Picture: 123RF/Jakkapan Jabjainai
Picture: 123RF/Jakkapan Jabjainai


The rest of the world had been square-eyed for decades when the apartheid government finally conceded to switching on the "devil’s bioscope" in 1976. It was a big deal and initially even watching the test pattern was exciting.

Who shot JR?

Restaurants were empty on Tuesdays (when Dallas was on) and workplace gossip revolved around it. Dallas shook up the late 1970s and 1980s and had SA captivated. It was the first big soapie on our screens.

Since then we’ve had everything from Loving to Generations: decades of daily doses of blackmail, heartbreak and over-the-top dialogue produced locally and abroad. So, it seems, are the days of our lives.


A generation of South Africans grew up thinking that Spider-Man was called "Rabobi" and spoke Xhosa. Likewise, that the Beverly Hills 90210 gang and drama queens of the soap The Young & The Restless (Rustelose Jare) all spun their webs of intrigue in Afrikaans. Tuning into the radio to hear the "real" undubbed English versions seemed normal in the 1980s and 1990s.


Continuity presenters, Open Time, K-T.V., SuperSport — things changed drastically when Naspers introduced M-Net in 1986. The pay-for-TV brand spawned spin-off division MultiChoice in 1993 (it handled decoders, accounts, and so on) and then DStv and its myriad channels in 1995. Now we think nothing of endless sports, news and entertainment options — but in the beginning there were sitcoms, Sunday evening movies and, of course, Carte Blanche.

Reality TV

Watching a bunch of everyday South Africans confined to a house: in 2001 the nation was bewitched by the idea, and we watched Big Brother for a full 106 days. It was the first of a slew of local reality shows — including Survivor SA in 2006 (now in its millionth season), Idols, The Bachelor, MasterChef SA and The Voice. Apparently South Africans are turned on by the mundane and other people’s misery.


In 2019 you don’t even need a TV licence or an actual TV to watch good flicks. You just need high-speed internet and a Netflix account. Or Showmax. Or Amazon Prime. Droves of people are forsaking their DStv subscriptions in favour of digital streaming services. They’re cheap, up-to-date and offer an obscene cornucopia of viewing. Now if they could just get a handle on broadcasting live sport and news.

Buitendach is the editor of Business Day Wanted and the FM’s Life section

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