Crime. South Africans breathe it, speak it, live it, fight it, and have fallen victim to it. But there is also the other side everyone tends to forget about. The police who try to find perpetrators and prosecutors who seek justice within the judiciary system. And when someone is taken away in an untimely fashion, there are the loved ones who are left to mourn the tremendous void left in their lives.
M-Net’s local crime docuseries, Strangers You Know, takes a look at all these sides with incredible tenderness, heart, and soul. Trish Malone, one half of a duo of series story producers, says: “With our series, we try to balance it between the police and prosecutors who drove finding the perpetrator, and the families who are left to pick up the pieces.”
It is through the families and policemen, she says, that the humanity comes through. “The humanity is a huge part of this,” Malone says. “And I think this is what makes this series interesting to watch for a South African who is surrounded by crime because it brings a humanity into this, which I've seen very few other shows do. We don't sensationalise any type of crime.”
A fusion of expertise
Malone, who has a background in fiction writing for films and TV, says she is from the UK and has been living in South Africa for the past 12 years. As a story producer, it is those sort of skills she has blended with the finesse of Carte Blanche investigative journalism, to delicately weave a touching but factual narrative.
“Originally, I started writing the pre-production scripts so what that meant for me was to give guidance to the team before they went out to shoot on what questions to ask and where the story could potentially be through the pre-interviews we had with some, not all, that were going to drive each episode. So that entails researching, and working very closely with [team members] on the dockets.” After the show wrapped shooting, she assists the team to drive and guide the stories.
She says: “Working in fiction is obviously very different and you can just make it up, and here you can only deal with what people tell you. The stories are driven by those [who] are interviewed. If they don't say it, there is no story. So it has been quite interesting and challenging, the story that you thought you had before the shoot and the story you have after the shoot, you've got to realign and rethink how you tell the story.” With her expertise, she successfully inserted drama and tension into the episodes, jumping through time because each story isn’t told chronologically, all the while remaining respectful to everyone represented in the story.
As we continue chatting, her thoughtful responses become more and more apparent. She’s clearly been moved by her work on Strangers You Know. Her eyes, behind darkly rimmed spectacles, soften with compassion recalling her work.
Use your voice
Pragmatically she concedes that the show cannot stop crime from occurring, however it has taught her something and that is the power people have to use their voices. Majority of the cases featured on the show, Malone says, became well-know because of the families who refused to give up. “We don’t have to be passive in our own stories. If we take charge and say, we're not going to sit by and let these cases disappear … I think that is also a really big takeaway in terms of the families that we interview. Don't give up and instil in your community to find the perpetrators because if they do it to your daughter, your partner, they'll do it to somebody else.
Malone has also picked up on valuable lessons learnt during working on the docuseries. “One of the policemen, Captain Radebe, he said that he has worked for many years on many cases. And one thing he has learnt is that, when a perpetrator is sitting in front of you, you never know if they did it or not. Only the evidence speaks to [that] and the timeframes. If someone is sitting there and they are angry at you, they might be angry because they've been arrested, not because they did it.
Over the years, he said you can never know what a killer looks like. They can look a gentle sweet person.
The first episode focuses on Joey and Anisha van Nierkerk, a tragic case where the two women were tormented and murdered. Malone says the entire story is a thriller, a very tense taut drama. The team manages to speak to some of the killers too. She encourages people who watch it to create different conversations about crime in South Africa, a conversation about catching the bad guys. There are people in the country who have great creativity, skill, and knowledge who are fighting to lower the crime rate, she adds.
“It is quite cinematic, and it gets better as it goes on,” she says. “It isn't your typical doccie you'll see on TV. It is more on a cinematic level so they'll get a bigger experience of it.”
Featured image: Getty
Let us know what you think about the show on social media. Join the conversation using #StrangersYouKnowSA. Find us on Twitter (@MNet), Instagram (@mnettv), and Facebook (@MNet). Watch Strangers You Know on Sundays at 20:00. Catch up on DStv.