Can we talk?

2014-09-21 18:45

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We ‘allow’ women to talk on television, but it better be about beauty or babies. Real, hard TV talk from women is basically nonexistent. Thinus Ferreira looks at a few brave hosts who may offer a glimmer of hope in the midst of quiet prejudice on our TVs

Tongue in Cheek


Tuesdays, 8.30pm

Katch it with Khanyi

Mondays, 6pm

Many say Felicia Mabuza-Suttle echoed Oprah Winfrey, but when burn patients, the homeless and rape survivors boldly marched on to her Top Level talk show in 1992, she did some of the hardest, boldest and bravest interviews imaginable. Forgive her for the sunglasses.

It’s more than 20 years later, and we haven’t seen the likes of her again. When last did you hear a South African woman on TV talk about politics, sexuality (shhh!), or social injustices affecting families in a way ordinary viewers can relate to?

Despite the huge proliferation of TV channels, local shows and the democratisation of South Africa’s airwaves, we are clearly still telling women to stay in their place – a place on TV where real, hard and frank talk is deemed unnecessary.

The mothers, madams, girls and gogos can be on television. No problem. Just stay in your domain, please. Lifestyle and fashion, children and celebrities, health and beauty – those are the safe topics for a woman.

Hard talk

Earlier this year on Noeleen Maholwana-Sangqu’s 3 Talk on SABC3, an exceptional thing happened. Ordinary women suddenly spoke during an episode that wasn’t concerned with light-hearted fare.

They were rape victims, but they changed the label. For an hour on South African public television, they were rape survivors. They also showed their faces. They were not ashamed. They talked – painfully and with brutal honesty – about what happened to them.

They told viewers about how they doggedly pursued their attackers and had them convicted. They had advice for other people in the same situation. They told us what parts of our broken social and legal systems worked, and what parts didn’t. It was brilliant, mesmerising and remarkable television.

It showed what the genre, public television and the often belittled and dismissed “female-driven” talk show can be. In what other African country on public television do rape survivors dare, or would even be given the support and choice, to tell their stories and show their faces?

Siki Mgabadeli’s town hall-style show, The Big Debate, was astounding television. The latest season was shown on eNCA because the topics were apparently too hard and too brutally honest for the SABC to bear.

It’s been the only talk show where a Marikana miner’s widow, tears streaming down her face, valiantly told her story. It’s been the only place on television where young people from Diepsloot held a mic and told South Africa to stop the sexual abuse and exploitation, and to stop throwing our children into dumpsters.

A new era?

The start of a new local talk show, Tongue in Cheek, on SABC3 prime time hopefully signals a change. Host Anele Mdoda, as moderator of the all-female panel with one man, studied politics and international relations – and it shows.

“Love us or loathe us, we’re not going anywhere,” she declared in the debut episode.

Another surprising rising star is Khanyi Mbau, who has undergone a remarkable transformation as host of Katch it with Khanyi. It’s not just good talk, it is real and relevant. She doesn’t care what her guests are wearing. She asks what they’re thinking.

Of course there is a place for talking about the latest ooh la la lip gloss and chicken stir-fry recipes, but where are our women talking daily about the real issues that affect us as South African viewers? Can we talk?

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