14 June 2023
Rosemary’s Hitlist: “the most gripping crime story since Devilsdorp”
Rosemary’s Hitlist, the true-crime documentary series about cop-turned-serial-killer Nomia Rosemary Ndlovu, is now streaming on Showmax. All four episodes are ready to stream.
Early reviews are glowing. Cape Talk’s Sara-Jayne Makwala King calls the Showmax Original “edge-of-your-seat” and “jaw-dropping”, adding, “Rosemary’s Hitlist is easily the most gripping crime story since Devilsdorp …”
Ndlovu was sentenced in 2021 to six concurrent life terms for the murders of six members of her family, including her sister and the father of her only living child at the time. They were murdered for killsurance: funeral cover payouts worth over R1.4 million to Ndlovu.
Ndlovu was also sentenced to an additional 30 years: 10 years each for fraud, incitement to commit murder, and the attempted murder of her mother, Maria Mushwana, her sister Joyce, and Joyce’s five children.
Rosemary’s Hitlist is produced by IdeaCandy, the company behind the SAFTA-winning true-crime sensation Devilsdorp, and directed by Valen’tino Mathibela (the first season of The Real Housewives of Durban, Lebo M – Coming Home), with SAFTA winner Richard Gregory (Steinheist) as a consulting director.
We caught up with Mathibela to find out more.
Why were you drawn to the case?
Because it’s unbelievable. It’s a cop! Killing her family!
I wanted to find out why a mother, a daughter and a sister would become a perpetrator while in a position of power to do the opposite and protect her family instead. Money was not enough of a reason.
Murder alone is already chilling, but this was the destruction of a family by one of their own.
And by a cop. Police are seen as protectors, a role similarly expected from mothers or women as nurturers. A cop is a symbol of protection, of safety, of hope. For those that may be suffering or stranded, if you see a police van, you think, “Maybe I’ll get help here”.
How difficult was it to convince the victims to share their stories?
Very hard! These are people’s lives. They have already had their trust betrayed by a loved one. How can they trust a stranger?
So we had to find a way to make them trust us by being one of them, by caring for them before we put them on camera.
Language is key. People want to be heard and heard completely. You don’t want a language barrier to rob you of that experience.
Was anyone scared to speak out?
Yes, even though she was behind bars, people were still afraid. When she was sentenced, she made a threat to one of the witnesses to say, “I will spend this Christmas in jail but, next year, I will be out. I will be back and you will see.” So people were still afraid, and we had some witnesses who changed their minds daily while we chased a deadline. That is why, with some of the witnesses, we had to hide their identities when we filmed them.
At one stage, even I started looking over my shoulder on my way everywhere …
How big a shift was it for you to move from reality TV into true crime?
The shift was massive. The experience was emotionally daunting as all the victims got to relive moments of permanent trauma and we absorbed it all as their form of outlet. These victims come from very poor backgrounds; they don’t have money for psychology. So they had not had an outlet and some of them still tell you, “I can’t sleep at night.” And the poverty left behind by the breadwinners is heart-wrenching. But while the story was scary, compassion for the victims made me want to see if we could find answers for them and society at large.
What was the biggest surprise for you in filming this documentary?
Meeting Rosemary was the biggest surprise. You know, she is charming; she is warm. She is imposing when she walks in; everyone’s attention goes to her and then she smiles …
I was so intrigued by the psyche of this woman, who was able to blindside so many people.
I was also surprised by her ability to distance herself from the responsibility of the crimes and her mastery of alibi.
What did the documentary uncover that wasn’t in the original news coverage?
Without giving the story away, some of the intrigue came from learning how long Rosemary’s MO has been at work and how far she was planning to go with it.
If you were going to make a true-crime drama, rather than a documentary, about this case, who would you cast as Rosemary? Why?
Definitely the exceptional Vatiswa Ndara. She is relatable, like Rosemary, and they share striking features that are similar for believability. Her mastery of Xitsonga would be essential – she can learn it.
What are you proud about in the final product?
The authenticity of a uniquely South African story that allowed subjects to express themselves in their own language, which was previously marginalised.
And I was proud that we left the victims feeling seen and heard, even though not everything they expressed will make the cut. They expressed relief to be listened to thoroughly, to have the ability to “bhodla” [have an outlet after carrying their pain for so long/release/offload]. There is hope for healing to begin.
What did the story make you reflect on personally?
I learned how to safeguard myself and loved ones from predators of the new phenomenon of killsurance, which is fast reducing the value of human life in exchange for quick money for those probably trusted the most in families. Motives should be questioned.
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