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Uk’shona Kwelanga review: if only it weren’t an ad

With the rise of digital media comes a host of interesting ways for storytellers to express themselves. We’ve seen the likes of movies told exclusively on Snapchat, and television shows enriched by the fictional social media lives of their characters.

And now we’ve seen a WhatsApp drama.

Uk’shona Kwelanga (or Death of Langa) is an innovative ad campaign by Sanlam about a family dealing with the loss of its patriarch. Told entirely as if the viewer is part of the family’s group chat, Uk’shona places you front and center for the drama that a family death inevitably brings.

Unfortunately, what is an intriguing and exciting concept at first is let down by the fact that it is made to sell a product rather than tell an actual story.

Uk’shona Kwelanga focusses on a family dealing with the loss of its patriarch

On the first day of seven, Sanlam introduces the viewer to the Langa family. Through messages from Pastor Mokoena, we learn that Bab’ Langa has passed away and that Edward, the eldest child, is planning a funeral that begets a death of a head of household.

Eventually we are introduced to Mam’ Langa, the new widow, Mandisa, the youngest and most successful daughter, and a few other relatives. The drama is ignited when Mandisa, who works in Midrand, is unsure of when she can get off work to go to Soweto. The day ends on a cliffhanger: Ubaba’s bank card is gone.

But on the second day, all thought of the bank card has vanished. Eventually, on the third day, we’re alerted that Edward found the card and had withdrawn all the money to help finance the funeral.

Uk’shona goes on like this: presenting intriguing story lines and disregarding them the very next day. The only constant is Mandisa and Edward’s bickering, and the Langas’ disturbing lack of grief — a result of advertisers controlling a story rather than writers.

Because the crux of the story isn’t unity in the face of grief. It isn’t about the importance of family in a time of sorrow. It is about no human aspect whatsoever. Uk’shona Kwelanga is about selling funeral cover. It’s purpose is to remind you of how expensive a funeral is, and the sad part is it doesn’t even do that properly.

Sanlam has targeted young people by creating a WhatsApp drama in the first place

Sure, it reminds the viewer of everything that needs to be bought: from flowers to a R40 000 coffin to a cow that must be slaughtered. But Mandisa just ends up footing the bill after taking out a loan, and everything ends up alright. There is no reminder of what that debt means, or the fact that they’ll need to do it all again when another family member passes away.

Sure, these might seem obvious to some, but Sanlam has targeted young people by creating a WhatsApp drama in the first place, and it seems unlikely its audience will fully grasp the financial ramifications it’s set before it.

That being said, the WhatsApp format is enticing. It’s accessible, it’s refreshing, and the idea that, in the future, bots could include the viewer in the story should be intoxicating to anyone who tells or consumes stories.

Now if only Sanlam could hand over the software to creatives.

Author | Julia Breakey

Julia Breakey
Julia is a UCT film graduate with a passion for dogs, media, and dog-centric media. If she's not gushing about the new television show that you need to watch, she's rewatching The Good Place (which you need to watch). More