Takalani Sesame made international news in September, 2002 when they introduced Kami, the world's first HIV-positive Muppet. Kami's name is derived from Kamogelo, which means acceptance or welcome in Zulu, Sesotho, and Setswana. A special ad campaign based on this health focus, titled Takalani Sesame Presents: talk to me..., won international awards.
The human characters include the following:
- Ma Dimpho: 35 years old, speaks Sesotho and English. She's a mother type to the kids on the street, who refer to her as Ma Dimpho.
- Salie: 40 years old, speaks English, Afrikaans, and a smattering of Xhosa. He's married to Dimpho.
- Tshidi: 7 years old, daughter of Dimpho and Salie. She speaks English, Sethoso, and Afrikaans.
- Dumisani: 6 years old, adopted son of Dimpho and Salie.
- Vinnie (Ma Dimpho's younger brother) comes home in season 5, after being away at university where he had been studying Information Technology. A bit of a techno-whiz, Vinnie helps the Muppet friends with emails and the internet. Vinnie also runs the mobile library full of books, maps and a computer which the Takalani characters learn to use to find out about all the exciting things in the world and in their community.
- Other characters include Nkgono, a grandmotherly woman who travels around the country by train with a suitcase of objects that illustrate her interesting stories, O'm Karl (the milkman), Moona (a young blind girl), Thando (a young albino girl), and Yusuf—who runs the Fix-it Shop.
- There also lives an animal in town! Maria the camel makes a big impression and teaches everyone about the desert. She also encourages personal safety, specifically, how to handle people you don't know. We'll discover that Maria is a huge fan of R&B singer Tumi and the Muppets move heaven and earth to get her to his concert on Takalani.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Kofi Annan have made guest appearances on the show. Other celebrity guests include soapie actress, Sophie Ndaba, poet Mac Manaka, and living stage and screen legend Liz Meiring.
The donation of $5 million dollars towards the project in December 1997, by the U.S. Agency for International Development, was criticized by President Nelson Mandela and other government officials. Mandela and the others were angry "over their lack of input into AID decisions." Some officials noted that the funds could have build three needed primary schools, and that television sets aren't readily available in "the largely poor townships." AID defended the funding, saying the program was approved by the South African Education Ministry.
In 2008 the 5th season was shot in High Definition to ensure a clearer picture and superior sound quality.
Early seasons were taped all in English, with segments incorporating all of South Africa's eleven national languages, which are Afrikaans, English, Zulu, Xhosa, Swaz, Ndebele, Sesotho, Northern Sotho, Tsonga, Tswana and Venda.
Season 4 (2006–November 9, 2007) opted for a different approach, airing on Tuesdays episodes filmed all in seTswana, tshiVenda on Wednesdays, isiZulu on Thursdays, sePedi on Fridays and English on Mondays on SABC 1 and Saturdays on SABC 2.
Season 5 (2008) sees a new choice of languages including isiXhosa, xiTsonga, seSotho, Afrikaans, and a continuation of English.
Tanzania adapted material from Takalani Sesame to make their own coproduction, Kilimani Sesame.
The 2020 reboot is aired in English on Mondays, Sepedi on Tuesdays, Zulu on Wednesdays, Afrikaans on Thursdays, and Tshivenda on Fridays.
- Producers: Naila Farouky, Bronwyn Berry, Indra De Lanerolle, Seipati Bulane Hopa
- Project Manager: Robert Knezevic
- Research and Content Development: Lesley Nkosi
Writer Linda Weber wrote four Takalani books, two of which were published in English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and isiXhosa. The titles were Zikwe's Goat, Clean!, Out and About!, and Moshe goes to the game reserve. Weber also wrote two activity books, Learn with Neno and Play with Kami.
A plush Kami doll was created for a children’s festival in South Africa. No details of its release or maker are known.
- Time Magazine article on Kami's introduction
- Kami formally appointed by the UN as a global champion for children
- Nondy Blose, "Takalani Sesame is Back on SABC2 with More Playful Learning, Fun Adventures and Brand-New Friends in its 11th Season", Sesame Workshop, May 18, 2020.
- Douglas Stanglin, "A is for AID", U.S. News & World Report, March 16, 1998. Page 12.
- "Takalani Sesame: TV Schedule, SABC, accessed June 19, 2020.
- Steisha Pintado’s Blog