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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 05:57 GMT 06:57 UK
Big Brother spawns African contest
By Joseph Winter
BBC News Online

The first multi-national version on the African continent of the hit reality TV programme Big Brother has been launched with housemates from 12 countries.

Big Brother Africa contestants
The winner gets $100,000
And many viewers are treating it as an international competition - sending in messages backing their compatriots.

Big Brother Africa is being screened by the South African pay-TV company, M-Net, which can be seen in more than 40 countries on the continent.

After a week, the programme is being well received across Africa, M-Net's Local Productions Director Carl Fischer told BBC News Online.

Mr Fischer said that white South Africans were watching it less than the two previous editions which had local contestants, while black South African preferred the continental version.

"We are still living with the legacy of apartheid," he said.

Cultural exchanges

The decision to expand Big Brother across Africa was taken for purely business reasons.

"M-Net is growing faster in other African countries than in South Africa and the first two editions of Big Brother were very popular," Mr Fischer said.

Despite their diverse backgrounds, most of the 12 contestants... seem to share a predictable affinity for hip hop, clothes and dancing
Barbara Hollands
South African media critic

But it may help South Africans in particular to learn more about other countries.

"Most South Africans, especially whites, know very little about the rest of the continent," said Professor Kole Omotoso from Nigeria, who is the programme's cultural advisor.

His job has been to avoid cultural misunderstandings.

"For example, West Africans tend to be very loud but in South Africa, people only raise their voices when they're angry," he said.

So far, such problems have been avoided on the show, Mr Fischer said.

Big Brother Africa presenter Mark Pilgrim (left) with Stefan (right) from Namibia
Stefan (r) is flying the flag for Namibia

"There does seem to be 'Obuntu' (a Zulu word meaning tolerance and understanding) among the housemates."

So much so that Barbara Hollands, media critic with South Africa's Sunday Times, wrote that "anyone expecting Big Brother Africa to be a melting pot of African culture was probably disappointed."

"Despite their diverse backgrounds, most of the 12 contestants from countries like Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia and Angola seem to share a predictable affinity for hip hop, clothes and dancing," she said.

Patriotic texts

This could change as the housemates will be asked to cook and eat each other's national dishes.

But Mr Omotose said that this would not include extremely spicy dishes, such as Nigeria's mouth-burning pepper soup.

Contestants chatting in garden
Abby-South Africa

The seven men and five women will spend 106 days locked in a house full of TV cameras broadcasting live, 24 hours-a-day, on M-Net.

Viewers vote on who to evict from the house one by one, ultimately leaving a winner to collect the prize of $100,000.

Mr Fischer said that even Botswana President Festus Mogae was treating the programme as an international contest.

He recently endorsed his compatriot, Warona, in a radio interview, Mr Fischer said.

Most of the text messages sent in are urging on a housemate based on their nationality: "Go Kenya go... Alex bring home da pesa" one message says.

The voting system has been designed so that the housemate from South Africa, which has most M-Net viewers and most telephone lines, does not automatically win.

Each participating country will have a single vote, which will be decided by who gets the most votes cast in that country.

Votes from all non-participating countries are counted together to make a 13th ballot.

In order to broaden the audience, 30-minute highlights programmes are being shown on nine free-to-air national channels in the participating countries.

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