A South African soap opera is one of Bill Gates’ favorite things about Africa

“Did you see what happened on ‘Rhythm and City’ yesterday?”
“Did you see what happened on ‘Rhythm and City’ yesterday?”
Image: AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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It’s hard to imagine Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, lazing around watching TV. But if he does, there’s a good chance he might be catching up on Rhythm City, a South African soap opera about the local music industry.

In a blog post published this week listing five reasons he’s optimistic about Africa, Gates says Rhythm City, one of the most popular soap operas in South Africa, “really brings home how far South Africa has come since the end of apartheid.” Set in Soweto, the show airs weekday nights on, a free-to-air South African TV channel, and has aired more than 2,000 episodes since its premiere in 2007. With a plot based on a fictionalized version of South Africa’s music industry, Gates, 61, says the show offers a window “into the lives of everyday South Africans who are dealing with the relationship and business issues you’d see anywhere in the world.”

Gates also cited Everyday Africa, an Instagram account with over 316,000 followers, as a reason for why he sees the “glass as more than half full” with regards to Africa’s future. “It shows what the vast, culturally diverse continent of Africa is like beyond the lazy stereotypes,” Gates says.

Everyday Africa’s success in showcasing diversity has made it stand out from the pervasive generic depictions of the continent and its people. A collaboration between African photographers, the account powerfully documents the lives of Africans from various backgrounds.

Gates also took his hat off to innovation on the continent, citing progress by solar energy companies and programs like East Africa’s M-Kopa and the US-backed Power Africa project in helping “rural families leapfrog their way to clean, reliable energy.” He’s also excited by food technology work on the continent, as scientists use “the most advanced hybridization techniques” to create more nutritious and virus-resistant strains of popular staples like cassava, for example.

While scientists help fast-track growth on the continent, Gates also paid homage in his post to the powerful role of grandmothers in getting things done in Africa, particularly when it comes to protecting maternal health. Gates says NGOs increasingly enlist the help of these authority figures “to guide pregnant women to health facilities and educat[e] them about proper prenatal care. They’re helping to change attitudes about female genital mutilation (FGM). They’re helping to increase newborn vaccination rates.”