Utatakho – A dose of paternity drama

“The DNA results are in … You are not the father!” this catchphrase has been made popular by US TV host Maury Povich who is now renowned for his tabloid show, Maury that airs in the US. 

Mothers who appear on his show often seek to perform paternity tests to find out who’s the father of their child. 

Maury is never short of drama and even though it covers a sensitive topic, one could easily mistake it for a Jerry Springer spinoff. 

South Africa will get its dose of paternity drama when local TV channel Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) debuts its reality show, Utatakho, which that deals with a similar topic, paternity testing on July 7. 

But it promises to be less “Jerry Springer-ish” and more empathetic.

Actor and music star Zola (born Bonginkosi Dlamini), who is a familiar face to reality TV, is the host of Utatakho.  He’ll play the mediator on the show, bringing both mothers and fathers together to request and discuss the paternity results of their children.

“So far there are a lot of emotions, a great deal of anger and drama on the show. There is a wave of incredible abuse that hasn’t been put on the table and specifically about men. A lot of men haven’t been talking about their issues that include being denied access to their children but being expected to cough out money at the end of the month,” Zola tells the Mail & Guardian over the phone while on his way to Limpopo to shoot the show’s eighth episode. So far the 13-part series has shot in Limpopo and Gauteng. 

A personal experience
Zola too has been in a nasty clash with the mother of his two children, Ganeth Maseko, in 2007 over maintenance money and custody over their children, newspapers reported

“I have been to child court and I won the case but that’s not what the media said. So I relate to Utatakho on a very personal level. I know the pain directly and I wonder how many men go through the same thing. I was smeared heavily in the media and my 11 year-old daughter, Lwandle is being bullied at school because of those stories.”

According to the show’s content producer, Kopano Gelman, Zola was the perfect fit for the show because “he has the personal experience to be able to engage with the subject matter on the maturity level that’s required”. 

Viewers can write to the show to assist them to get the father or mother of their child to agree to a paternity test.  “The question of paternity in the African context determines many rights of passage and without this simple answer, people can be held back from living their lives,” says Gelman. 

“Although many other social and emotional effects may flow from not having a father present in one’s life, we want to rather approach the topic from the positive effects of what happens if a show could assist one to prove that a certain man is in fact your father. As the issue of absent fathers is quite prevalent in this country, we do feel that the show will be relevant to viewers of Mzansi Magic.”

South African viewers have shown a keen interest in reality shows that pull the heart’s strings, following the popularity of TV shows such as Khumbul’ekhaya and Forgive & Forget

The last time viewers saw Zola on a reality show, was on the SABC1’s Zola 7 (2002 to 2010) show where he assisted viewers with realising their dreams.  He was like the fairy godfather of South African TV – getting bursaries and launching music careers for ordinary citizens. He even earned the number 21 on the list of 100 Greatest South Africans, alive and dead, in 2004, thanks to public votes. 

Role model
Despite his fall from grace, following allegations of domestic violence, fans still approach him today with problems they hope he can help solve. He has since released his new album, Intathakusa, and has a role on the drama series Ayeye

“I am literally being disturbed for every shoot that I’m trying to do. The director constantly has to stop shooting and say to fans ‘please back off we are trying to shoot here, this show is called Utatakho and we are only here to shoot this guy because this guy wrote to us’,” he says.  The content on Utatakho walks a fine line between tabloid and drama, where the sensitive cases could appear as sensationalised.

“The subject matter on the show is serious and sensitive, so we had to be sure that we could produce it in a way that made both ourselves and channel comfortable that our responsibilities had been dispatched,” Gelman adds. 

The individuals on the show are counseled before and after the paternity tests are taken and the elders in the family are also involved in the meditation talks.

According to Zola the show offers “a more peaceful platform” to conduct the paternity test. 

“I’m also trying to get people to understand that if even they have broken up, but there is a child involved then that child is entitled to a lot of things such as a rite of passage, so the sooner the parents talk, the sooner those things get done.”

Utatakho debuts on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 161) on Tuesday July 7 at 7.30pm.

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