The South African version of Sesame Street (Takalani means "be happy" in the Tshivenda language), an international co-production between American company Children's Television Workshop and Durban-based Vuleka Productions. Takalani Sesame is currently funded with a R30-million grant by USAID (United States Agency for International Development). Sanlam, a South African financial services firm, is the major corporate donor. The show is also receiving $100,000 over 2 years from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund Grants.

The first 78 episodes of Takalani Sesame were broadcast on radio and television, using a combination of the eleven official languages used in the region (KwaZulu Natal, the Eastern Cape, the Northern Cape, and the Northern Province) - mostly Zulu and Xhosa languages, with a bit of English thrown in.

The radio version of the show features radiotoons, cartoons created entirely of sound and sound effects. The radio version of the show helps Takalani Sesame reach more children in South Africa, a country in which radio is most capable of reaching a broad market.

The television version takes place on a set highly reminiscent of the original Sesame Street, but with South African design analogues. It was created by production designer David Barkham.

Takalani Sesame has a number of original muppet characters, developed by the Jim Henson Company to resonate with the region's culture:

The Muppet Characters

The Human Characters

  • Dimpho - 35, speaks Sesotho and English, referred to by the kids as Ma'dimpho. She's the Maria-type.
  • Salie - 40, speaks English, Afrikaans, and a smattering of Xhosa. He's married to Dimpho. Kind of the Gordon.
  • Tshidi - 7, daughter of Dimpho and Salie. She speaks English, Sethoso, and Afrikaans.

Fighting HIV, Muppet Style

In July 2002, Takalani Sesame made Western media news with the decision to introduce its first HIV positive Muppet character to children of South Africa in September of the same year. South Africa has the most HIV-infected people of any nation in the world. Since 1996, the number of cases has doubled to more than 4 million, or 1 in 10 people, according to estimates by international health agencies.

The HIV+ muppet is still under color and form development, although it is certain that the puppet will be female, appear healthy, and will have a positive and upbeat personality.

Joel Schneider, vice president and senior adviser to the Sesame Street Workshop in the United States, said talks are under way to introduce an HIV-positive character to U.S. viewers.

BurningTongues adds this: "I got an e-mail about it from planetout earlier this week.... Here's some stuff from the article you might want to include: The female character will debut in September... Producers say she will be a 5-year-old orphan and will move in with a human family after her mother dies. While every show won't deal with HIV, producers say those that do will dispel myths about people living with the virus in a way that's appropriate for the show's target audience (ages 3 to 7)."What do I do when I cut my finger? What do I do when you cut your finger? That sort of thing," Schneider said. "We want to show that here is an HIV-positive member of our community who you can touch and interact with."

Images of some of the the Takalani Muppets: