South Africa is still largely a conservative country and homophobic at the same time. It is not surprising that every time when we see LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) characters on TV, there’s a huge hullabaloo and people who don’t want to move with the times write letters to complain about the visual presentation of LGBTIQ love on their TV screens during prime time.
The SABC still has the largest viewership in the country therefore it’s always ground breaking when we see LGBTIQ love shown there. Millions of South Africans still rely on the SABC to get their daily dose of drama during prime time TV. Soapies in South Africa are the flagships of the TV channels. They generate good income from advertising, and record numbers of viewers
March 2001: Yizo Yizo 2
The multi-award winning educational youth drama Yizo Yizo, was no stranger to pushing boundaries and causing controversy during Season 2 of the show. SABC 1 aired a scene where Chester was raped by a fellow in jail inmate. That scene went all the way to parliament, where some politicians called for Yizo Yizo to be banned. Then SABC's chief executive officer, Peter Mathlare was called to account.
There was a huge outcry and furore in the country about the SABC showing on prime time two men having sex in prison. The rape was equated with homosexuality and people objected being shown sodomy on their TV screens. This raised a lot of questions as to whether society understands the difference between consensual sex between two male partners and sexual violence in a form of rape which happened during that episode on Yizo Yizo. This was a clear sign that South Africa still didn’t understand homosexual issues.
June 2004: Yizo Yizo 3
There was an episode on Yizo Yizo 3 where there were two characters involved in a passionate encounter against the backdrop of inner-city Johannesburg. Thiza, played by Tshepo Ngwane, had experienced something of a change in character on his journey towards discovering his sexuality as a first year law student at Wits University. He and the artistic African literature student Thabang, played by Makhaola Ndebele, engaged in an on-screen first for South African television - a kiss between two young black men. Thiza was previously in a relationship with Hazel played by Thembi Seete and he had to disclose to her that he was gay and in love with Thabang. Thiza’s brother wasn’t happy with him being gay that he even beat him up for being in a relationship with Thabang but his grandmother was on his side. Personally, this was the first time as young boy I saw two black men kiss on national television. In fact this was the first ever man to man kiss which was shown on national television. There was of course a debate around the country around this visual presentation of black men falling in love and kissing on SABC TV during prime time.
December 2006: Isidingo
Many people often make the mistake of thinking that Isidingo was the first local drama in South Africa to air male to male kiss on national television. It was in fact Yizo Yizo which attracted over 5 million viewers at the time on SABC 1. On Isidingo an openly gay man Steve Stethakis played by Emmanuel Castis and the bisexual Len Cooper played Chris Beasley kissed on the show. Isidingo was known for being topical and current as they aired Steve and Luke's gay wedding five days after the newly passed law that made same-sex marriages legal in this country back in December 2006.
January 2007: Society
Society aired on SABC 1 and was a South African television drama series about four female friends who are brought together years after leaving school when an old friend of theirs commits suicide. Beth played by Sibulele Gcilitshana was a teacher at a private girls’ school. She was in a loving relationship and could afford a beautiful house and a luxury car. The only challenge that she was faced with was that she was a black lesbian woman who had to deal with pressure of coming out to her friends and maintaining a romantic relationship with her life partner who happened to be a woman.
May 2007: After Nine
After Nine aired on SABC 1 was about a love triangle between China played by Lucky Khoza whose girlfriend Bokang played by Matshepo Maleme was pregnant. At the same time China had a romantic interest in Hector played by Aaron Moloisi, they were caught making out in the pool by Bokang. It was the first South African drama to deal with the controversial subject of black gay men in the closet and leading a double life of sleeping with a man and a woman concurrently. At the same time China had to choose between pleasing his family by marrying a woman and fulfilling his homosexual desires of being with a man. The show at the time generated a lot of controversy with black men kissing and having sex on national television. Some argued that South Africa was not ready to see such on national television.
May 2008: Rhythm City
On Rhythm City which aired on e-TV had a character Stone, played by Zenzo Ngqobe who had been fighting his gay feelings for a long time with no luck. Stone discovered he was gay when he lip-locked with Thula, played by Wright Ngubeni, Charlotte's best friend played by Nosipho Nkelemba. Stone hated himself for kissing another man and went to the extent of beating up Thula for kissing him. He went into denial but later sought divine intervention by going to counselling and turning to God. The caused a lot of debate around the country as well.
March 2009: Generations
Generations the most watched daily show on South African television rating between 7 million – 10 million viewers per episode also started featuring a loving gay couple. Senzo played by Thami Mngqolo and Jason played by Zolisa Xaluva kissed and went on to get married as part of the storyline on Generations. There was a public outcry on social media and some threatened to boycott the show if they continued to show same-sex love on their favourite soapie. Social media was abuzz and people often aired their misgivings about seeing two black men showing affection on national television.
