Showmax’s The Wife is a telenovela inspired by Dudu Busani-Dube’s bestselling novel Hlomu the Wife. The streaming service has already commissioned three seasons. The seasons will be inspired by Busani-Dube’s books Hlomu the Wife, Zandile the Resolute, and Naledi His Love. They chronicle the lives, loves and crimes of the eight Zulu brothers. The Daily Vox team got a sneak peek at the first episode.
Busani-Dube is a journalist and self-published author. She said her books are relatable in that readers can see themselves in it. The books have characters that fit descriptions of everyday people in South African townships. They ultimately reflect realistic South African experiences.
The word telenovela is a combination of the words tele (television)and novela (meaning novel). It is a serial drama that had its origins in Latin American countries. Romance and drama are the main plot drivers of telenovelas. They have a contained story arc and end after a few seasons. In recent years local ones have become popular with South African audiences. They want portrayals that understand their lives without being patronising.
The story and characters
The Wife centers around the lives of the eight Zulu brothers. They are a formidable crime family from Greytown in Kwazulu-Natal. The telenovela tells their story through the eyes of the brothers’ wives. Mbalenhle Mavimbela (Skeem Saam, Isipho) plays Hlomu, the journalist who falls in love with a taxi driver, Mqhele. He is played by Bonko Khoza (Necktie Youth and Emmy-nominated Roots).
“Mbalenhle and Bonko are fairly fresh faces in the industry; there isn’t any one role or character that audiences can instinctively affix to them,” said showrunner Gugu Ncube-Zuma.
The cast also includes Kwenzo Ngcobo (Imbewu); Sipho Ndlovu (Isibaya, The Queen); SAFTA winner Abdul Khoza (Isibaya, Kings of Joburg); Mondli Makhoba (Isithembiso, Generations, Imbewu) and SAFTA nominee Thulane Shange (Is’thunzi, Ifalakhe). They play the rest of the Zulu brothers.
The first episode
The production quality and photography is excellent. The episode is 23 minutes long and packs a resounding gut punch. The imagery of the taxi rank in the first few frames immediately makes you feel at home. Public transport in South Africa is centered on all the ranks we pass through in our daily lives.
The opening credits mirror the American books to film series; Sin City. There is a comic-book style to the sequence, and fight that ensues in the first few minutes. The family is also secretly wealthy so we know we are going to get answers about that too.
We are introduced to a scuffle between the Zulu brothers and their arch-rivals the Majolas. Both families are taxi owners, and the tension is thick and sticky. It’s like the bloodshed the Majolas promise if the Zulus don’t back down. Nkosana, the eldest brother keeps everyone in check. Parallel to that we are introduced to journalist Hlomu. She knocked into Qhawe Zulu’s taxi who had a love at first sight moment with her.
But when she takes a taxi that afternoon, it is Mqhele who openly pursues her. He hurriedly grabs Qhawe’s keys and drives off with her and the other passengers. Much to their irritation he goes off route to stop and buy her an ice-cream. A romantic gesture, unlike the fight from earlier.
In South Africa you have to operate with a level of street smarts at the ranks. The Zulu’s embody “all is not as it seems’. This is clear in the final scene. All the elements for a crime and love drama are present. It will be interesting to see the rest of the story development.
We give it a 10/10. South Africa has been bringing out world-class entertainment in the last ten years. The Wife easily excites and leaves you wanting more after the episode ends. Mqhele and Hlomu’s meeting doesn’t feel forced. The pending romance looks like it will be tested from the start. It is also refreshing to see how complex people are. They are more than their circumstances. The Zulu brothers operate within a duality we can all relate to. There is a world we show people. Then the world we inhabit no one will be able to rationalise. The Wife embodies South African experiences with fast-paced storytelling. It doesn’t tease or allude. It’s upfront and intentional. It is a wild taxi ride and we want more.
The first three episodes of The Wife are available from November 11 2021. There will be three new episodes added every Thursday on Showmax.