Kulani Nkuna
3 minute read
10 Dec 2013
6:00 am

Isidingo tackles abuse

Kulani Nkuna

Once in a while, television soap operas get murky and gritty. South Africans are very connected to reality and they like their entertainment to resemble their lives in some way, shape or form

VERSATILE. Kgomotso Christopher has had to dig deep to portray the sexually abused
Katlego Sibeko in Isidingo. Picture: Supplied.

The writers and directors of some of the better local productions appreciate this, doling out material consistent with this need. Isidingo has traditionally placed emphasis on affecting social change while still entertaining and making money. Escapism is key in any melodramatic endeavour, but this soapie has included real organisations and helplines that viewers who may be experiencing what a particular character is going through can contact.

Since its inception, the show has been hailed as a breakthrough in local television drama and labelled as “one nation viewing”, helping it to become a favourite with viewers across the spectrum.

Isidingo has seen changes in recent years as it followed the lives of the inhabitants of Horizon Deep, and their wealthier counterparts at ONTV!, a television station that moved from Johannesburg to The Deep. The newcomers, the Sibeko family – owners of the first mining project of its kind in Africa, the Ultra Deep project – are not spared any scrutiny. The village includes people from all walks of life, from lowly mine shaft workers to wealthy executives, and serves as a reflection of South Africa.

Isidingo cast member Linda Sokhulu referred to a time when the ultra-wealthy Sibeko family were introduced to the storyline.

“Pumla Hopa (executive producer) always wanted to make sure that we were always busy in our scenes, to show that our characters worked for their money and that it was not tenderpreneurship or BEE at work,” Sokhulu said at the time.

The show has also illustrated the possibilities of mixing entertainment with education. The current storyline revolves around the 16 Days Of Activism For No Violence Against Women And Children campaign. The Sibeko family have dark secrets which have come to light recently and the theme of abuse entered the fray last week in scenes so powerful that a caller to Power FM expressed how he was scared by the violence meted out against the character Katlego Sibeko, played by Kgomotso Christopher.

Katlego is Jefferson Sibeko’s (Vusi Kunene) first wife. Beautiful and exotic, she is the perfect trophy wife for an aspiring businessman. She is enterprising, cunning, manipulative, ambitious, charming and aggressive. The character, like her husband, presents one face in public and another in private – courteous and warm one minute, icy and conniving the next.

“I have always wanted to play a Lady Macbeth-type role because that is so far removed from who I am in real life,” Christopher says.

“It appears that I have managed to play the role well through the years, because I have incurred the anger of the public; I see it when I bump into fans of the show.”

Christopher concedes it was difficult to channel the feelings of an abused woman.

“There is nothing one can do or fully understand abuse unless you have walked in those shoes,” says Christoher.

“I have not been there in my life, and neither have my friends and family, so I could only do academic research and draw on my artistic reservoir to portray that role effectively. It was extremely hard to execute this role, because people are going through this in real life and I am only in make-up. It was especially tricky to move away from that confident character I usually play to switch to playing a vulnerable woman who has become a shadow of her former self. But as a storyteller you have to dig deep and do your best.”

Christopher was trained at Columbia University in New York and calls on this training for this role.

“People have been coming up to say to me that although they do not like my character, they also believe no one deserves to be beaten up like that,” she says.

“Many people identify with the character on our social network pages and they are finally seeking help, which is the great thing about Isidingo. It is television that can play a role in changing people’s real lives.”