Hector (Aaron Moloisi), China (Lucky Khoza) & Bokang (Matshepo Maleme)

After six years, After Nine, the groundbreaking South African series about a bisexual man’s love triangle, is finally returning to local television screens.

The original four episode mini-series was broadcast on SABC in May 2007 and centred on a love affair between Hector (Aaron Moloisi), who lives a double life with his girlfriend Bokang (Matshepo Maleme), and another man, China (Lucky Khoza).

The show was a ratings success but the ensuing controversy about its unabashed depiction of gay intimacy and a fear of addressing the hot topic of homosexuality in the black community outside of the ‘safe’ documentary or actuality genres meant that the SABC put the series on hold.

“There was high resistance to a second season. It seems like there were issues at the SABC that it was about married men sleeping around with men. It was a very sensitive issue at the time and a lot of people at the SABC didn’t want it,” confirms After Nine creator, writer, director and producer Sechaba Morojele.

His determination to continue to tell the story of Hector and China has seen Morojele ultimately prevail and a new 13 part series of After Nine will be starting on SABC 1 on 13 August.

According to Morojele, the new storyline begins seven years after the events of the first season. “Hector comes back from America and gets involved with China, who is married. Hector stirs things up,” says Morojele.

He explains that this time round there will be more of a focus on Bongang, who is deeply affected by the relationship between her husband and another man. “They have child as well and we’ll see how China living a double life affects her own life”.

So will South Africa be more open to a drama about black gay and closeted men in 2013? “South Africa has grown since then. We are still a conservative nation, but I think that slowly it is changing and there is growing acceptance,” says Morojele.

Lucky Khoza, who plays China, comments that the show “will definitely start a debate again. People will talk about it. We are mirroring everything that’s happening in real life”.

Khoza doesn’t see After Nine as being specifically about gay or lesbian issues but describes it as “a story about a love triangle that touches on the lives of gays and lesbians”.

The term ‘after nine’ is township slang for men who live as heterosexuals, with girlfriends or wives, but who also have relationships with men on the side.

Lucky Khoza

Lucky Khoza

Khoza says that the ‘after nines’ phenomenon is a very really one in South Africa and in part reflects the lack of tolerance found in our society.

“I think the first season opened people’s eyes up to the after nines. A man being a family man in the day and after nine being with a man. By then you have a wife or kids who don’t know. Or a wife who does know but doesn’t want to admit this to the world. It causes a lot of confusion.”

The star comments that he found the new series of After Nine to be a more challenging acting experience than the first. “It was a roller coaster ride. I was learning a lot about China. It was quite intense. It pushed me emotionally, spiritually and physically.”

He says that he received a mixed reaction from the public after playing China in the first season.

“Gay people often respected me for being brave for playing that character – there is a stigma attached to it. Some people also don’t see that you are not the character and will start calling you names and not associate with you.”

Khoza adds that sometimes “someone would come to you and open up about it because ‘it happened in my house’”.

Morojele reveals he’s a little concerned about the gay community’s reaction to the new series, which, he explains, is less explicit than the first.

“My fear is that they expect more than what we are giving. The first season was groundbreaking and was risqué and the intimacy was there in your face. This one is done in a more subtle way.”

He admits that the SABC did support toning down the show, but is adamant that it was something that he was also in favour of.

“There was huge fear on the part of SABC based on last time’s responses. It was also our choice,” says Morojele.

“We didn’t want people to come to it with a voyeuristic stance. We wanted to focus on the story, not to excite or provoke. The focus is on story and a love relationship between two men, not on the sexual or visually explicit aspect. You don’t need to focus on sex,” Morojele insists.

Morojele, who says he’s straight, was introduced to the after nine concept by filmmakers Fanney Tsimong and Nhlanhla Ndaba, who have remained consultants on the series. I ask Morojele if, as a heterosexual man, he’s the right person to be telling this story.

Sechaba Morojele

Sechaba Morojele

“I understand that… I also have questions around, for example, when white people tell black stories, but there are many facets to each story. And I might bring something to telling this story that a gay director might not,” he says.

Morojele adds humorously: “Some people think I’m gay and that could be a compliment. Friends have told my ‘wife maybe he’s is trying to tell you something’ by making After Nine”.

Between January and March this year, Morojele worked on the After Nine storyline with Tsimong and Ndaba to create, what he says is an “authentic” experience.

He explains: “The important thing for me is the authenticity of the story. I would like to think that I’ve done justice to the subject matter, that I’ve not trivialised it and have not been patronising.”

Khoza believes that the show could have particular resonance for men living double lives who are struggling to come to terms with their deception and perhaps sexual identity.

“I hope that those who are going through the after nine experience, that they will be open and honest with their partners. Be real to yourself. It’s best for one to say ‘this is who I am. I am like this. Accept me the way that I am,’” says Khoza.

After Nine series two runs on SABC 1 from 13 August 2013 at 8.30pm for thirteen weeks.

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