What makes Grassroots such compelling viewing?

Matriarchy vs Patriarchy: The Debeza family is pulling itself in different directions.
Matriarchy vs Patriarchy: The Debeza family is pulling itself in different directions. pictures:supplied

TV REVIEW Grassroots uses a boys’ school and African cultural practices to comment on the foundations of toxic masculinity. In times like those our country is facing now, Phumlani S Langa recommends this as necessary viewing.


1Magic (DStv channel 103)

Friday, 7.30pm


I always get mad excited when I watch a show in which Xhosa is the dominant language. The Xhosa culture plays a large role in 1Magic’s Grassroots, which depicts the life of two high school boys and a dark secret that binds their families.

The drama starts off with a violent ending, a snippet of a scene in which Monwabisi Nala (Oros Mampofu) aims a gun at Asanda Debeza (Lihleli Tini) and squeezes the trigger. We’re then taken back in time and shown how the tension between these two escalated to that point.

That was all of two minutes of screen time, and a simple move like breaking away from the linear delivery of some local shows already places this show quite high up the list of worthwhile South African content.

I have to put this down to MultiChoice’s new focus on more dynamic television. We now know to expect well-orchestrated scenes, vivid imagery and a no-nonsense cast. What adds to this is a relevant story, and I believe this one might be even more than that. In times like these, when South African men relentlessly attack and abuse women, we need to get a grip on when hypermasculinity is first instilled.

The plot sees Monwabisi and Asanda as two rugby players looking to get scholarships at a prestigious school for boys in Johannesburg, called Saint Sebastian’s. Monwabisi is shown after the cultural ceremony of going to the mountains, a rite of passage where a boy becomes a man. Asanda has forgone this in order to play rugby, much to the disapproval of his father.

No love lost: Monwabisi and Asanda can't stand each other and compete at every turn. pictures:supplied

Hypermasculinity gives this chronicle a sturdy fulcrum from which the writers leverage this issue to entertain and interrogate. This is important viewing as boys learn to become men everywhere, from the vistas of the mountain where cultural tradition is observed to the dormitory rooms in schools.

The side stories are also quite gripping. A black woman, Pearl Busika (Lerato Mvelase), is appointed as the principal of this school and she is, of course, met with opposition by the male heads of department who are not convinced a woman can be at the helm of a boys’ school.

The very talented Zikhona Sodlaka plays Asanda’s mom, Epainette, who has to deal with his father and his authoritarian style of love. These are woven to carefully fuel the main story of an unfortunate accident that pits these two young men against each other.

It all makes for scintillating viewing.

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