It took 42 years but on Sunday night the SABC will introduce the South African public broadcaster’s first-ever isiNdebele TV drama when iKani starts on SABC1 at 19:30.
For the first time in the history of the SABC, the isiNdebele language and culture will find expression in the form of a TV drama, with the pioneering multi-lingual drama series that will tell the story of a young artists Khanya Hlophe leaving Johannesburg and going on a journey of self-discovery as she visits a fictional town called iKani.
Khanya eventually discovers that she is from an isiNdebele family despite being brought up by her aunt as a Zulu, and starts to learn about her roots and her culture.
“iKani was developed to explore the colourful and rich culture of the AmaNdebele,” says producer Wandile Molebatsi who is also seen in the show as the character of Vince. “It’s time to appreciate all South African cultures in all their different facets.
The 13-part iKani is produced by Coal Stove Pictures and adds the first isiNdebele show to the SABC’s programming line-up other than the isiNdebele TV news bulletin on SABC1 and the Ikwekwezi FM radio station.
The lead role in iKani is played by Thandeka Mdeliswa (25), together with veteran actress Florence Masebe as matriarch Bongeka and Nomonde Mbusi as Dinah.
The rest of the iKani cast includes: Themba Mahlangu as Butho, Bhlanhla Mahlangu as Jonas, Frieda Makoba as Esther, Sipho Mbele as Charles, Sophie Kabini as Ouma, and January Kabini as Khowleza.
Producer Wandile Molebatsi of Coal Stove Pictures is proudly African.
“We came up with an idea of iqhude [a coming of age ceremony for Ndebele girls] to celebrate the culture. We are working with a lot of specialists to know what to film and what not to film because we need to be respectful… It’s a story that allows people to know what it means to be a young woman in South Africa right now, and we want it to be entertaining.”
So what have the other challenges been?
“Finding the talent,” he says.
Molebatsi turned to Ikwekwezi FM for help and they put the word out about the auditions for the show. But he’s not about to relax any time soon.
“I am feeling stressed because isiNdebele is very colourful, so we have to make sure that we get it right.”
Language adviser Vusi Ndlovu says he’s hugely impressed with the progress the non-isiNdebele speakers are making. The language has been marginalised so they are trying to find a standardised usage in the drama. He hopes that viewers will give Ikani a chance to prove the work that has been put in to make the language authentic.