BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Being a loyal follower of MTV Shuga, beginning from its first two Kenyan seasons, through to the next two Nigerian seasons and to the recently-concluded South African season, it is easy to applaud the initiative that has birthed many engaging stories around the youth of different climes, showcasing their lifestyles and realities to the rest of the world, and addressing the key issues of society, especially matters surrounding HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy, identity and sexual awareness.
The fifth instalment, MTV Shuga Down South begins with Bongi’s return from Nigeria to a town called Zenzele in her home country, South Africa. Bongi, who was known as the musically talented high school student in Lagos in Season 4 reunites with her friend, Reggie, a young boy struggling with accepting his identity, and transfers to his school where she meets his friends, Zamo and Q. We also find Femi, a Shuga regular since Season 2, moving to South Africa on a new job as a manager at Club Surge, a club owned by Rakeem. He meets Storm, Rakeem’s gorgeous wife who keeps throwing him advances he tries to ward off in a bid to not sabotage his serious relationship with Sheila (from Season 4) in Nigeria.
Mpeleng’s story is explored; a brilliant orphan who has just lost her parents to HIV/AIDS and has a younger brother to cater for. Zamo is a teenage mother who misplaces her priorities every now and again and chooses the life of a turn-up queen over that of a mother any day. Tsholo and Khensani also go to Bongi’s school and they too have their stories; Tsholo’s of rape and abuse that stem from a transactional relationship with rich spoilt Sol, and Khensani’s of heartbreak and unplanned pregnancy from blindly believing that her teacher loves her, and allowing him have sexual relations with her.
The stories, while being completely different, are closely linked. Even when Leo is brought in as coming to hide in Zenzele from the backlash of his attempted rape on Sophia in Season 4, we still find him somewhat connected to the characters in Zenzele.
Directed by Mmabatho Montsho, Thabang Moleya and Rea Rangaka, MTV Shuga Down South is done in English and Xhosa with precise subtitling. The characters are real and have believable stories, and the cast is comprised of brilliant young actors who bring these stories to life.
Khensani, who is played by Samkelisiwe Makhoba is phenomenal in her switch from lovestruck teenager, to confused and desperate pregnant girl. She stands out. Bongi is played by Mohau Cele, and while she isn’t in the least a bad actor, she isn’t exceptional as lead and doesn’t showcase her singing voice as anticipated, giving her track record from the previous season. Things quickly change for her in Down South, and the altering of her life’s course seems like an afterthought. Graffiti genius and gay teenager Reggie is played by Given Stuurman. Femi is played by Emmanuel Ikubese, Leo by Nick Mutuma, Sheila by Adesua Etomi, Tsholo by Stephanie Sandows, Ipeleng by Thuso Mbedu, Sol by Ayanda Makayi, Storm by Tanzanian singer Vanessa Mdee (who is slightly shaky for her debut acting role, but gets an A for effort), Rakeem by Clint Brink, and Zamo, another very interesting character, by Lerato Walaza.
While the realities of these issues stare one squarely in the face, there is the constant wonder that comes with how sexual relations are portrayed as an absolute norm among minors. It is scary to think that someone like Zamo who is a mother at fifteen and literate, is still so sexually active, or that Khensani whose parents are clergies, would agree to a relationship with an adult without so much as batting an eyelash. Unlike previous instalments that deal more with young adults, MTV Shuga Down South focuses on teenagers and creates the notion that the teenager is all about sex. Even the only seeming exception, Mpeleng, who seems quite focused on her studies, has to deal with a boyfriend who demands sex every other time, and a club she works at that hints that the only way to be rich is to let men touch you. I don’t remember my teenage years being this way –and I’m not that old– but perhaps people and places completely differ.
With MTV Shuga Down South, there isn’t much to fault. The characters are diverse yet riveting, their stories are strong, the language, the blending of English with Xhosa in a way that teases the ears, the drama, the suspense, the music and musicians, the ensemble of good-looking actors; these all come together to make MTV Shuga Down South’s twelve episodes nearly addictive.
A little birdie says the Shuga train is moving back to Nigeria. We have polished our rails. We can’t wait.