The show’s success lies in the effortless way it fuses health-driven story-lines with sex appeal. It also hones in on some of the darker realities faced in Africa.
Themes and story-lines include losing your virginity, the grooming of adolescent girls for sexual perversions, prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, disclosing your status, sexual assault and the use of helplines.
Currently set in Nigeria, the show’s depiction of life is not that far removed from the realities in South Africa, and for the fourth season of the show the script introduced a new South African character Bongi (although there are rumours that the location of the show might change to South Africa, which would better explain Bongi’s inclusion).
Born in the Eastern Cape and raised in Soweto, the talented 24-year-old singer and actress Mohau Mokoatle, pictured, managed to win the once-in-a-lifetime role of Bongi – one of the show’s more colourful supporting characters. Mokoatle follows in the footsteps of Tumisho Masha and Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o who have all been cast members in previous seasons of MTV Shuga.
“It was funny how it happened (getting the role). My agent just phoned me one day and asked if I could sing. After I said I could I was invited to go audition.”
At that stage she had no idea that she was on her way to win a role that could be a defining factor in her career, and also a role that will make her recognisable internationally. During the production of the fourth season the young actress spent six weeks in Lagos, and although she wasn’t allowed a friend or family member to travel with her, she did feel at home in the bustling African city.
“I often felt like I was in downtown Joburg. I actually felt like I blended in,” she says. Bongi is a stand-out character as a singer on the show. Mokoatle was blessed with a soothing set of pipes and she is able to pull off soft jazz with almost no effort.
“People actually tell me I sound a lot like Xolani Mahola of Freshlyground,” she shares. During her six weeks in Nigeria she had to stay on her toes to endure the gruelling production schedule.
“I studied acting, and when I actually went on set I immediately realised I had a lot to learn. I also had to go to a recording studio, where I also had to learn everything from scratch.”
It doesn’t mean she’s an amateur. Mokoatle has been in a number of plays during her years at Wits – but the scale of the production she is involved with has now gotten bigger. While Mokoatle’s life was undoubtedly transformed since season four of MTV Shuga started airing last month, the show also changes lives with its strong edutainment focus. Mokoatle also learned a lot about health from the show’s scripts.
“One thing that stood out is we think we know so much about HIV and Aids, but sometimes we miss facts.”
- Mohau Mokoatle hopes to snag a recording deal soon.
- The show is produced in partnership with The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Unicef.
- MTV Shuga is on MTV Base (DStv Channel 322) on Sundays at 10pm.