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
with their unlawful deeds. The program proved popular with both Afrikaans and
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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