By Gen Terblanche18 January 2024
Four wives at war in Gqeberha: The Empire
Businessman and newly fledged shipping magnate Luzuko Mxenge (Mbulelo Grootboom as Luthando in Skemerdans) has it all – the fancy cars, the mansion, the power, the connections … a new deal with his Chinese contacts. It’s an empire, and his royal house is already blessed with three wives, an heir, and sons to spare.
But for some men, even excess is never enough. When Luzuko lays eyes on Anathi (newcomer Akhenime Mfenyana), his vanity and lust speak louder than reason. Obsessed, Luzuko starts measuring Anathi for a crown, and he flouts tradition by not consulting his wives – Bulelwa (Zikhona Sodlaka, Mandisa in The Wife), Zimkhitha (Zandile Msutwana, Vuyiswa in The Queen) and Nozuko (Kay Bikitsha, Siyamthanda in The Queen) before he sends his delegation to negotiate lobola.
Four queens might work for a deck of cards, but in Tshedza Pictures’ (Adulting, Outlaws, The River) long-running drama series Gqeberha: The Empire, it’s a call to war. With these four women under one roof, being shot at by 30 gunmen is going to be the least of Luzuko Mxenge’s concerns.
The four Mrs Mxenges
The First Lady among first wives. She is the mother of Luzuko’s beloved, trusted son and heir, Thulani (Litha Ngcukana), and their daughter, Nobomi (Lonalinamandla Bawuti). Her nickname is Bullet, or Buli, if you’re a friend, and she’s the undisputed boss of the Mxenge mansion. Everything about her, from her dignified attitude to her Xhosa couture wardrobe, upholds her power and dignity. Bulelwa honours her husband, her culture and her family. She is everything.
Luzuko might hold the power like a king on a chessboard, but Bulelwa is the queen who makes all the important moves to hold his wives, children and family together with dignity in public, whether they like it or not. While she’ll dish out tough love with a sjambok to keep her “sisters” in line, she’ll also be the one listening and drying tears when there are real issues.
Bulelwa is going to be the first to notice the sparks flying between Thulani and Anathi, and she’s not having that kind of drama on her watch. You could call her a jealous first wife who gets in the way of what her husband wants. Or you could accept that she has the wisdom and experience to spot disaster looming when she sees it.
The bloom is off the rose for the second Mrs Mxenge. As we enter the story she would rather be Luzuko’s widow than his wife. When this sour-faced bougie babe agreed to marry Luzuko, she believed she could sway him from Bulelwa, live the glamorous life of a millionaire’s wife, and leave Bulelwa to do the grunt work. Zimkhitha has given Luzuko three children to raise up – their sons Ntando (Phila Madlingozi) and Mpilo (Zimi Banisi), and daughter Fundiswa (Sibabalwe Bobo) – but apparently the only one who matters to him is his chosen one, Thulani. Or, as Zimkhitha calls him, “that idiot of Bulelwa’s”.
So Zimkhitha has taken a deadly step to change her life, revealing her intimate ties with Luzuko’s best friend, Msimelelo (Anele Matoti). In her relationship with Msimelelo we see her true nature as a strategist, a manipulator, and as a skilled and discrete negotiator. If she was in business for herself, she’d be the queen of the hostile takeover.
Any new wives contemplating joining this family should study Zimkhitha’s face when she looks at Luzuko, and ask a) where that level of contempt comes from and b) if this is the sort of person Luzuko wanted to marry, what does that say about him?
Even more questions hang over the third Mrs Mxenge. Was Luzuko’s dazzlingly beautiful third wife taken on a whim? Nozuko thought she’d be the darling of the house and Luzuko’s pampered pet – the last, true wife of his heart. She’s young, immature, and feels insecure in her position in the household. Anathi’s arrival in the marriage is devastating for her.
As a result, Nozuko is desperate to stake her position the only way she knows how: by having a child with Luzuko, preferably a son – perhaps because Zimkhitha won’t stop twisting the knife about that – before Anathi can pop one out. In theory it should already have happened. The scheme Nozuko cooks up to pop a bun in her oven will reveal her desperation, her opinion of Luzuko as a husband, and her doubts about his powers of perception. It’ll also raise the fact that Nozuko hasn’t exactly left her past behind.
Anathi is renowned for her beauty and grace, and for her sweet character. She’s working as a server at a restaurant and has grand ambitions of becoming a chef. But her family is poor and when Luzuko shows an interest in her, she suddenly has the power to change their lives with a twist of her ring finger. Can she marry someone she isn’t attracted to, someone she has nothing in common with, who’s old enough to be her father? Should she?
Anathi might not intend to set fire to the Mxenge empire, but jealousy surrounds her on all sides – from all three wives, from Thulani who wants her for himself, and from her vengeful ex-boyfriend, who starts gunning for the Mxenges. Perhaps she should have been satisfied with a big tip at her table, and just lived her life.
Which wife do you think will be holding all the cards at the end of the season? Check out Gqeberha: The Empire S1 now.
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