Jacqui Setai, the head of DSTV reality channel Moja Love, says the idea behind the venture is to bring positivity into the broadcasting industry. “A lot of the representation is a handover of apartheid. It is almost always stereotypical. Even as a black producer it’s hard to step away from the stereotypes and that’s what we want to do.”
Even though Moja Love broadcasts African content only, from South Africa, Lesotho and Kenya, the channel’s goal does not translate into reality because the larger part of the content is made up of shows that borrow from the stereotypical Mzansi Magic reality television recipe: domestic disputes, overcoming hardships and giving viewers a window into unorthodox family dynamics — all only in the black demographic.
To get a feel of Moja Love, I spent the weekend glued to channel 157.
First, I sat through a repeat of Kukithi La, which airs on a Thursday at 9.3pm. Mediators and property law experts help relatives to settle disputes when the owner has died without leaving a will. What seduced me to continue watching was not the legal pointers but the expectation of a resolution following the verbal brawls and relentless tears.
I cooled off with Umndeni, which airs at 7pm on Saturdays. About five minutes into the show, I did not know whether the cast was made up of queer brothers living with their father or whether it was a reality show about gay men and ukuthwasa, the calling to be a traditional healer.
It turns out Umndeni follows the life Baba Kolobe, a sangoma and pastor living with his children and his apprentices, who have become Kolobe’s wives. Perhaps my initial confusion was caused by the lack of a solid introduction to the chuckle-worthy drama between Kolobe’s partners. Underneath the cast’s flamboyant exteriors and escapades, such as training traditional healers, Umndeni gives the viewer a lighter insight into a cocktail of ubungoma [being a sangoma], gay marriage and polygamy.
Then there was Mosetlhe Moss Makwati, who hosts No Excuses, Pay Papgeld. According to his passionate introduction to the show, he has dedicated his time to helping women track down fathers who have failed to pay child maintenance. Makwati and a camera crew chase down the wanted fathers at work, in their neighbourhoods or even at their weddings. Once their faces are caught on camera they’re interrogated about their absence as fathers and some are shamed into agreeing to pay their dues. Then the credits roll.
Even though it has the potential to educate viewers, No Excuses, Pay Papgeld does not take them into the legalities that come with parenting and maintenance. Even so, the thrill is in the chase and finding out why the fathers have not paid papgeld.
Although the content made me laugh, gasp and send “you have to watch this” texts during my Moja Love marathon, one question kept recurring: Apart from the drama, why do we watch reality shows?
One study in the Ohio University journal Media Psychology suggests that the need to keep watching such shows is linked to voyeurism and viewers use the content to unwind or to feel better about themselves. Another study in the journal suggests that viewers receive “cognitive gratifications” from gaining insights on what’s happening in the world in a way that is more entertaining than watching the news.
Setai says the decision to broadcast reality shows is a response to what received the most traffic. And it doesn’t hurt that the production costs are lower than those of drama series, which have to pay script writers, stylists, set-makers, actors and others.
In between shows, the only ads aired on channel 157 are other Moja Love shows. Nothing from MultiChoice, no ads from food and beauty products or even the Electoral Commission of South Africa’s Xsê campaign. It was all just previews of the next show, a build-up to an upcoming series or a reminder that we are watching Moja Love.
So with no income from external advertising, how has Moja Love stayed afloat?
Setai says the lack of ads is not deliberate. The channel is approaching its second year and is yet to attract advertisers who believe it has a loyal audience.
As a third-party channel not owned by MultiChoice, Moja Love gets carrier fees that enable it to stay afloat.
About three-quarters of the shows on Moja Love are produced in-house by a team made up of a producer, researcher, director, production assistant, production co-ordinator, two camera operators and a sound guy, all of whom are offered training in-house.
So, although the sum of the content on channel 157 is adding to the vacuum of reality television that is more entertaining than it is educational, Moja Love is providing opportunities to people who want to enter the television industry.