Generations the soap opera has been with us for as long as we can remember. It had got to a stage where we assumed that it was always going to be a permanent feature of our television sets. That is until a few short weeks ago. We woke up to the news that the much loved soapie actors had gone on strike and we thought that that was nothing new as strikes appeared to be the order of the day. We did not flinch when it was later announced that sixteen of the cast members of Generations had been fired.
The fired actors are; Anga Makubalo (MJ Dlomo), Atandwa Kani (Samora Lembede), Katlego Danke (Dineo Dlomo), Mandla Gaduka (Selwyn ‘Choppa’ Maithufi), Menzi Ngubane (Sbusiso Dlomo), Nambitha Mpumlwana (Mawande , Patrick Shai (Patrick Tlaole), Slindile Nodangala (Ruby Dikobe), Sophie Ndaba (Queen Ndaba), Seputla Sebogodi (Kenneth Mashaba), Thami Mngqolo (Senzo), Thato Molamu (Nicholas Nomvete ) , Winnie Ntshaba (Khetiwe Buthelezi), Zenande Mfenyana (Noluntu Memela), Zikhona Sodlaka (Priska Nomvete) and Zolisa Xaluva (Jason Malinga). We thought that this was a false alarm and that they would soon be given their jobs back so things would soon get back to normal once the madness went away. But, did the madness go away? It did not, it appears! What really happened and where did it all go wrong and what lessons are there for all of us in all this?
According to the actors in an open letter to the public, their reasons for embarking on the strike that led to their firing were many but there are three main ones. The first reason had to do with their remuneration which the actors referred to as bizzaire. They argued that follow actors on the same platform were paid much more than they were being paid. To add salt to injury, the actors say that they had originally gone on strike in October, 2013 on the same issue and had been informed that the situation would be redressed but to no avail despite the fact that MMSV Productions and SABC, the producers and broadcasters of the show had initially committed to remedying the situation. The second reason for the strike, the Generations Actors Guild (GAG) contends, is that of the payment of royalties and syndication fees. These fees, according to the actors, emanate from the airing of Generations in other countries.
The GAG argues that the popular show is viewed in many countries and the actors are yet to receive remuneration for that specifically. In acting circles, it is common for actors to be part of more than one cast in order to be able to make ends meet. In such situations, the actors are allowed time to work with other productions. According to the Generations actors, there is no such allowance in the Generations cast. This means that they cannot then have other contracts outside of Generations. As a result of this, they had requested a minimum of three year contracts in order to secure income in that time. This, they argue, is not unreasonable owing to the hectic and intense shooting schedule at Generations. While the national broadcaster has vaguely admitted to having been made aware of the actors’ grievances, they have not publicly committed to any remedial action. Mfundi Vundla, the head of MMSV and producer of the soapie, has opted to come out criticizing the actors for ‘disappointing’ him after all he had done for them!
Commenting on this scenario, other actors in South Africa had only hard words for the SABC and Mfundi Vundla’s MMSV. Most of the interviewed actors and producers alike were sympathetic to the cause of the sixteen axed actors. Daley Lance, a television presenter, commended the axed actors for their willingness to negotiate with their leaders and said that this should be viewed as a turning point in the way producers relate with their actors. In support of this view was Bobby Heany, a director and producer who cautioned the producers against allowing themselves to lose so many actors at the same time. He added that however they dealt with the situation, it would set a precedent on how such situations are to be dealt with in future.
Colin Moss, an actor slash comedian, did not mince his words when he stated that he did not feel that fair remuneration and job security were unreasonable requests. In agreement, James Bartlett, an actor, cautioned that while it was accepted that no actor was bigger that the brand, it was also true that a company of actors was the brand. In the recent days, there have been media reports indicating that the axed actors were intent on returning to the set of Generations. Mfundi Vundla, the creator of Generations has, however not been forthcoming in taking them back into his fold. He has reportedly approached a number of stars that have acted on Generations before. The likes of Connie Masilo-Ferguson (Karabo), Xolille Tshabalala (Julia) and Rapulana Seiphemo (Tau) have been mentioned in the list of actors that have been approached to make a return to the cast of Generations. Connie has however, declined having been approached, adding that if asked, she would do so but only on her terms.
The question of where to go from here needs to address what happens to the remaining actors that opted out of the strike. These are mostly the minor role actors and the latest additions to the cast. These are Sindi Buthelezi (Zinhle Mathe), Khosi Ndlovu (MaSongo), Sibongile Nojila (Sylvia Mthembu), Xoli Zondi (Zodwa), Ntlantla Liwana (Susan), Siyamthanda Moyo (Christina Dlomo), Ronnie Nyakale (Cosmo Diale, Tiki Nxumalo (Sompisi Mbhele), Carlo Radebe (Sello Mvuyane), Noluvu Ntapo (Patricia), Carina Nel (Isabel van Heerden), Denise Zimba (Mary Gumede), Nyembezi Kunene (Jabulani Dlomo) and Makalo Mofokeng (Hlomhla Nomvete). These actors have had supporting roles and have not really come out as crowd favorites. This has led to the question of whether they can be able to fill the main actors’ roles or if the producers have to scan the length and breadth of South Africa to audition for replacements. The question that is awash in the media is whether that is ethical as the new actors would literally be sealing their own fate as far as fair labour practices are concerned. This was supported by the Secretary General of COSATU, Zwelinzima Vavi, who discouraged other actors from auditioning for these roles. Since Mfundi Vundla has made it clear that he will not take the axed actors back despite their show of willingness, it will be interesting to see how he sets about reviving his sinking flagship.
In the meantime, the SABC has announced that from the 1st of October, the popular Generations slot will be taken up by season three of Skeem Saam for two months. Making the announcement, SABC said that the soapie will be back on the screens in December. The national broadcaster made the announcement after it emerged that the sixteen axed actors had taken their case up with the Commission for Concilliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Further news to do with the drama have indicated that Jacob Zuma’s daughter, Gugu Zuma, was in the process of putting together a production to take over the Generations time-slot.