Pamela Power: What I learned from working on South African soapie, Muvhango

Writing for the local TV soapie, Muvhango, has exposed Pamela Power to South Africa’s rich culture. It has also shown her that we are more similar than we thought.

Pamela Power
Author and script editor Pamela Power feels blessed to be able to tell stories every day. (Image: Supplied)

Priya Pitamber

With a name like Pamela Power, you may assume it is a superhero alias. Although she is not a superhero, Power is doing good in her own way.

Power, author of Things Unseen, has also been the script editor and writer of the local soapie, Muvhango, for the past 14 years. Prior to that, she worked on Generations.

Working on these programmes has helped her learn more about different cultures in South Africa, and how similar people can actually be.

The show

“The show,” reads the about section on the Muvhango Facebook page, “became a true reflection of South African society with elements of culture, tradition, superstition and witchcraft infused into the characters’ lives.

“The show popularised Venda culture, the main language used in the series.”

By season four, it had moved from being a drama to a soap opera, but Muvhango is “about family values and the strength of families holding together. The show has also remained true to its vision of telling the real African renaissance story and culture.”

Power says it is mainly a Sotho/Venda soapie, but there are also Zulu and Pedi characters. “We try not to do things superficially, so we bring in the whole family and deal with everyday rituals that occur in those families – birth, death, marriage, cleansing.”

Because the show is so culturally rich, South Africans can learn a lot from it, she says.

“We also have no alcohol or drugs on the show, and very rarely will characters kiss, plus violence has to be motivated. This is a family show.”

Pamela Power Muvhango
Muvhango script editor Pamela Power says she has learned a lot about Venda culture from working on the show. Here’s chief Azwindini Mukwevho, played by Gabriel Temudzani, and his nephew, Vusi Mukwevho, played by Raphael Griffiths. (Image: Supplied)

We’re more similar than we realise

“On Muvhango, I may have knowledge about writing, (but) I don’t have knowledge about the culture and I have to listen to those who do.

“I also needed to immerse myself in the different cultures to try to be as authentic as possible when I write.”

She’s found that there are many similarities in her upbringing in a Roman Catholic house and Venda culture.

“For example,” she says, “my father was Irish with a very dry sense of humour; it’s the type of humour that can be quite harsh. There are many times when I will say in writers’ workshops: ‘Oh, Vho-Makhadzi sounds just like my one aunt.’”

Cultural advisers on the show do guide the writing team, Power says. “I also learn a lot listening to the writers at our workshops. Sometimes the discussions are hilarious.”

Her career highlights, so far, have been seeing her name in the credits for the first time and getting her books published.

What she finds challenging is the TV show rewrites. “Things happen on TV shows; people get sick, actresses fall pregnant, a storyline may not be working out, and then you have to rewrite,” she explains.

But overall, she feels blessed to be able to tell stories every single day. “Very few writers earn their living from writing alone,” she says.

Power’s latest book is published by Clockwork Books.

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