image via The Bantu Hour

The Bantu Hour- Keep South Africa Weird

In the 2000s, two tv shows on the SABC represented polar opposites in quality.  On one hand was Late Nite with Paul Viv, a talk show so bad, and with a host so inept that it could have passed as a parody of the format.  In stark contrast was The Pure Monate Show, which dramatically raised the bar for South African sketch comedy.  Although its quality could be variable, at its best it was inspired, unafraid to get really deranged and absurdist.  Over a decade later sketches like ‘Survivor: Alexandra’ and the music videos of unhinged kwaito ‘star’ Spykos, hold up admirably.

Learning from  past  failures, SABC2 has recently premiered The Bantu Hour,  a  variety show  hosted by Monate alumni   Kagiso Lediga and  jazz icon Hugh Masekela.  The shows takes its title from an Apartheid era radio program, broadcast at a time when  ‘bantu’, a general word for people, was erroneously used as a racial slur. As Legida told City Press ‘Bantu’ means people… So this show is for all Bantu: gay Bantu, Afrikaans Bantu’.  Its format mixes sketches, stand-up comedy, interviews and musical performances, in which guest artists mix it up with the Masekela led house band.

Unlike the more politically Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola (who is interviewed in the first episode), its sketches focus more on social satire. The show excels at showing slices of domestic absurdity, with people upsetting order in the home, church or school.  In one a visit to the home of a beauty queen by a tv crew takes a disastrous turn when her parents decided to reveal all of her dark secrets, and in  another a  couple have their lives taken over by a fanatical security guard.  Instead of obvious punchlines the show often takes a bizarre conceit and proceeds to crank it up, like that of Dr. Sjambock, who pops up to deliver  both wisdom and beatings.  With such work, The Bantu Hour is taking SA television in an unexpected and welcome direction.

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