How SA productions try to get it right on set

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Lunga Shabalala's death scene on The River sparked debate about research on TV shows.
Lunga Shabalala's death scene on The River sparked debate about research on TV shows.
Gallo Images: Frennie Shivambu

We’ve all noticed it once or twice.

The odd “objection, Your Honour” in a South African production or a mix up of medical terms. It happens.

Most recently, the topic of mistakes in South African telenovelas and shows was in the spotlight after Lindani on Mzansi Magic’s The River had his IV line inserted incorrectly.

Lunga Shabalala’s character, Lindani, recently died on the show and before that he was in hospital.

Veteran actress Florence Masebe posted pictures of doctors complaining to her about how TV shows get it wrong.

They do consult, production companies tell us.

The River’s creative producer, Percy Vilakazi of Tshedza Pictures owned up to the mistake that happened on their show.

“We always do our best to do things the right way. We know we do not know everything and so we consult professionals on specific topics. On the Lindani death storyline, we had consulted a doctor, but that doctor was not on set when that scene was shot. We made a mistake; we dropped the ball. We acknowledge that it was a mishap on our part.

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“Yes, we use our creative licence, but we always consult. In fact, we often use real life professionals in our shows. When we need journalists, we always have actual journalists like Shahan Ramkissoon, Noxolo Grootboom and Thembekile Mrototo are just some of the ones we have used in the past. When you see paramedics on shows, those are not actors, they are real paramedics with real equipment. Our funerals have actual undertakers. We always do our best to get it right, but mistakes do happen,” he says.

ETV’s Scandal’s Grace Mahlaba says consulting professionals helps them give out the correct information to the public.

“It depends on the subject really, but when we are dealing with heavy serious topics we consult. Like with the storyline between Vernon and Chevonne (Wayne van Rooyen and Schelaine Bennett, respectively) about bipolar, we worked closely with SADAG. Google is simply not enough for research purposes.

“When we had a story about taxi wars, we consulted three different taxi associations to find out how things work, routes and affiliation fees, etc,” she says.

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Grace says when they did the storyline of Siseko Langa (Hlomla Dandala) wanting to take his girlfriend as his second wife, they had to do research about how polygamy worked, but also how customary and civil unions work and how they differ.

Skeem Saam’s Sumaya Mogola says, “We do consult with industry professionals depending on the type of story we plan to tell at a certain point, especially when it concerns industries or topics we may not know too much about.”

Gomora’s producer Kutlwano Ditsele says South African viewers are very critical of home-grown shows, and they are not as forgiving as they are of international productions.

“Do you know how many cultural, linguistic or continuity issues there were on Black Panther? But South Africans enjoyed it and kept it moving. I loved watching Black Panther too, but I just wish our people kept the same energy when they watch our shows. I am not saying they must not point out errors so we can learn and improve, but sometimes people take it too far. Mistakes happen, hey.

“The truth is that we all make mistakes in our jobs. The difference here is that when we make a mistake, millions of South Africans see it,” he says.

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