Murder under the sun


The newest series in’s growing line-up of local content is the crime drama,
Traffic! Inspired by the international success of Scandinavian crime fiction, this
26-part series is set to deliver twists, turns and thrills while also addressing one
of South Africa’s most pressing social problems.

Crime thrillers are a staple of television entertainment almost everywhere in the
world. For whatever reason, regardless of cultural differences, we all enjoy a
good murder mystery and watching the detective as he or she works through
the evidence to track down the killer (usually while also dealing with a
complicated private life).

South Africans are no exception, despite the fact that the genre has not exactly
been prolific as far as our homegrown content is concerned. Local viewers
continue to lap up internationally produced content on crime and murder mystery
themes. Surely the market is wide open for a few good local exemplars of the

A working mother

Writer, director and producer Roberta Durrant certainly thinks so. Having recently
won acclaim with the release of her feature film Felix, a feel-good, family movie
about a Capetonian teenager who dreams of becoming a jazz saxophonist.

Durrant and the film’s writer, Shirley Johnston, decided to take their next project
in a completely different direction – one influenced by an admiration for Danish
television, in particular the serial crime drama, Forbrydelsen, better known by its
English name, The Killing. Together they created Traffic!, a story about a tough
and dedicated female detective in Cape Town who begins to investigate the
deaths of two teenage girls from opposite ends of the Mother City’s social
strata, soon discovering that this dual tragedy is only the tip of the iceberg. At
the same time, she struggles with the daily trials of single motherhood and other
personal challenges.

Durrant says of her lead: “I think there will be a strong identification with her as
a working single mother who faces the extreme demands of her job; while also
trying to keep things together on the domestic front.’

A worrying social backdrop

A notable element in much Scandinavian crime drama is the treatment of serial
murder as an extreme illustration of the problems of the sexual divide,
particularly female objectification and misogyny. Traffic! also deals with this
theme. It could be argued, in light of the country’s record with regard to sexual
violence, that it is a theme that South African storytellers ought to be tackling
more often and more boldly. “The stats in this country on the disappearance of
teenage girls and young women are horrendous,’ Durrant says, “and that is
what we’re dealing with here.’

An international genre with a local aesthetic

One of the hallmarks of the northern European murder mystery / police
procedural is its coldly beautiful settings, complete with steely grey skies and
unmistakably Teutonic locations – both urban and rural. These are so closely
associated with the genre that one might wonder whether Durrant and her team
have adopted the look and feel. But of course, this would be entirely synthetic
and unrepresentative of South Africa. The events of Traffic! unfold in the glaring
sunshine and long days of a Western Cape summer.

“Our colour palette does have a lot of blues and greys though,’ Durrant says,
“but also a lot of white and a lot of “electric’ colours, because a lot of it takes
place in clubs. Then on the other hand, we have scenes in a domestic
environment, which we tried to contrast with the other scenes by making it very

The series was shot by veteran lensman Mike Downie. “He’s very particular with
his lighting and he comes from a film background,’ Durrant says. “We strove to
get as close to a filmic look as we could using the resources we had.’

Limited resources

Downie used a Canon 5D for the job – the current industry standard for
independent film crews trying to get as close as possible to a cinematic look on a
tight budget. While has demonstrated a commitment to the creation of local
content, it is only able to offer a limited budget to production companies that
respond to its brief, meaning that the crews have to show extreme
resourcefulness to pull off a good product. Traffic! had a 10-week window in
which to shoot all the episodes and, studios having been ruled out due to the
costs involved, the shoot took place entirely on various Cape Town locations.

The series is produced by Penguin Films, of which Durrant is the Creative
Producer. Durrant is the show runner, with Johnston credited as the story
creator. Leading the cast, in the role of Detective Lungi Mlaba, is Bonnie Henna.

The 22 episodes were divided among three directors – Heleni Handt, Jenna Bass
and Mandilakho Yengo, while storyliners Kaye Anne Williams and Justine Loots
worked with Johnston to write the scripts. Episode one will air on at 9.30pm
on 12 February.


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