FlashBack: When Big Brother Africa 1 housemates visited Ghana

Celebrity The 12 BBA1 Housemates
The 12 BBA1 Housemates

Today, 7th September, marks exactly 20 years the grand finale of the first edition of Big Brother Africa was held in Johannesburg, South Africa. The show, which began on May 25 in 2003 and lasted for 106 days, was produced by Endemol for Electronic Media Network, also known as “Em-Net” (stylised as “M-Net”).

Big Brother Africa 1 (BBA1) was the first in the world to have housemates of different nationality from one continent, viz. Cherise (Zambia), Mwisho (Tanzania), Tapuwa (Zimbabwe), Warona (Botswana), Gaetano (Uganda) and Stefan (Namibia).

The rest were Bayo (Nigeria), Abby (South Africa), Sammi (Ghana), Alex (Kenya), Zein (Malawi) and Bruna (Angola).

Broadcast 24 hours a day on M-Net’s defunct channel 37 on DStv – Africa’s premier satellite TV provider, the show brought a mix of voyeurism and entertainment which captivated the show’s diverse audiences – an estimated 32 million TV viewers across Africa.

The house saw betrayals, trust, intelligence, intrigue, love, emotional attachment and detachment at their peaks. The good and bad habits exhibited by the housemates during their sojourn in the house provided useful lessons to the viewers.

The BBA1 was a novelty to scads of people on the African continent at the time, especially the “shower hour” where some of the housemates were seen on live TV bathing completely naked (exclusively shown via the live feed on DStv).

These live TV nude images offended a section of the public in some African countries who deemed it as an affront to “public decency” and also described it as the “vilest spectacle” ever on television in Africa.

In Zambia, for instances, a petition was started to get the show off Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) TV – the state broadcaster which was airing the daily highlights of the show.

Sam Nujoma, the then President of Namibia, also tried to stop the state-owned Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) TV from airing it but to no avail. Some folks were of the view that the President’s “dislike” for the show may have been born out of the fact that the Namibian housemate, Stefan was not a “black” Namibian and so he should not have been Namibia's representative in the pan-African contest (there are “white citizens” in Namibia, just like in South Africa and Zimbabwe).

The “immoral show”, as BBA1 was referred to by some religious groups, also came under sharp criticism in Malawi and was subsequently banned by the Malawian Parliament through a parliamentary vote. Two weeks later, a high court in Malawi overturned it, arguing that the Parliament acted out of its jurisdiction. For this reason, the highlight broadcast of BBA1 was immediately restored on TV Malawi, much to the delight of the show’s ardent viewers in Malawi.

Carl Fischer (aka “Mr. Big Brother”), the white South African who imported the Big Brother franchise to Africa from the Netherlands – where the TV format was created, was famously quoted as saying, “If (the show) didn’t generate any controversy, the project would be a failure.”

The maiden edition of Big Brother Africa went down in the annals of television history in Africa as the highest-rated TV show. Due to its success, BBA1 was later telecast in the USA on “Africa Channel” (which is distinct from the “Africa Channel” in the UK), making it the first non-American edition of Big Brother to be broadcast in America.

BBA1 Housemates in Ghana
Two months after the end of BBA1 in 2003, Metro TV (then owned by Talal Fatal), in collaboration with No.1 Records, organised a trip for some of the housemates to Ghana dubbed "November to Remember".

During their short stay in the country, the 5 housemates featured in music videos to Tala Fatal’s Eboni Band music project.

BBA1 winner, Cherise appeared in “We Are the Children” with the Tema SOS children. Bayo and Mwisho were in “Money Can’t Buy Love” – sung by Knii Lante. Kwesi Pee’s “Odo Fakye Me” starred Abby and Gaetano.

The same visuals for “Odo Fakye Me” were rehashed for the music video of the song’s English version, “Forgive and Forget” vocally performed by 2 Face Idibia from Nigeria. The original “Forgive and Forget” was composed and sung by Talal Fatal himself.

Apart from all these, a music extravaganza was organised to honour the visiting former BBA1 housemates at the Accra International Conference Centre, with performances from seasoned comedian/satirist KSM; magician Christopher Voncujovi; and Ghanaian music acts like Batman (Samini), Kwesi Pee, et al.

The housemates were also involved in a string of activities put together by Talal Fatal and his team from Metro TV and No.1 Records, with supports from Boomerang Night, Joy Soap, Novotel Hotel (now Accra City Hotels), Joy FM, Vibe FM (which later became Live FM and now Original FM) and Atlantis Radio.

Angolan housemate Bruna, who couldn’t join her fellow BBA1 housemates for that memorable trip to Ghana in November 2003, might have heard about the warm reception her colleagues had gotten during their visit. And so when she (Bruna) decided to launch her self-titled music album “BRUNA” (her second album) in West Africa in May 2004, she chose no other nation but Ghana for that cause.

L-R... Bruna, Sammi & Cherise in Accra (May, 2004)L-R... Bruna, Sammi & Cherise in Accra (May, 2004)

Accompanied by Cherise, who was on her second visit to Ghana, Bruna and her team had two days of exhilarating nights in Accra, with Ghanaian BBA1 housemate Sammi B acting as a host and ‘tour guide’. Bruna’s visit to Ghana culminated in a big party at the Boomerang Nightclub in Accra.

