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An ode to Zolani from The River

The character played by Lawrence Maleka might be off our screens at the moment, but that doesn't mean he's off our minds
Thu, Nov 18, 2021

Me: "I watch The River for the plot."

The plot: Zolani Dlamini.

One thing about Tshedza? They will serve us a leading a man. Ever since we were formally introduced to Zolani, in a tight-fitted black suit, a week didn't go by without someone tweeting about how fine that man is. He might be in jail right now, but that's no reason for us to forget about him.

Played by Lawrence Maleka, the former presenter proved to be more than a jack of all trades when he won a SAFTA for the role in 2019 and continued to be nominated since then.

When you look back at his work as a presenter, you realise what an actor the man is. Nothing about him resembles the character he plays, kere they don’t even sound like the same person.

He is The River's 'bad boy', Lindiwe's right hand man, a hood n*gga who was brought up in the 'burbs, loves Versace and drops some memorable one-liners. But besides his boyish good looks and height (an important feature), what makes Zolani one of our fave man crushes?

On Twitter, we often joke about how key it is for a man to be able to switch from vernac to 'private school/Model C English', for him to be hood but still somewhat suburban.

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We have all also jokingly agreed that "indoda must be Zulu, be calm and not be the life of the party" and the thing about Zolani (not to dabble too much in toxic masculinity), is that he ticks all those boxes and crucially, is loyal AF to our favourite villain.

Raised by Lindiwe, Zolani is often the mastermind behind many of Madlabantu's plans and the reason she gets away (or should we say, got away?) with so much, often covering up for her and reminding her when she is losing her touch. A classic tale of Batman and Robin, Zolani is willing to do anything for Lindiwe, even in their differences – like his marriage to Emma, which she did not approve of.

Although there were moments we thought Zolani would turn against his master and kill Lindiwe for love, his loyalty to her came first. Not long ago, we saw him attempting to save Lindiwe and Zweli's marriage by dealing with Nyakallo himself.

We are attracted to this die-hard nature and the way he cares about those closest to him even if his methods aren't the best. You know that toxic narrative of a bad boy being good for you?

We love the way in which his vulnerability jumps out, like how he tries to have a relationship with his estranged mother even though she is often trying to scam him and the rest of the Dikana household; or how he always leaves the door open for his childhood friend, Mavusana.

One of the biggest things about Zolani is how hard he loves. Like any on-screen heartthrob, he has been unlucky in love. Remember how he married his cousin Tumi and delivered a stellar monologue about heartbreak?

But even after such tragedies, he continues to try. I mean, he did propose to Emma on the first night, and he continued to show up for her. I mean, that's why he's in jail – which we're not mad at.

As an unconventional leading man of sorts, Zolani will go down as one of our most iconic prime time characters. We miss you. Come back to us.