DNA Journey, ITV1, review: Oti and Motsi Mabuse's family history leads them back to Nelson Mandela

·3-min read

Strictly Come Dancing fans were spoilt for travelogue choice on Tuesday evening. On BBC One, holidaying hoofers Anton Du Beke and Giovanni Pernice continued their Sicilian bromance. On “the other side” – as it used to be known, before there were far too many channels – DNA Journey (ITV1) found sequin-spangled sisters Oti and Motsi Mabuse exploring their roots in their homeland of South Africa.

With accurate paperwork for black South Africans next to non-existent, it wasn’t an easy task. As Motsi said: “I’m a blank page. I know nothing.” Through forced migration, name changes and deliberate non-registration of births, millions lost family ties during the apartheid era and, with it, their sense of identity. Turning to DNA was the siblings’ last roll of the dice to unlock their history. Happily, it came up trumps.

While elder sister Motsi rolled her eyes in mock exasperation, Oti fantasised about being a princess. Lo and behold, they turned out to be direct descendants of the Kekana royal family in Hammanskraal. Showbiz was also in their genes, with West End performer Samantha Mbolekwa a distant cousin. When the girls were growing up, they were often asked if they were any relation to Afropop star Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse. Well, it turned out they were, so they visited the veteran musician and activist at his Soweto home.

In a family dominated by strong women – tragically, their elder brother Neo took his own life aged 18 – could they find a positive story about their male ancestors? Of course they could. Their grandfather Paulus not only won medals during the Second World War but fought against discrimination and injustice in the army. “People like your grandfather are my heroes,” said the historian, while the sisters wept with pride.

“Reclaiming our history is a powerful moment,” said Oti. “Many black South Africans walk around with a loss of identity. But our story doesn’t start with slavery and colonisation. It goes much further back.” Just how far back surprised even the experts. Their DNA could be traced back nearly 200,000 years to the origins of mankind – the same rare bloodline as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It was magical to watch them fill in the missing pieces of their broken family tree. “It’s one of the best things we’ve ever done,” concluded Oti. “This journey will bond us forever.” “I feel like I’ve met my sister all over again,” agreed Motsi. Scenery was glorious, with glimpses of wildlife amid the verdant bush. The Mabuses made for infectious and effervescent company – singing and dancing with joy in one scene, their expressive eyes brimming with tears in the next. Basically the dream guests for this type of button-pressing production.

Perhaps the most moving episode of DNA Journey yet, this was a wonderful way to round off the latest run – all the more potent for the wider story it told. What began as a blatant copycat of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? has blossomed into its own beast, improving with each passing series. Fab-u-lous, as certain people on the other side might put it.