Alternative lifestyles explored on Counter Culture

Scenes from Counter Culture

“I have always been interested in the weird and wonderful, the things that people love doing and to find out why they do it. Counter Culture is a tribute to the lives so many people lead in SA and showcases the lifestyles, hobbies and obsessions of ordinary people” – Lucilla Blankenberg

As humans we are quick to judge the lifestyle choices of others without actually getting to know them, or what led them to pursue their unique path in life. A new show on SABC3, Counter Culture, offers the nosy neighbour a front row seat into the homes and playgrounds of their weird neighbours as it explores the alternative lifestyle choices and diverse co-cultures practiced in some South African communities.

“I have always been interested in the weird and wonderful, the things that people love doing and to find out why they do it. Counter Culture is a tribute to the lives so many people lead in SA and showcases the lifestyles, hobbies and obsessions of ordinary people,” says Lucilla Blankenberg, executive producer of the show.

Counter Culture is the brainchild of Blankenberg and her team at Community Media Trust (CMT), a non-profit media communications company that aims to empower and educate its viewers with thought-provoking content that opens the door for free discussions and sometimes heated debate. Previous CMT shows include the health documentary Siyayinqoba, as well as prime-time dramas Amaza and JAB.

Their latest production Counter Culture, takes the viewer on a journey of exploration as weekly characters that seem “normal” at first encounter, later challenge the status quo embracing their own sense of normality and invite us to peer into their ‘counter culture’.

Counter Culture is all about acceptance, sharing and not judging anyone for their lifestyle or beliefs. ‘Anything goes, we don’t judge’. The series is light-hearted, quirky and entertaining and the characters are open and honest,” explains Blankenberg

Narrated by Zikhona Mda, the show follows nudists, cage fighting/martial artists, drag racers, pageant divas, swingers, bodybuilders, cosplay (comic fans), graffiti artists, witches, drag queens and many more as individuals let the viewers into their private spaces and lifestyle communities.

A CMT study on some of the show’s episodes and stories reveals the following findings:


Doing things in the nude is becoming more popular as individuals seek to rid themselves of their daily constructs and revel in the liberation of their naturalness. According to the South African Naturist Federation (Sanfed) this lifestyle choice has been growing rapidly in South Africa, from 130 people in 2009 to more than 8 000 members currently. While public nudity in South Africa is not legal it is allowed within certain parameters and things are most certainly changing in response to this lifestyle choice.

Graffiti/Street Artists 

No other place is home to more captivating or inspiring graffiti than the District Six neighbourhood in Cape Town. You’ll come across images of Maasai people, imitations of contemporary African lifestyles, representations of South African political figures like Nelson Mandela or Steven Biko, and paintings dedicated to public awareness goals – like the protection of human rights, freedom or honour. Cape Town’s urban art makes a powerful statement in times of uncertainty and decay. Graffiti works are generally seen more as a burden than as a form of art, but the majority of Cape Town’s graffiti artworks deal with current issues, concerns and public sentiment – the things that matter.

Drag Queens

A drag queen is a person, usually male, who dresses in clothing of the opposite sex often for the purpose of entertainment or fashion. Drag has a rich cultural history and men have been performing on stage as women since the Ancient Greek tragedies with Shakespeare famously casting men as women. Making a crossover to mainstream entertainment and society there is still often a stigma attached. While drag is very much associated with gay men and gay culture, there are drag artists of all sexualities and gender identities. There are many kinds of drag artists and they vary greatly from professional performers to those who simply prefer clothing and makeup that is usually worn by the opposite sex in their culture.


Modern witchcraft or Wicca has many negative connotations attached to it – people often assume it’s connected to Satanism but contrary to what many people believe; Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of life which promotes oneness with the divine and all which exists. Most modern Wiccans are not spending their days casting spells, although that does form part of the religion, but the majority are just ordinary human beings, holding down normal jobs in finance or admin, raising their children. Wiccans believe that human kind is not superior to nature, the earth and its creatures but instead are simply one of the many parts, both seen and unseen that combine to make the whole.

Drifting/Drag Racing 

Illegal car racing on public highways is becoming an urban issue no matter where you are globally or in South Africa. Society presumes it is for delinquent ill-educated males who are trying to increase their status in their group or gang. One of our case studies dispels this stereotype as it involves someone from a good background and happens to be a woman who is also trying to change the illegal face of the sport.

Embracing diversity 

The 13-week show is produced and directed by Meesha Aboo and co-director Laddie Bosch with their crew of researchers. A variety of ‘counter cultures’ from all over the country were researched by the team, informs Blankenberg. This was followed by a selection process of what the team thought were the most interesting characters and scenarios to showcase to the viewer.

However even in a country where embracing diversity, tolerance and respect is part of the constitution, some lifestyle groups remain marginalised which as a result left some people uncomfortable with the thought of being publicised on the show. “As we are dealing with real people’s stories sometimes it was hard to find participants who were willing to reveal their lifestyles on camera but we persevered and through hard work and research we were able to find participants who were willing to help us tell their amazing stories,” Blankenberg shares.

The show strives to teach people to respect and understand the cultural beliefs of others, which they hope will lead to less conflict within our society and eventually eradicate the persecution of marginalised groups.

“I hope audiences enjoy learning and observing people who are different but still essentially the same as you and I, and take the time to listen to others and give some thought as to why they do what they do,” says Blankenberg

Each episode is 48 minutes long and lets the viewer understand the context and history associated with the specific ‘counter culture’ while also letting the characters show the world their way of life as well as their reasons for adopting their lifestyle choices.

The Cape Town-based company filmed most of their stories in Cape Town including its surroundings at Atlantis, Wellington and Stellenbosch however there were some stories that led them to travel as far as Gauteng and North West for interesting participants.

Counter Culture was shot on the Sony FS7 and OSMO cameras with snippets of the characters’ family archives also helping to tell the tales.

“We used a script format across the series and guided the directors and crew on style and script segments. It’s a documentary series about real life, so we used mainly natural light.”

CMT did all the production and post-production of the show headed by Laddie Bosch. “The series is post heavy because of the reality style of shooting and the length of each episode,” remarks Blankenberg.

“I think Counter Culture will resonate with South Africans because it’s about South Africans. It’s interesting and has never been done quite like this on SA television,” she concludes.

The show commenced on 30 July 2017 and airs on SABC3 every Sunday at 21h30.



  • Camera: Sony FS7 and OSMO

Counter Culture was shot on the Sony FS7 and OSMO cameras with snippets of the characters’ family archives also helping to tell the tales.


Executive Producer: Lucilla Blankenberg

Producer/Director: Meesha Aboo

Supervising Editor/Director: Laddie Bosch

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Gezzy S. Sibisi is a senior journalist at Screen Africa. She is experienced in print, broadcast and digital media. Her portfolio of work includes working as a lifestyle reporter as well as contributing business and education articles to The Times, Sowetan, and Daily Dispatch publications. As a freelancer, she has worked on content development for corporate newsletters, community newspapers, blogs and educational websites.


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