From the creation of the first TV show we have always been drawn to captivating characters and stories that they portray partly because the best characters are a relatable reflection of our selves or those around us. They draw us in by allowing us to live through new experiences of drama, comedy and romance through the relatable characters they portray. Growing up in the 90's and 2000's it was almost impossible to find truly relatable and captivating characters that reflected the modern African identity. The closest we had was the often singular view of black american sitcoms.
It was only after the rise of Nollywood and the South African TV industry that we truly had the opportunity to see the multi faceted breadth of relatable African characters. Even with this, a lot of perspectives and experiences of our vast continent remain untold. It is within this context that one South African based Zimbabwean film maker Tendayi Nyeke, decided to tell a uniquely Zimbabwean tale of relationships, friendships and a dramatic unraveling of events.
What is working housewives of Harare and why is there so much hype around it on social media?
Working Wives is a story about 6 friends that live in Harare that present a front of fun, flashy
perfect lives but what lies beneath is far from that. It starts off at the central character, Mabel’s “perfect” surprise baby shower that unearths a lot of surprises about the women in her life and even her own.
Is there hype? Bring it on! I think its just because a lot of women see themselves and others in these
characters. It’s like an honest unveiling of different types of women and we do it with comedy and that’s hard to resist.
How did the idea of working housewives of Harare come to be?
The series is adapted from characters in Facebook posts my friend Sharon Bwanya wrote in 2017 after hearing a conversation between two women at the airport when they were trying to out “show-off” each other. What she wrote was so funny, I could see those women as i read the posts. Sharon said she saw herself in those women and honestly so did I.
I think I read Sharon’s blog post in October then in November I was in Harare and asked my friend
Nyasha Mwaire-Munangatire to do some improvisation on one of the characters at a restaurant in
Zimbabwe. She roped in an actor friend of hers, who roped in her friend and I roped in another guy (Tatenda Mbudzi) to play one of the male characters. We shot in all of thirty minutes, the lighting wasn’t great, the sound wasn’t great but I posted the video and a week later we had over 14,000 views and I knew there was something worth expanding. I knew a lot of people could relate to those stories and I love comedy so I wanted to bring them to life and here we are now.
What aspects of the Zimbabwean identity does the show portray?
It’s central focus is the Zimbabwean middle class woman who wants the perfect life. The women
range from early 20s (Mabel) to 40s (Mai Muporofita). They may live in the burbs or nice
apartments like Mai MJ, but their lives intertwine with every aspect of being African, the mix of
socio-economic backgrounds, common dreams of love, children, personal success. The conflict
of coming from African heritage but wanting to transact with Christianity. Its just about being a
modern woman and the complicated context comes with it.
Are there any ideas about beauty that you sought to portray?
There is no specific idea of beauty I aimed to portray in the series but to represent the women
as they see themselves. One character Mai MJ (Rumbi), swaps wigs around, will wear make up
on most days and then forgets when she’s stressed. Mabel rocks simple styles and corn rows
and has a big smile and a little make up. Lettie just whips things together, whatever wig she can
lay her hands on to look decent to the world, she’s less concerned about her own beauty as a
character in fact she doesn’t really care what people think of her even though she runs a salon.
She will wear make up when she feels like and won’t when she doesn’t. Mai Jayden is quite the
slay mom, so looks matter completely to her. So it’s about beauty in a way that is authentic to
each woman without preaching. It’s about having choice and there is no judgement in what you
decide works for you.
Tell us about yourself, why come back to Zim to make a show?
I’m a creative producer, song writer, director, anything creative I’m there! I’m Zimbabwean
born, in my mid thirties and excited about making pan African content that reflects our
complexity but in a beautiful way. I don’t wear make up often because it’s a mission to take it off. I like how I look with it on but enjoy being Ok with not having it on. No surprises here :-) The story is set in Zim so I wanted to make as much of it as I could there. For practical reasons like power cuts and fuel shortages, only 25% ended up being made there but most of it is Zim cast. In creative industries though, collaboration is key in getting anything done so it
was nice to be able to have some South African elements in there. I also want to play my part in laying a brick towards building the Zim film industry so that mattered to me too. So where we couldn’t shoot in Zim some talent were so amazing they agreed to come down to SA to
shoot even on a shoestring budget.
What inspires you and your work? What one critical message do you wish people to walk away with after watching your series?
I believe I was born to do this. I see the gifts God has put in me, so if I don’t do what I
do, I feel like I won’t be true to who I am. So I’m inspired from within and inspired by
my African heritage and my female identity. I want to be the change I see in the world,
so if I want to see more quality African content, I need to be a part of making it even if
it means starting small.
Critical message for people to take away after watching the series is anything worth
anything is built brick by brick and that’s the stuff that lasts.
What’s the most important lesson you have learnt through the journey of Making this Series?
Making TV for traditional TV or web is tough! You need partners, its collaborative, you need
some money but there’s a lot you can get done with shared vision. Making the series taught
me to chip away every day at realising my dream and that my dream can be realised by partnering with other people’s dreams. And I learnt to never give up but to take lots of breaks or I will lose my mind and get demotivated. Sleep always brings happiness :-)
What was the most challenging experience in getting to where you are now?
The personal sacrifice of money, holidays, luxuries, time with friends and just being
exhausted. I was meant to go to Zim over Christmas to visit family that I missed dearly but I
chose to use that money for the production. Forgoing personal pleasures and even basics can
be hard when you’re trying to feed a dream. I think I lived on oats and eggs (sometimes) for
two months because of using the money for the show. I remember a day I was so scared my
electricity would get cut off because I was two months behind in paying. I do not encourage
that, I could have made better financial decisions at the beginning but I absolutely have
How did you overcome this challenge?
By walking through, talking to the bank, eating at people’s houses, crying to my friends and
mother and then getting into gear and going, "how do I fix this." I wrote a follow up business
plan and crowd funded some money I needed and people that believed in the projects gave
me soft loans towards some elements. It didn’t cover everything but it was a start it pushed
me to think smarter to never forget cashflow because a dream no matter how noble without
proper resources can run you to the ground. It’s important to always be learning.
Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years
I would to keep making work I love, to be a smarter, wiser, kinder producer.
To create more jobs and a house by the sea!
What would make you feel like you have succeeded in life -
I feel I am already here because success is in doing every day bit by bit.
Watch Working Wives on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/workingwivesseason1 and let us know what you think in the comments below.