Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Kidznet and the curse of the child star

By Bruce Ndlovu

WHERE are they now? This is the question most ask of the group of child stars who lit up the country’s screens as part of Kidznet, ZBC’s flagship children’s unit.

Former ZBC TV child star Makanaka Wakatama
Former ZBC TV child star Makanaka Wakatama

At the height of their fame, Kidznet’s best presenters were rightfully regarded as the princes and princesses of Zimbabwean Television. They were Zimbabwe’s answer to the Disney stars that Hollywood was producing at the turn of the century.

The path to superstardom seemed wide open for the likes of Makanaka Wakatama and Tinevimbo Chimbetete and, at that time, if any naysayer suggested that their careers had reached their peaks in those years of puberty they would have been laughed off.

They were young and gifted and moved with the grace of the lucky few that the television gods had smiled on them at such a tender age. But good things rarely last.

While they were still hot property on the small screen, rumours of bad behaviour soon turned into loud pub talk. When Makanaka Wakatama allegedly got hitched while she was in Form Three at Dominican Convent High School in Harare, the lid on the troubled lives of the Star Kidz presenters was blown open. It has not been closed since.

Makanaka Wakatama
Makanaka Wakatama

In this regard Kidznet’s crop of young stars showed that talent was not the only thing they had in common with their distant cousins, the Disney stars that are darlings across the world. It seemed they had inherited the notoriously wayward behaviour of those child stars from Hollywood?

Years later, the glory days of some of Kidznet’s finest seem to be far behind them, with almost all of them having seemingly settled for a life away from the camera. While some will continue asking, where are they now? Others will ask what exactly went wrong.

One of the people who might be able to answer some questions on how the teenagers that seemed to have such a bright future ahead of them lost the plot is former ZBC Television Services CEO Susan Makore.

Now the CEO of AB Communications, Makore has had a steady rise from her days as the founder of Kidznet. Life has not been as kind to the young stars that she helped propel to the top. In an interview with online podcast 2 Broke Twimbos, Makore said it was a pity that the likes of Makanaka had seemingly failed to realised their full potential on the small screen.

“There’s a worry by parents that we live in a very abusive environment. Yes, you’re right, if you look at history. Makanaka Wakatama was a star. She was a role model.

“But then when she disappears from the radar in terms of she’s no longer on Television and the reason for that has to do with whatever happened to her then as a parent you become apprehensive. You say OK, some person who was listening to her and who was way older got to like her and took advantage of a young person then yes, that’s a worry,” she said.

Makore said despite the fact that Makanaka’s case had seen some lose faith in the media industry it was in fact evidence of a larger problem in society.

“But I think it’s about having a structure that tries to protect. You can never protect children from predators wherever they choose to land at, whether it’s within a media house or a bank or a hospital. What you need are mechanisms to ensure that you do the best that you can to protect vulnerable groups.

“It’s always a struggle for corporates in whichever industry and media can’t be singled out as the one that’s abusive. The reason why you end up knowing in the media is because of it’s open structure because we’re the ones that push the information,” she said.

Makore said the failure of child stars to flower into full bloom was also down to lack of opportunities on TV as they grew older.

“I think it’s a growth thing. I think it’s a process. Also look at where we were starting. I think from the time we got independent in 1980, (we only started Kidznet in) 2001-2002, which was years later, we now start having local presenters being role models. So I think it’s a process, as we grow as a nation we will have more child stars. Also the other aspect that you need to look at is the lack of competition in terms of spaces to put these young stars.

“You’ve only got ZBC which is one channel. In other countries you’ve got a children’s channel and you’ve got ten, fifteen channels that are broadcasting.

“So it means that in terms of having more children growing up and seeing themselves as role models and promoting the broadcast institution as a place to work, a place to grow and a place to make a living. That will come in time. I’m sure now as we’re talking about this whole digitisation era we will also look at,” she said.

While the cream of the talent that came up during the Kidznet era had disappeared into the wilderness, there was hope that the current crop would go on to do bigger things.

“This (Kidznet) was the first time we ever did it. But if you look at ZBC you’ve got a lot of young stars that are growing within ZBC itself. People that have started with the youth programme are moving into being mainstream presenters of their own shows. Perhaps what we’re not doing enough as media is exposing these young stars that are actually moving,” she said.

While some might bemoan their failure to run successful careers on TV as adults, Makore said she was happy that the former Kidznet stars had moved on with their lives.

“It would actually be good to trace them. You know it wasn’t just those ones. We also had operations in Bulawayo, from Montrose Studios. So we had your Osley Muringais, there we also presenters.

“Some of them are around and they’re doing stuff for themselves. I know Tinevimbo is still in the media business. I know that Makanaka had an organisation that was assisting young people and young adults to understand what happens when things go wrong when you’re young,” she said. Sunday News