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President Zuma's daughter lands role in South African soap opera

President Jacob Zuma sang and danced his way to power. Now his daughter hopes to revive a struggling South African soap opera.

Gugulethu Zuma, 24, will take a leading role tomorrow in Isidingo on state channel SABC3. The five-days-a-week "soapie" sensationally brought South African television its first mixed-race kiss 10 years ago, but now the show's ratings are at an all-time low.

Ms Zuma, who left drama school last year, denies she was cast because her father is President and her mother, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is Minister of Home Affairs. "There is nothing I can do without people thinking it is because of my parents but I am just here to work hard, do my best and have fun," said the actress.

Mr Zuma is best-known for his hip-wriggling and base-baritone renditions of "Umshini Wami' ("Bring Me My Machine Gun") which he most recently performed on Saturday at a rally in KwaZulu-Natal.

But in Isidingo – which blends the unlikely settings of a mining town and the studios of a fictional television station – his daughter plays the demure Lesedi Moloi, a "young achiever" who grew up in farmworkers' quarters but went to school overseas.

Head writer Ilse van Hemert claims the production team was unaware of who Ms Zuma's father was when she auditioned. "Gugulethu intuitively understood her [character]. She is an extraordinary actress," she said.

Soapies have played a profound role in South Africa. Egoli, launched in 1992 – two years before the end of apartheid – was the first to show different races socialising. Isidingo's black-white embrace in 1999 was followed by a gay kiss in 2001. Issues such as HIV, domestic violence and clashes with black traditions are the stock-in-trade of "soapies". But amid declining ratings, Egoli is to be axed and Isidingo has only 1.2m viewers. Only Generations – a tame family drama – regularly scores 6 million viewers, 60 per cent of the viewing public.

City Press television writer Farrah Francis said South African soapies have lost their way. "The choice of Gugulethu is both political and a blatant attempt to boost ratings. Isidingo used to be the only soapie that was really for all races. But it went pear-shaped after they brought in new writers and the crooked mogul in the series, Barker Haines, was made to have his day in court. South Africans expect their crooks to get away with it."