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Our first meeting with Zandile Mkhwanazi aka MaZet (played by the SAFTA-winning Dawn Thandeka King) is a wake-up call – literally – as she rouses her fellow prisoners in their dingy cell at Thabazimbi Women’s Correctional Service in Lockdown (2017-current, Showmax has all four seasons ready to go and broadcasts the brand-new Season 4 episodes just after they air on Mzansi Magic).

She is no-nonsense but not without compassion for older prisoner Mam’Zo (Ivy Nkutha). She is smart enough to back off when vicious rapist Tyson (Lorcia Cooper) gets in her face, but she doesn’t back down.

MaZet has just two weeks left of her sentence. And Warden Beauty (Slindile Nodangala) tells her, “You are a strong woman. You are a leader. Don’t forget that”.

But skip forward a few seasons and now in Season 4, MaZet and Tyson are still at it, fist to face, teeth to neck.

Life lays many traps in our paths, and Lockdown shows, through MaZet, just how hard it can be to ever break free of the prison trap.

Season 1

Even in episode 1, corrupt Warden Sharon (Lindiwe Ndlovu) is taking cash bribes to keep MaZet rotting in prison. But MaZet has something to fight for – a reunion outside the bars with her daughter Nkuli (Busisiwe Mtshali).

That means nothing after Sharon frames MaZet for attacking her and another guard in episode 2 and MaZet is sentenced to a further 15 years behind bars for attempted murder in episode 3.

She risks everything to escape in episode 7, but her great escape doesn’t last long. That’s just as well because when Nkuli ends up in jail too, MaZet has a new priority – to make sure that Nkuli survives her sentence long enough to go free.

Season 2

This brings new threats into the prison in the form of new Governor Deborah Banda (Pamela Nomvete) and her nemesis, insanely violent inmate Maki Magwaza (Linda Sebezo).

MaZet might think that she can breathe a little more easily once Nkuli is released in episode 3 and MaZet ruthlessly disposes of Nkuli’s double-crossing little buddy Sasa (Nandipha Sefoloko).

But with Tyson’s star sinking and Maki’s on the rise, a violent power imbalance destabilises the connections that MaZet needs to bring in enough cash to support Nkuli on the outside. With Maki secretly out to murder MaZet – working for that same person who wants MaZet behind bars for good in Season 1 – she is in for the fight of her life.

Even MaZet’s secret supply route into the prison in episode 6 might not be enough to sway the balance of power in her favour. And old betrayals have a way of coming back to bite you when the wrong people overhear things late at night that they shouldn’t…

Season 3

The season begins with MaZet’s beloved ally Mam’Zo dead and Nkuli’s dreams destroyed. MaZet has little driving her aside from a thirst for bloody revenge and a drive to survive. Her position as top dog is rocked when the prison falls under new management in episode 1.

The strain of life behind bars has marked her daughter because when Nkuli shows up looking like she has a blesser in episode 3 – it turns out that she’s just a drug dealer and she wants to be MaZet’s outside connection.

MaZet’s anti-drug stance doesn’t even last an episode after malicious Maki slips her a little something to get her high in episode 3. The drugs send MaZet on the trip of a lifetime… which adds a certain fun dimension to a pap-slinging prison riot in the cafeteria and another mark to MaZet’s list of insults to avenge.

The longer MaZet spends in prison, the bloodier her hands get. And as the prison riot continues, it looks like death is coming to claim MaZet.

Season 4

Three seasons of Lockdown should teach us never to count a prisoner dead – not even if you zipped the body bag closed yourself.

Tyson is back as the prison’s top dog thanks to her buddy-buddy relationship with Deborah and complete control of MaZet’s drug tunnel. Meanwhile, three months after the prison riot, MaZet is still in hospital, dead-eyed and drooling in a wheelchair. And when she is wheeled back into prison, only the favours that she’s done in the past can save her from being picked off like a tick. It turns out that was a lot of favours… and MaZet is nowhere as helpless as she seems.

But with governor Deborah and Tyson both plotting to kill her, MaZet is going to have to be theatrically cunning to survive. Now if MaZet is going to be in jail, it will be a jail run according to her own standards, with enough power to bring in money so that she can support her pregnant daughter Nkuli and her grandchild.

MaZet is a bird who’s stopped flying and is now making her nest. She tells Nkuli in episode 5, “This is the life we have to live. There is no other life.”

But MaZet should be paying more attention to dangerous new prisoners like cult leader Masabata (Nthati Moshesh). MaZet’s bribery and Tyson’s intimidation are the only ways of seizing power in the pit of despair behind bars…

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