Boys Costumes Depicted in Television Shows: Die Swart Kat/The Black Cat (South Africa, mid-1980s)

Figure 1.--The Swart Kat in action as played by Ruan Mandelstam in the second series.

(Die) Swart Kat or The Black Cat is an Afrikaans youth adventure series. It was based on a book written by Chris Sasner in the 1970s (?). It is essentially an action adventure stories featuring A 12/13 year old Afrikaans boy, Borrie Veldt, lives in an upper-class suburb. At night Borrie dons on a Superman type uniform and with his ingenuity single handedly foils crooks and thieves with their unlawful deeds. The program proved popular with both Afrikaans and English viewers.


Die Swart Kat or in English The Black Cat is an Afrikaans youth adventure series. The TV-series was based on a book written by Chris Sasner in the 1970s (?). It is essentially an action adventure stories featuring a 12/13 year old boy who at night dons on a Superman type uniform and with his ingenuity single handedly foils crooks and thieves with their unlawful deeds. i.e. locking them them up in a storage freezer to be collected later by the police.

The Main Character

Borrie Veldt (his name) lives in an upper-class suburb and his family comprises of his father--a police detective (who unknowing to him its his son who is catching the crooks which he collects later on), his adoring mother (very much like William's mother by Richmal Crompton) who finds him faultless and is the apple of her eye and Rienie, his older sister who is about 16. Rienie has a boyfriend who is also in the police force and is her fathers junior assistant in solving the crimes.


When the first series of Die Swart Kat was released on South African TV in the middle to late 1980s, it was an instant hit amongst both English and Afrikaans viewers alike. It was a big production budget and was shot on film. Because most of the action takes place at night, it required expert lighting and the whole production in itself was a big logistical nightmare. Most fortunately the technical production was well executed and combined with superb directing and acting by all, Die Swart Kat is considered a masterpiece of South African television to this day.


Christo Niehaus who was chosen to play the lead role gave a magnificent performance on whom the success of the series depended. He is a dark haired boy with large blue eyes.

The Family

The plots of each episode are set around Borrie and his family. Borrie has wit and presence of mind that could only be marveled at. Needless to say there is a sibling rivalry between himself and his sister who is always exacerbated by her younger brothers superb skills of one upmanship and leaving her second best should there be an exchange of words. To add insult to injury, Borrie does not think much her boyfriend and takes delight deriding him on his duff attempts in assisting his father on solving the latest crime. Needless to say there is classic repartee at the dinner table at the end of each episode that leaves his family speechless.

The Bedroom

Borries bedroom is archetypal of a 12 year old boy ; action movie posters on the wall, the shelves full gadgets, books and paraphernalia that only boys could accumulate, a bold 'Keep Out' on the outside of the door, hidden compartments between the shelves that open up by a complex system of wire and pulleys and the general scatterment of clothes and sport gear on the floor.


The stories usually start when Borrie overhears his father telling the family about the latest crime that has taken pace in the neighborhood, or, the opening sequence shows the crime taking place (i.e. stealing of well bred dogs). With the knowledge gained, Borrie will that evening will don on his Swart Kat uniform, quietly slip out of the house and investigate. His exits are spectacular; after peeping out of his first floor bedroom window to see that no one is about, he will leap out (shown in dramatic slow motion) of the window, land gracefully in the garden and after retrieving his hidden BMX bike, go and investigate the crime scene.


Borries wardrobe and makeup was well done and looks good to this day. Though the fashion has dated in some areas, much of it is not that different to boys' styles in 2000. Borrie had a special Swart Kat costume for the show, but also appears in ordinary South African boys' clothing.

Swart Kat costume

Borries costume for Die Swart Kat is most interesting. To cover his head as to hide his identity, he wore a black pull over pantomime mask with extensions that looked like cats ears. There were holes for his eyes to look through and yellow catlike whiskers were painted on the mask where his mouth came through. He wore a black body fit top that had long sleeves and there was an emblem on his chest that featured a cats paw. For his hands he had black mittens He then wore a pair of shorts that that consisted of vertical yellow and black stripes. Through the series the shorts did sometimes change a bit. There was also a belt where he carried a rolled up nylon rope and one or two other things. To complete his costume he wore black tights and (sometimes) yellow tackies. What made the series amusing was that Borrie had to sometimes go and nick his sister's tights off the washing line without being caught. To add to the humor, his perplexed sister could never catch him (she suspected him) which led to confrontations between the two with his endearing mother defending him. There is one scene where his sister sneaks into his bedroom to see if she can find her tights which has vanished off the washing line. Whilst she searches through his things he comes in unexpectedly after having his shower (his hair is wet and is wearing just a towel around his waist) and he brilliantly denies it and scoffs at the idea thst he would take her tights. There are similar encounters throughout the series. As mentioned before most of the action takes place in the dark and with the exception of his shorts, Swart Kat's costume was virtually black. This required superb lighting as to see him follow the villains and when he is riding on his bicycle. (He also had a black cape). Occasionally you could see Swart Kat when he was in a building but you would never see him with his costume on in the day.

Ordinary clothes

Through the day time scenes he wore typical suburbia clothes which were jeans, T-shirts or colored shirts which were fashionable of the day. He also liked to wear a red peak cap. (Interestingly enough he did not wear it backwards as is popular today.) Footwear were generally sneakers. This was just before the advent of the still popular "gypsy" footwear. Also a lot of the day time scenes featured him wearing his school uniform. This was a traditional school blazer (dark blue with widely spaced thin vertical lines), long gray flannels and black school shoes and socks, white long sleeve cotton shirts and the school tie. Once he was coming home from sport practice wearing a tracksuit pants and a short sleeve T-shirt.

Hair Style

Initially his hair was typical conventional schoolboy cut but later it become a brushcut style which was becoming popular in South Africa. Though there was no hair gel for boys fashion those days, it still looks rather contempory--much like David Galleghers hair in the current American TV series 7th Heaven.


A second series of Die Swart Kat was produced during the early 1990s. Borrie Veldt was played by a different boy and there was some other changes in the cast. Ruan Mandlestam took the role of the Swart Kat and performed it very well but in his own way. He was a blond haired boy and perhaps a bit impassive looking. His hair was also brushcut and his wardrobe was more extensive and fashionable. While wearing more fashionable clothes, Ruan did not match the acting skills of Christo. Christo played his role with relish and his subtle expressions on the close-ups were excellent.

South African Television

One interesting observation of Die Swart Kat and looking back with hindsight is how the current government order of day has changed the local TV landscape. When the first Die Swart Kat series was on air there were no black actors and all the stories took place in an exclusive white environment. During the last episodes of the second series ofDie Swart Kat the scripts changed dramatically and pointedly featured the improvement of the quality of lifestyle to the less privileged people of the country. In the second series of Die Swart Kat, for example, Borrie befriends a gang of street children who live by stealing and shoplifting. It eventually ends with them being invited to his house where his loving mother provides them with a hot meal. Much to our dismay, Swart Kat also comes out and discloses to his disbelieving father and his sisters boyfriend that it is indeed him who is the Sawrt Kat. Guess it must have been the producers way to end the series.

Page submitted by Andre Amtrade

Christopher Wagner

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Created: August 19, 2001
Spell checked: August 20, 2001
Last updated: January 27, 2003