us a picture of modern mining giants (with a ‘CIA-type’ family leader turned villain now that his brother has died) who are also quite rooted in their African traditions and practices and it seems the story will remain centred around that.

There have been many, but if we can count them up on ten fingers, there are just not enough, especially considering the amount of foreign content on our screens and the popularity of local shows in vernacular in the past. (Many of the ‘big vernac shows’ are still aired on SABC 2 at 22:00 on Friday nights, where you should be able to get the likes of Velaphi, Hlala kwa ba Fileyo, Bophelo ke Semphekgo, and Emzini we Zinsizwa.)

Generations 3

Generations was culturally significant because of it’s portrayal of a new black middle class at a time when it barely existed. There have been many shows since pushing the envelope in similar and different ways. But not enough.

The conversation that we should be having with our Minister of Arts and Culture is how we can get Generations back to that level when it does return to our screens, and, more importantly, how we can produce more shows of that calibre.

 

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