Life Just After BBA1
Whereas housemates like Zein Dudha (Malawi), Alex Holi (Kenya), Bayo Okoh (Nigeria) and Mwisho Mwampamba (Tanzania) gradually faded into oblivion after the show, the other housemates leveraged on the Big Brother brand to launch new careers, especially in showbiz.

Immediately after BBA1, Cherise Makubale aka “Tumba” (the winner from Zambia) travelled extensively across Africa as a Goodwill Ambassador and engaged in numerous charity works. She also got the chance to meet Nelson Mandela and some other dignitaries in the various countries that she visited on the continent.

Her foundation, “Cherise Makubale Foundation” (CMF), a non-profit organisation, supports orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia. Currently, the Zambian philanthropist is resident in the UK with her British husband and Zambian mother.

Ghana’s Samuel Kwame Bampoe aka Sammi B was already a popular broadcaster at Joy FM/Adom FM (and a budding musician) before travelling to South Africa to take part in the continental reality show. However, the Ghanaian housemate became a household name in Ghana and across the continent afterwards. On his return, Sammi got ‘juicy’ offers to work with radio stations in Kenya and elsewhere.

He also hosted “233 For Ghana” which aired on DStv’s Channel O for a couple of months in 2004. The TV show, produced by Abraham Ohene-Djan and his OM Studios team, placed a huge spotlight on Ghana’s music/entertainment sector at the time. For once, the rest of Africa got to see what our compatriots were doing here in Ghana on the showbiz scene. According to a source at MultiChoice, Channel O agreed to broadcast this half-hour Ghanaian TV show solely because of Sammi – the show’s presenter.

Despite the fact that he didn’t win, Gaetano Kagwa was accorded a “national hero” status in Uganda. His name was bandied around the entire country to the extent that it reportedly triggered the president, Yoweri Museveni (who is still the president and has been ruling the nation since 1986) to ask one of his aides, “Aaaaaaaahhhh… Who is this “Geee-Ta-No”? Is it a name of a new political party?? Or a rebel leader in the making???

The Ugandan president was then told that Gaetano was the Ugandan representative in the BBA1 show, an explanation which ‘allayed’ his fears. Gaetano was later invited by the president for a tête-à-tête, helicopter ride and presidential dinner.

When M-Net (the organisers of Big Brother Africa) were scouting for a new host for “Studio 53” magazine TV show in 2005, following the exit of the show’s inaugural presenter – the late Alyce Chavunduka (a renowned Zimbabwean media practitioner), Uganda’s Gaetano was one of the folks brought in to steer the affairs of the show. The suave Ugandan gentleman subsequently rose to become a formidable and famous media personality in the East Africa sub-region, presenting shows on the radio and TV.

Gaetano wasn’t the only former BBA1 housemate employed by M-Net after the reality show. Tapuwa Mhere from Zimbabwe was equally given the chance to be a part of the “Magic Family” (M-Net – “Where Magic Lives”). She worked in the television production department of the South African pay-TV network.

“Tap”, as she’s dearly called, was part of the M-Net team that handled the first ever “Big Brother Nigeria” (BBN), which was held in Lagos from March 5 to June 6 in 2006. BBN was rebooted and rebranded in 2017 as “Big Brother Naija”, after an 11-year hiatus.

South African housemate, Abby Platjees followed her Big Brother Africa “sweetheart” Gaetano to Uganda after the show and fell in love with East Africa. She would later make Tanzania her new home, establishing herself as an entrepreneur and media personality in the East African state.

For the obvious reasons, Bruna Tatiana Estevão, whom many BBA1 viewers had acclaimed as the “most beautiful” female housemate in the house, was a cynosure of all eyes in Angola where men hovered around her like stubborn flies.

The Angolan musician/model set the ‘unpopular’ record of being the first ever housemate to be evicted from the Big Brother Africa house, an incident which stemmed from the fact that most voters in Angola (a lusophone/Portuguese-speaking country) and some other part of Africa had misconstrued the voting system.

From the show’s commencement in 2003, till its 4th season (Big Brother Africa 4: The Revolution) in 2009, the public voted for the housemates they wanted to "evict" and not to "keep" in the house. Unfortunately, a section of the voting public misunderstood it, and as a result of this, the people of Angola, likewise other ‘ignoramuses’ in other part of Africa, voted massively for Bruna, thinking they were rather keeping her in the house.

Gaetano’s trip to the Big Brother UK house was the “prize” for the best cocktail contest which Bruna had won. But because of her eviction, which happened just some few days to the UK trip, it was passed on to Gaetano who had placed second in the cocktail contest.

The Big Brother housemate swap was a “twist” designed to liven up season 4 of the UK version, which was also being screened at the same time as the African version in 2003. The UK’s housemate, Cameron Stout (the eventual winner of that season of Big Brother UK) also got the chance to spend some days in the BBA1 house in South Africa.

Just like Bruna, Stefan Ludik returned to Namibia as a “celebrity”. To date, the “white” Namibian is one of the country’s most celebrated musicians and actors. He’s appeared in a series of Afrikaans-language TV shows produced in Namibia and Mzansi (South Africa).

Botswana's Warona Setshwaelo, who was one of the last housemates to be evicted from the house, also became a celeb in her natal country and continued with her acting/video editing career. She currently resides in Montreal, Canada where she still plies her trade as an actress/video editor.

Eugene Selorm Owusu
Eugene Selorm Owusu

Media Practitioner/WriterPage: EugeneSelormOwusu

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