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Don’t be fooled by Harriet Khoza’s warm, welcoming smile when you knock on her door in telenovela The Queen (2016-current; all previous episodes are on Showmax, where new episodes also land every weekday express from the Mzansi Magic broadcast). She’s a mother and confidante of the highest order, able to take secrets to her grave. But the character, played by SA soapie legend Connie Ferguson, is as deadly as a black widow spider.

She’s the centre of everything that goes down on the soapie, and while she hired an assassin to get rid of her drug-dealing kingpin husband Mzi (Treasure Tshabalala) in the very first episode, it wouldn’t surprise us if she pulled the trigger herself.

“I know the ins and out of this ‘company’,” Harriet tells her employees after announcing Mzi’s demise. “I have been running this business with my husband for years. And from now on, I’m in charge. I am taking over.” But even then, she gives off this sense of being kind, caring and loving… not your normal personality for a ruthless druglord.

A woman scorned

“There’s no way that Harriet is going to give up everything to be replaced by the maid. She’s not going to accept half either. He isn’t going to disrespect her or her children. He has to die.”

On the outside, Harriet looks the part of a high-profile trophy wife – designer heels, handbags and only the snazziest of designer outfits. She’d think nothing of spending R50 000 on a fur coat if she liked it. Why not? She’s got the cash.

On the inside it’s a different story. She’s cruel, cold, vindictive and shows no remorse while ordering hits on her enemies.

“Over my dead body,” she says sternly to her brother Kgosi (Sello Maake Ka-Ncube). Mzi has ordered to her to move out because he’s replacing her with a second wife… one of lower standing. Turns out Mzi has been paying the hired help with more than just money – he’s been sleeping with their domestic helper Violet (Mbali Nkosi). When Harriet says “dead body”, chances are a corpse is going to pop up soon…

But, in a way, you’ve got to feel for Harriet too. She’s given up her life, dreams and career aspirations to “work” for Mzi as his wife. She’s built a home for them and raised their children. Yes, Mzi has paid for the luxuries Harriet enjoys with “hard-earned” money, “But Harriet is the boss. She knows how to get the best – and worst, when needed – out of people,” explains Connie, who serves as an executive producer with her husband Shona (Officer Jerry on the show).

“There’s no way that Harriet is going to give up everything to be replaced by the maid. She’s not going to accept half either. He isn’t going to disrespect her or her children. He has to die.”

And bang – Mzi’s dead and Harriet gets to play the grieving widow – another façade to this deadly character.

Doing a man’s job

Women have been told “but you’re not a man, let me help you” since the dawn of time. So while dealing drugs might’ve been something Mzi enjoyed, he’s certainly not the only person in the family who could pull it off. Connie explains that while Harriet and Mzi’s daughter Kea (Dineo Moeketsi) doesn’t care for their “industry”, their sons Shaka (SK Khoza) and Kagiso (Loyiso MacDonald) can’t do it either.

“Shaka isn’t emotionally mature for this line of work. His emotions would get the better of him. And Kagiso – he’s too self-righteous to get his hands dirty in this world.”

Instead, Harriet “steps” up to the plate with her big-girl panties hiked right up as she “takes on the man’s world of dealing drugs”, teases Connie. (It’s worth noting that Harriet probably wouldn’t be caught dead in anything other than Victoria’s Secret or La Perla knickers, let alone “granties”, ie granny panties.)

Family first … and last

What viewers love and love to hate about Harriet is her protection of her family. Sure, they’re blood and she’ll defend them against any and all attacks. But if you betray her trust, steal from her or even bother a designer dress without asking, you’re as good as dead.

Look at it this way: one day Harriet and Kea aren’t on speaking terms because of a family fallout, the very next Harriet will kick down doors and start shooting up the place to protect Kea when her daughter’s fiancé Tebogo (Fezile Makhanya) beats her and rapes her.

There’s no telling which Harriet you’re sitting down with at the dinner table. She could have made you a delicious five-course dinner to dazzle the world’s finest diners… or she might have sprinkled your dishes with arsenic and will watch you die mid-meal.

“She is the kind of character that you either love or you hate,” says Connie. “But if there’s one thing you need to know about Harriet it’s that you cannot, cannot, cannot let your guard down around her.”

Watch fresh new episodes of The Queen every weekday on Showmax, and catch up on anything you missed from previous episodes while you’re at it.

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