Meet The Brains Behind The River
Phathu Makwarela has forged his name into the achives of telenovelas in South Africa. The young creative writer is the brains behind The River and a couple of other award-winning shows on Mzansi tv.
The River is one of South Africa’s most-watched telenovelas and at the helm of its storyline is the 34-year-old Phathutshedzo “Phathu” Makwarela, an award-winning scriptwriter and co-founder at Tshedza Pictures.
Who better to speak to about the making of a telenovela than the man himself? He has all the ingredients to make a successful show and his work speaks for itself.
He attributes the rise of telenovelas to the country’s love for drama.
“South Africans want their dramas every single day,” Phathu said.
His journey as a screenwriter dates back to 2013, Ferguson Films was commissioned to do a 10-part drama series for Mzansi Magic.
The Fergusons roped in Phathu and his business partner, Gwydion Beynon, as head writers and, just like that, Rockville was born and their careers at M-Net began.
The pair have grown into talented screenwriters who have worked on a number of great local shows.
Makwarela grew up in Mamvuka, a village in Limpopo, and vividly remembers watching a television set powered by a generator because his village wasn’t on the Eskom grid. Before falling in love with television stories, Makwarela loved the written word. His father was a headmaster and his mother, who ran a crèche, was also a teacher, so the home was filled with books.
He grew up reading Bessie Head’s novels, and was particularly struck by Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.
Before he could read English he would have to beg his older brother to read a book and then tell him the story; a strategy that depended on his brother’s mood.
Makwarela is confident that he knows what black viewers want. “I can write black characters; because I’m black it’s my lived reality, it’s my core existence … It would be difficult for me if I were to go and write a Jewish character, it’s not my lived experience.
In his matric year Makwarela told his parents he wanted to study film-making at the Tshwane University of Technology.
“My dad had me set on an engineering path; I had to tell him that I wanted to do this thing called motion picture production. That was the time when every kid in Limpopo was doing engineering. Every parent’s pride and joy was being able to say, ‘My child is doing engineering’. “That was the trend and here I was telling my father about this career he has never heard of. But I was lucky enough that he agreed,” he says.