Big Brother needs a reality check

2015-04-19 15:00

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While M-Net is saying little about the alleged rape of a contestant in the Big Brother Mzansi house last Saturday night, a former contestant and a gender activist are slamming the broadcaster for not learning its lessons.

No charges have been laid against Siyanda “Adams” Ngwenya, who bragged to fellow housemates on Sunday that he “dipped” – had sex with – fellow contestant Axola “Bexx” Mbengo, who had passed out after a night of heavy drinking.

Adams was axed from the show on Monday, while Bexx was asked to leave voluntarily. She was later removed from the house – at her request – “for her own wellbeing”.

The chief executive officer of M-Net, Yolisa Phahle, on Friday night told City Press that they had appointed law firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr to independently investigate what happened.

She said the two now former contestants were not willing to speak about what happened, and Mbengo was being shielded from the media and provided with intensive counselling.

“This investigation has begun. Big Brother’s executive producer from Endemol Shine Africa has reported a suspicion of sexual misconduct to the police, as required by law. No charges have been laid. The broadcaster views the incident in a serious light, and the wellbeing of the contestants remains of utmost importance,” she said.

Phahle added that, depending on the findings of the investigation, more action would be taken.

However, this is not the first time such an incident has happened under the watch of the production house. In 2007, there was an outcry over a Big Brother Africa episode in which a contestant allegedly molested another while she was drunk. Paramedics were reported to have been sent to the house and the live feed was cut.

M-Net dismissed the incident at the time, saying that there was no indication that the alleged victim was “unconscious”.

Details of last weekend’s incident remain sketchy because, while the cameras remained on, the live feed was cut off.

Model Babalwa Mneno, a contestant on Big Brother Africa in 2012, told City Press that she was not surprised that such a thing could have happened in the Big Brother house.

She claimed “something similar” nearly happened during her stay in the house three years ago, but declined to reveal the details.

The show, she said, was carefully structured “to bring out the worst in people”.

“Firstly, they are looking for characters who will clash. You will find someone who is really reserved or someone who is really crazy. They make sure that something will brew when the group is put together. Obviously if there is no drama or action, nobody will watch the show.

“They capitalise on these characteristics. It’s not like they don’t know who is going into the house. They do a thorough background check and they know very well why they put specific personalities in the house,” she said.

Alcohol, she said, was also a catalyst.

“The fact that they give out alcohol in the amounts that they do, some type of emotion has to come out. During the week, you don’t get any alcohol, so on Saturday, people go all out. What do you expect will happen then?”

While the incident in question was not broadcast live, Mneno is adamant that there is footage of the act.

“During my time, there were at least 85 cameras in the house. They operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There are cameras in all of the rooms filming, with motion detectors, so nothing will go unnoticed.”

Gender activist Lisa Vetten was concerned that there was no immediate intervention on Saturday night and about M-Net’s silence.

“I’m concerned about why M-Net has not come out strongly, condemning this kind of behaviour. Why is it top secret?”

She also questioned why it had been allowed to happen again. “Did M-Net not learn from the first incident? Why do contestants get drunk on the show?” she asked.

Vetten also criticised Ngwenya’s choice of words. He told housemates: “I dipped her, but don’t think she remembers because she passed out.”

“Who uses the word ‘dipped’?” Vetten asked. “One uses the word when referring to an object.”

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