A media workers union has urged the SABC and Generations producer Mfundi Vundla to “reload negotiations in a facilitated process”. The move comes after 16 members of South Africa’s favourite soapie went on an unprotected strike on Friday. Vundla and the SABC said unless they returned to the set on Monday, they would be fired, a promise they kept that saw 16 actors summarily dismissed on Monday night.
The Media Workers Association of South Africa (Mwasa) said firing the cast was the “wrong option”.
“This sinister and cynical move comes after repeated failures by both the SABC and the production company MMSV to engage in bona fide negotiation processes to address recurrent contractual issues of mutual interest raised in good faith by the workers,” said general secretary, Tuwani Gumani.
“It seems the preferred approach of the current leadership of SABC and MMSV is that getting rid of the workers amounts to a sustainable solution to the endemic problems regarding contractual relations between the SABC, production companies and workers,” he said.
The SABC failed to answer questions submitted by The Media Online, nor to acknowledge several emails requesting clarity on their stance, how they were going to manage the mass exodus in terms of the storyline and whether they were prepared to negotiate with the disaffected cast members.
The SABC and Vundla issued a statement on Monday afternoon in which they said, “MMSV Productions, following consultation with the South African Broadcasting Corporation [SABC], have today [Monday] terminated the contracts of the striking actors on the SABC1 soap drama, Generations. The termination follows calls by both parties for the actors to return for recordings, following the start of their illegal strike”.
The actors said in a statement they were taking legal advice. “We are saddened by this development, but remain steadfast in our goal to ensure fair working conditions for ourselves as creative professionals,” they said. Each received a letter of dismissal to take immediate effect.
Earlier, the cast wrote an open letter to fans.
“First of all, we want to apologise for the inconvenience that this may cause you, as our loyal viewers and fans. Please believe that it is not a decision we came to lightly. However, in light of the SABC and the MMSV Productions continued refusal to engage with us, and our grievances, we felt that reviving the strike was the only course of action available to us,” they wrote.
“We live in a country that is notorious for artists living and dying in a state of poverty, tragically, never managing to earn what is their due, despite being associated with a number of successful projects. We have made a decision, as dedicated professionals working on South Africa’s most successful TV show, that we will not be part of this painful statistic. There is no reason, whatsoever, that we should live as ‘struggling actors’ when our show generates an incredible income for the production house and broadcaster.”
Gumani estimated that Generations earns about R20 million per month excluding repeats. “It is arguable that possible claims of potential unaffordability of the proposal or demand for improved remuneration is sustainable. Massive bonuses were paid out in a windfall in July and some free-riders were beneficiaries,” he said. “It is also law in South Africa that the concept of equal pay for work of equal value should be observed.”
The cast wants three-year contracts. When the show celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2013, SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng announced he had given the show’s producers a three-year contract. This followed Vundla’s public airing of his dissatisfaction with the SABC’s efforts to capitalise on the soapie’s popularity and its growing presence on digital platforms, which has given it access to a wider audience.
The cast says a three-year contract is fair, “especially in light of the fact that the intensity of the shooting schedule means that the cast is virtually exclusively committed to Generations, and effectively unable to pursue other projects to supplement their income”.
They also want payment of royalties and syndication fees for episodes of Generations that are broadcast in various countries worldwide – as per contractual agreements, and international best practice. Finally, they MMSV Productions and SABC to review the payment rates, rationalise and bring them in line with industry standards and norms. They claim the SABC and Vundla reneged on an agreement late last year in which they committed to reviewing salaries.
“In the end, we, as the cast, want what is best for the show. It’s a real pity that the SABC and MMSV Productions chose to use this as an opportunity to continue to exploit the cast, with no intention whatsoever to fulfill their promises,” they said. “We regard this as a breach of trust, and working in completely bad faith with us. We also consider their insistence on not paying us our fair due as a disturbing flouting of fundamental labour practices, and a perversion of the South Africa we are trying to build – a South Africa where labour is compensated fairly and appropriately.”
Mwasa says the actions of the producers and the SABC is an “ obscene abuse of corporate power and managerial privilege. Contracts must remain negotiable within reason and in pursuit of the common good’.
He said the union had followed with “keen interest the plight of creative workers over the years as they generate billions of rand for a super-exploitative industry that spits everybody out as soon as the spotlight dims. The history of our exploitative creative sector is littered with casualties and victims of the slave-and-master contract-system that creates selfish millionaires on one hand and paupers and beggars on the other without relent”.
Fans took to Twitter in their droves on news of the mass dismissal. Some are threatening to boycott the show and paying their TV licenses too.
Generations is South Africa’s longest-running soap opera, winning countless awards and accolades. It celebrated 20 years on air in 2013. Part of the celebrations saw South African composer, Trevor Jones (famous for his movie soundtracks for films such as Notting Hill, Angel Heart, The Last Of The Mohicans and Around The World In 80 Days) teamed up with Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse on saxophone to write an original piece of music for the show.
“Collaborating on a piece of music for a soap opera as successful as Generations meant I had to find a way to do justice to a show that mirrors popular society as well as it does. The music runs in tandem with the energy and aspiration that’s broadcast each weekday,” Jones said at the time.
The dismissed cast members are:
1. Anga Makubalo (MJ Dlomo)
2. Atandwa Kani (Samora Lembede)
3. Katlego Danke (Dineo Dlomo)
4. Mandla Gaduka (Selwyn ‘Choppa’ Maithufi)
5. Menzi Ngubane (Sbusiso Dlomo)
6. Nambitha Mpumlwana (Mawande Memela)
7. Patrick Shai (Patrick Tlaole )
8. Slindile Nodangala (Ruby Dikobe)
9. Sophie Ndaba (Queen Moroka)
10. Seputla Sebogodi (Kenneth Mashaba)
11. Thami Mngqolo (Senzo Dlomo)
12. Thato Molamu (Nicholas Nomvete )
13. Winnie Ntshaba (Khetiwe Buthelezi)
14. Zenande Mfenyana (Noluntu Memela)
15. Zikhona Sodlaka (Priska Nomvete)
16. Zolisa Xaluva (Jason Malinga)
IMAGE: From left: Musician Sipho Mabuse, Generations producer Mfundi Vundla and composer Trevor Jones at the show’s 20th anniversary celebration.
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