February 2013: InterSEXions
InterSEXions, the popular TV series which explored the spread of HIV and relationships which commanded ratings of more than 6 million viewers on SABC1, second only to soapie Generations. Closet gay soccer star Two-Step played by Abdul Khoza kissed Sizwe played by Pallance Dladla. This was by far one of the best gay kisses between two sexy black men that I had seen on national television. It was real and full of passion which made you believe in the storyline and the characters that portrayed it. The closet soccer star had to keep his relationship a secret and a tabloid journalist managed to find out about it and was threatening to expose the fact that he’s gay to the public. He later dumps Sizwe his boyfriend and gets into a relationship with Rea the journalist. He managed to convince her it was a once off and that he is straight later they got engaged to be married.
July 2015: Zabalaza
Mzansi Magic’s local drama Zabalaza once had beautiful lesbian action between Victoria played by Rosie Motene and Mapule played by Tanga Ncetezo on the show. Victoria and Mapule shared a passionate kiss that left many tongues wagging in the midst of Victoria's loneliness after her break-up with her boyfriend Sydney.
June 2016: Igazi
Igazi is a drama series on Mzansi Magic that tells the story of a Xhosa royal family in conflict over its throne. Oros Mampofu played a character called Prince Phila Mbangatha who shared steamy kiss with his boyfriend. This had social media talking as well and South African audience really never gets used to seeing two black kiss on national television.
Umlilo e-TV’s popular drama series set its audience ablaze when they aired a steamy shower sex scene between Thembi played by Nomzamo Mbatha and Palesa played by Khanyi Mbau. Some of the fans were delighted to see two of SA’s most beautiful women kissing and making out in the shower and some were not impressed saying it wasn’t good for family viewing. Social media was lit about this lesbian sexual encounter on their television screens as some felt the drama should have been rated 18SN to prevent their children from watching the show.
September 2016: Generations – the Legacy
Wandile in Generations – the Legacy, Zola’s son played by a female Chiedza Mhende would make you think it’s a boy playing the character. Chiedza’s role is about a Wandile Radebe who was a transgender and the actor must be able to play both roles of being a man and a woman. This is particularly important in educating the South African public about some of challenges that transgender people have to go through especially in the black community.
March 2017: 7de Laan
After 17 years of 7de Laan being on air it was the first time that this popular Afrikaans soapie on SABC 2 showed two men kiss. Logan played by Simon du Toit passionately kissed his on screen husband Divan played by Arnu de Villiers which left many South Africans talking especially the tannies from Pretoria and Bloemfontien, I imagine. Some on Facebook and Twitter expressed their displeasure and thought it was in poor taste for the show to air two men kiss on national television. They argued that this would be “confusing to the kids.” Someone tweeted, “Gay kissing in family time on SA TV? Poor judgement @Real7deLaan there may be young children viewing this nonsense”
One of the last social sexual taboos on South African TV was broken 13 years ago by Yizo Yizo 3 when they aired the first onscreen kiss between two black men on SABC1 with over 5 million viewers during prime time. This happened before same-sex marriages were even allowed in South Africa. This was a ground breaking moment in South Africa’s television history because traditional black communities regard homosexuality as an “un-African,” evil social practice borrowed from the West. We have seen many other storylines where black same-sex love between men and women are displayed on the small screen on local dramas.
Sadly, some of the actors who have played gay characters have often been quick to distance themselves from being gay either on Twitter or newspaper articles like Oros Mampofu, Pallance Dladla, Thami Mngqolo, Zolisa Xaluva and Wright Ngubeni. We need more talented actors who don’t have fragile masculinity by thinking just by portraying a homosexual character people would associate them with being gay in real life. When actors play an antagonist role who rapes, murders and commits all sorts of crimes do these actors run to social media to denounce these characters they play? I highly doubt it. Also, to the many local drama writers, I hope that they start developing “stronger” and leading characters when portraying gay characters instead of showing weak and under developed characters with flimsy storylines of black gay men dying of AIDS. That is purely a lack of imagination and poor writing by drama producers.
The world has changed so much as the first all-black movie to win an Oscar Award Moonlight for Best Picture happened to be a story about the challenges of being black and gay at the same time. The untold stories that black people go through need to be unflinching, poignant and nuanced portrayal of the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning) community on our screens. That’s what great storytelling is about, as it needs to be a reflection of the current society that we live in and currently witnessing. LGBTIQ storylines should not be told to “trend” on social media but to tackle real serious issues and at the same time normalising LGBTIQ love in our society.
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