TONGUE IN CHEEK
Pitch Perfect: Don Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma heads new true-life crime drama
The Ex-Wife, Comatose Pictures’ pitch for a new 97-part TV series.
Showmax’s telenovela The Wife, based on Dudu Busani-Dube’s series of books, is shattering viewership records as we speak – and South African filmmakers are rushing to devise similar series to take the gap as soon as The Wife ends.
Here we outline a pitch given by one filmmaking company, Comatose Pictures, to give you a sense of the ideas being put forward, in anticipation of yet more records being broken in years to come.
The Wife is about a leading crime family and the women involved with the brothers who are jostling for power and money, stealing fortunes and murdering people now and then. So Comatose’s pitch is for a 97-part series dealing with the members of another crime family and the many people drawn into their orbit as they struggle for power over the whole country or, failing that, the whole of KwaZulu-Natal.
Dibi Dada Dingus, lead series producer at Comatose, told DM168 that this new telenovela, being pitched right now, is about a real-life crime family – the Zumas.
So that’s an improvement on The Wife. Viewers always like it when a series is “based on a true story”, even if the filmmakers have to fictionalise things to (a) avoid being sued (b) make it even more exciting than real life and (c) ultimately leave the truth far behind.
But, as we know, the facts are always under contestation anyway, so it’s okay to forge ahead with a mix of truth and lies – and this will, indeed, become a key theme in this new telenovela. Where does the truth lie? Who knows what when? Who, in fact, is who? How will we keep track of all the characters?
“We’re going to call it The Ex-Wife,” Dingus told DM168, “because the central figure here – she’s the unifying consciousness, if you like – is Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, officially the ex-wife of the ex-president. But is she really an ex-wife? Or did they get divorced just so that she could provide cover for her ex if it was needed?
He has been in and out of jail, and is facing a corruption trial that is turning into the longest-running courtroom drama in South African history.
“Nkosazana would like to turn the Zuma mafia into a legitimate business empire – in that respect, she’s a lot like Michael Corleone in The Godfather trilogy. She’d like to get all that money laundered nicely and so forth – if, of course, she can repatriate it from Dubai – and use it to capitalise a new business empire, with a fleet of minibus taxis, a few beauty salons, a chakalaka brand and, perhaps, even an actual laundry.
“But can she do it?”
These questions will obviously generate tension and suspense throughout the telenovela. What are Nkosazana’s real motives? Is she protecting Don JZ, as the ex-president is known to his legions of followers (when they’re not just calling him Number One)? Or is she pretending to protect him so that she can subtly undermine him and ultimately pave the way for her children to take over the crime empire built by JZ? That is, instead of any of his children by other marriages, of which Number One has had many – both marriages and children. In fact, one of the mysteries at the heart of this telenovela is exactly how many children Number One has: is it 27, 28 or 29?
Does Nkosazana love him or hate him? Is she tormented by memories of their time together as a married couple? Can she remember which children are actually hers? What secrets does she know that link her indissolubly to Number One? Will she ultimately betray him? (See Episode 97.)
And how long can Number One stay on top?
For he and his empire are under fire from many quarters, even from within the famed Zuma crime family. There’s the threat from without, as a rival gang seizes power in some regions and starts to attack the Zumas.
It is said this rival gang has all sorts of new weapons at its disposal – including judges, court cases, prosecuting authorities and the unlimited funds of White Monopoly Capital.
There’s also a new, up-and-coming gang, the EFF, which specialises in assassinations. Whose side are they on? Are they truly supporting Don JZ or do they have an agenda even more sinister than his?
This gang of assassins is well known for changing sides, especially if there is more money to be had. They’ll do anything for cash. So, who will acquire the means to employ them, and could they be outbid by rivals? Will they switch sides at the last minute? Again, more suspense, riveting plot twists and cliffhangers.
Number One has his own weapons at the ready: teams of warriors dressed in animal skins, teams of warriors dressed in camouflage, a ruthless consigliere known only as Ace, and Carl, a vicious attack dog trained to kill whenever he’s given the keyword, “Rosebud”.
Don JZ also has the unstinting support of his twin children, Dudu and Dudu, whose weapons include Twitter and a million-rand motorboat harboured in Dubai.
She-Dudu apparently has magical powers, pretty much those of Circe in the Greek myth: she can turn men into swine.
He-Dudu has a legendary charm, inherited from his philandering father, as well as that famous motorboat – but will he remain loyal to Dad if the motorboat has to be sold to pay the scheming, over-charging advocate Dali “Pantoffels” Mpofu? The Don has 14 wives (not counting his ex, Nkosazana) – too many to name here. But it’s uncertain which of those many wives has turned against him as they fight tooth and nail against each other for his ear, his eye, and other body parts.
A nefarious plot is afoot to poison Number One even as he relaxes with a cup of tea at his fortified complex, Nkandla – so fortified that only a wife (or an ex-wife) can enter without a body-cavity search.
“There’s a nice little plot point here,” says Dingus, “involving Nkosazana’s turban… But no spoilers, sorry.”
And, when Don JZ gets poisoned, and is spirited out of the country to get special radioactive treatment in Russia, who will emerge as the challenger for his place at the top of this crime family? What machinations will take place as everyone fights it out for the money and the power? Will Dudu turn on Dudu as things heat up?
The series also needs some big battles, à la Game of Thrones, so will armies of warriors clash in the Midlands?
“You see,” producer Dingus told DM168, “the possibilities are endless. I think the challenge for us, as filmmakers, is going to be to keep it all flowing smoothly and fit it all into the 97 episodes planned.
“We may have to cut some corners, admittedly, but then we’re very confident that a second season will be commissioned after we’ve made the first season, so we can always save some of the skulduggery, chicanery, lies and manipulations for season two.
“And, certainly, if we’re reflecting real life, there’s always more skulduggery, chicanery, lies and manipulations to be had.
“In fact, we think The Ex-Wife will go on well beyond a season two. This telenovela could just run and run.” DM168
Shaun de Waal is a writer and editor.
Please note this article uses satire.
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.