A Day in the Life of Two MTV Shuga Down South Interns

By Atlegang Moeketsi, Content Strategist at Vuma Reputation Management  

I made my way to downtown Joburg on a very hot day in May, to spend the day on a rooftop on the set of MTV Shuga Down South Season 3 wrap-shoot. It was my first time on a set, so butterflies were aflutter when my attention was drawn to a frantic wave gesturing in his direction. In the distance was Bongani Mncube, a BA Hons in Film and Television Cum Laude graduate who was welcoming my team and me with a big smile. Dressed in well-worn jeans and a hoodie with a crisp white collar popping out, he had his hard copy call sheets in his right hand, and his handheld transceiver in his left, ready to dash as the first Assistant Director for the show, Thami Mini merrily bellowed commands for the cast and the sound technicians.

As we walked towards the set-up for the scene, Bonolo Machaba, a bubbly Public Relations and Communication graduate from the University of Johannesburg, was quickly sashaying in between cast members with makeup and hair brushes in hand, concentrating on the short gap she had to refresh the casts’ faces and hair between filming.

Despite the frenzy on set, both Bongani and Bonolo seemed razor focused and eager to make the most of this valuable opportunity.

The internship programme is part of a partnership between Paramount Africa and the Staying Alive Foundation, custodians of the award-winning MTV Shuga Down South drama series that helps to empower young people in Africa and India to make positive decisions about their health.  The call to open up the industry was made at the beginning of the year, and 16 interns aged between 22 and 25 made the cut to be a part of the production crew across various departments. Led by an all-black-female team of Heads of Department from one of the leading South African production companies Burnt Onion, they all got an opportunity to get their hands dirty learning how to perform production tasks from makeup to sound.

Back on set and in between various takes of the same scene from different directions (which I learned was to ensure the editing team has options to pick from), I snuck in a couple of questions whilst Bongani was ushering extras to the waiting area for the next scene. “The opportunity to work on such a huge set solidifies my vision of becoming a great storyteller and delving into the production process,” Bongani said, as he explained why he applied for the position.

Bonolo is right behind him, in stylish yet comfortable beige tracksuits and sneakers, allowing her to move effortlessly throughout the set. She describes herself as creative as she proceeds to write notes about the character’s looks for each scene on her call sheet; “whether I’m in a makeup room, or my make-up room is on the ground, like today, my job is to make sure the casts’ makeup depicts their character and scenes accurately, meaning it’s not just about glam. For example, it can be quite simple because it’s the two characters having a conversation under a tree at school, or a bit more fun because the characters are preparing to go out to a party, as part of the script – and even then, it would have to look like how a teenager would do their makeup and hair.”  she explains with great excitement.

Clouds gather, threatening what was a sunny day and creating a quiet panic on set. Mini silently explains that they never mention the ‘R word’ (rain) on set, especially as it was the last day of filming. But the pressure is on to finalise takes and wrap up before the first drop.

Bonolo leaps into action tidying up the extras as they excitedly chatter amongst themselves and get ready to put their best foot forward. She also eagerly takes pictures of the actors after each scene for continuity. “This is a  once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I don’t take for granted. I learnt how to manage time, thrive under pressure, and believe in myself on this set. It has been challenging but in such a good way, I am so grateful to the Staying Alive Foundation!” she says.

Throughout their time on set, Bongani and Bonolo showcased their dedication, adaptability, and unwavering commitment to learning and growth. Bongani will be continuing with his Master’s degree in Film and Television and will be freelancing as an Assistant Director to gain more experience. And Bonolo will be focusing on getting work on other projects, acquiring more experience, and building good relationships in the film industry, but her biggest wish is to get an opportunity in her respective career field. 

As the first raindrop hits the ground and Mini looks at the crew with concern, Bongani bolts towards the umbrellas and swiftly shuffles as many crew members as possible under each one. He breathes a sigh of relief as the shoot wraps a few minutes later just before the storm.