2017-02-12 06:01

Johannesburg - The recent media boom around Penny Penny may come as a surprise to some, particularly the country’s younger citizens, but the universe has been working on making it happen for a while via a series of random and seemingly unconnected events.


The story starts in 1994 when a janitor in Giyani finds out that a close friend of his has been shella’ing his girlfriend behind his back. Incensed by this betrayal, Penny writes a song entitled Shaka Bundu, which is local slang for “a treacherous friend”.

One day, as he’s cleaning a recording studio, a producer asks him if he can sing. Instead of answering, he opens his mouth and out comes a raspy yet melodious voice. In no time, he records the Afro-pop track that becomes his most popular hit.


Fast-forward a few more years and Cassper Nyovest is the It Boy of local hip-hop. Out of the blue – now a retired musician and local municipal counsellor – Penny makes the bold claim that he is Nyovest’s biological father and only backs down when Nyovest’s real parents instigate legal action against him.


By this point, Penny had become something of a national treasure – a man able to hog the headlines with the simplest of stories, yet who is easily forgiven by the public for all of his (real and alleged) transgressions. It really wasn’t surprising that he was cast as a coach on Mzanzi Magic’s Clash of the Choirs. It didn’t come as a shock either when he coached his choir to victory. He just needed to be present on the show, with that ridiculous relaxed/cornrowed/pondo hairdo and an enormous mkhaba straining against his gaudy hammer pants.

Quick sidenote – is it just me, or has Penny’s pineapple pondo moved closer and closer to his forehead over the years? A move perhaps to hide receding edges? What with all the relaxing and tying up his poor hairline has had to endure over the years, I would not be surprised.

Then, as the reality of Januworry was truly sinking in, erasing all the fun of Dezemba, once again we were blessed by the universe, this time in the form of a reality show about Penny. “Yes,” exclaimed Twitter – something to take our minds off our empty bank accounts and lives in general.


The show is set in Giyani at Penny and his family’s home. Not all of his 18 children live there – it’s just him, his wife and young daughter. The show is slightly underwhelming, not because it lacks surprising revelations, but because it doesn’t fully live up to the expectations of a reality show. A reality show is not a documentation of real events – the correct term for that is current affairs or documentary. In creating reality, one does not just follow a subject around during his daily life. The majority of the work goes into scripting and heavy-handedly guiding the real-life events of real-life characters around central content pillars, starting with an editorial proposition, also known as the threat that binds an episode and a series.

The proposition could have been: here’s the story of an ordinary man in an ordinary village with an ordinary family living an extraordinary life.

How this proposition is then scripted is by focusing on the parts of Penny and his family’s life that appear to be ordinary but are in fact extraordinary (these revelations surprise audiences every time). Like how Penny walks into a funeral parlour and buys an expensive tombstone.

This show gets closest to this in episode three, when Penny celebrates his 90-year-old mother’s birthday in extraordinary fashion. Yet one wishes the director had prompted his subjects to reflect on a proposition, instead of using diary interviews as narration to connect short story montages.


In light of this kind of editorial positioning, the ordinary takes on a heightened sense of drama. Penny’s wife is loving and committed, and Penny himself is a committed father. But isn’t it because of the support that he’s had that he’s been able to live such a life? Again, one wishes that the director had prompted (scripted) this in his representation of the wife, allowing for some reflection.

Another missed opportunity was for Penny to create music during the show (perhaps with the assistance of a well-known producer), allowing a legend to reflect on life through the use of popular culture.

The show may fizzle out, as sometimes happens with this kind of soap reality, but that isn’t important because it’s already had a huge effect. Perhaps in season two, the drama could be plotted to make for a more gripping series.

Catch Papa Penny Ahee Wednesdays at 20:00 on Mzansi Magic (DStv 161).

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