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LIFESTYLE & ENTERTAINMENT

Rockville: Still giving the people what they want

Rockville, which has been iconic since 2013, is back for season 5. From its unforgettable powerhouse casting, to breaking TV taboos, the drama series has been reinventing itself in delicious ways
Thu, Apr 22, 2021

Remember the first time we saw Shona Ferguson as Jackson 'JB' Bogatsu, a king pin of sorts, willing to do anything to provide for his family, or Connie Ferguson as sis Mavis, a humble staunch Christian in the drama Rockville?

The first time we saw Bonnie Mbuli, Enhle Mbali Mlotshwa, Gail Mabalane, Boity Thulo, Terry Pheto (season 3), Hlomla Dandala (season 3) and Sello Maake ka-Ncube (season 4), to name but a few faves, all in one production? It was one of those shows you wished you had been part of or written yourself.

Bona, a lot happened in 2013. Nelson Mandela passed on, Nkandla, the fall of Oscar Pistorius as a hero when he killed Reeva Steenkamp and I was often found arguing with white kids at school about the importance of BEE.

Mzansi Magic was only three years old and what we were seeing on television was starting to change. Head writers of Rockville, Phathutshedzo Makwarela and Gwydion Beynon who today have brought us Legacy and The River, were iconic in capturing these changes and the 'new' South Africa. ('New' mainly because the face of corruption was changing).

Rockville, like its name, was a rare gem and with it being back for season 5, it is only fair I remind you all why it was and still remains so important.

We are introduced to the Bogatsu family on the night of JB and Dudu's anniversary party. Dudu (Bonnie Mbuli) is his bougie wife who drops quotes like, "If a black chef makes it then it is not real sushi."

This is a tale of 'haves vs have-nots', but more importantly, a look into what it takes to be part of South Africa's black elite circles.

JB owns a cigar lounge, a front for his real business as the pimp of an underground, exclusive brothel that caters to ministers and the upper class. He lures young girls like Lindi Mabaso (Mbali Enhle Mlotshwa) into prostitution, promising them a better life.

In 2021 we know that sex work is work and women are encouraged to have agency over their own bodies. Although transactional sex is something that has been happening since the beginning of time, in a conservative country like South Africa, especially when it comes to television, open conversations about transactional sex as a choice only really started happening in 2016. Remember that Checkpoint Mavuso/blesser episode that broke the internet?

The fact that Rockville showed a woman like Vicky (Gail Mabalane), one of the 'black diamonds' of Club Venus who are sex workers during a primetime slot, on a Sunday in 2013, was revolutionary.

Season 5 emphasises this choice, with JB and Lindi giving young men and women ownership and protection of their business, only requesting a small percentage as rent for using Hotel Paradiso, unlike villains like Kalashnikov who traffick.

Season 5 also shows us how far we have come in dialogue, with characters like Adonis openly describing how they give older women pleasure.

Today the concept of pretty privilege and women being able to get through life from just their looks is something that is celebrated. The other day a tweep asked whether she should get a new pair of sneakers or a new wig and many of the comments jokingly said, "The new wig will get you the new sneakers", which is true.

In Rockville, a black diamond is just that. She is a woman who is able "to use her natural assets to earn more money in a week than a lot of people earn in a year", as JB says. It is a term that's been used for years, even by author Zakes Mda, although he refers to it as a wealthy black man in South Africa's middle class – JB, basically.

This is one show where it only makes sense to cast beautiful and talented women with a mass Instagram following like Thuli Phongolo – giving the people what they want.

Because television in South Africa is produced for all generations in one household, it becomes iconic when it represents pop culture, captivates and shows our changing times.

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