The dispute between the SABC, production company MMSV and the fired Generation soapie actors, is being handled in an apartheid manner, renowned actor and playwright John Kani said. File picture: Jeffrey Abrahams

EMOTIONS ran high at yesterday’s Generations Actors Guild press conference in Newtown.

Televised live, the 16 axed actors spoke out for the first time about the saga that has been growing legs since October 2013.

Aside from Patrick Shai, Sophie Ndaba, Zikhona Sodlaka, Nambitha Mpulwana and Menzi Ngubane stating a few facts that have reportedly been distorted in the media, Sodlaka also pointed out that a heavily-pregnant Katlego Danke was already on maternity leave when she got fired.

She called last Friday’s revelations by creator Mfundi Vundla of MMSV Productions and SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng an act of betrayal. Mpulwana added that it was a violation of their human rights.

The actors pointed out that the soap raked in an annual profit of R500 million and is publicly known as flagship production for SABC1. They also encouraged media in attendance to follow the SABC’s financial paper trail in order to gain a better perspective on their reportedly unreasonable demands.

Industry titan Dr John Kani came out in full support of the actors. Interestingly, his son, Atandwa, was cast in the soap but was fired before his exciting debut.

A commanding personality, Dr Kani said: “I started in 1965 and I am 71 years old. I’m embarrassed by this story I hear today. I’m ashamed to have been in this industry so long and have celebrated 20 years of our democracy, for which, some of us, paid for. I carry eleven stab wounds successfully evading an assassination. I spent time in detention just because I was an actor. How the hell did we get here?”

He continues, “The problem simply is mindset. We carry the residue of the apartheid era, of a master and servant relationship. And the people who are in government and the power today, in those positions, still practice the same format of the relationship between us and them. I’m an actor. I am professional. I’m as important as a doctor, a lawyer and a professor and I have five doctorates, incidentally. Therefore, when you engage me, you engage me on a contract with terms and conditions. We are both equal. You do not employ me, you cannot employ me, I do not work for you – we are in contract, we are stakeholders, we are partners. If SABC and these independent producing houses want to enter into a contract with servants and people they say they employ and pay – there’s Park Station and a lot of people looking for work.

“If they want professionals, who will sell and engage their art and excellence and create the personalities of these characters…to woo audience every evening. If this contract is going to be terminated, we need to engage with each other, we need to negotiate. You need to show me with three different warning letters, how I have failed in the terms of the contract. But because the conditions that we work under are still master and servant, disposable like diapers, the problem is the change of mindset. We need to impress upon the people that we engage and do business with that we are equal. There is no Queen without this beautiful lady (pointing to Sophie Ndaba). It doesn’t matter how you can find another one – it doesn’t work.”

He pointed out that actors in other soaps like The Bold and the Beautiful don’t have this problem of being disposable because they (the creators) know that the value of the series is dependent on these individuals continuing in their artistic excellence to create these characters that have endowed and warmed our hearts in our living rooms.

He questioned the other cast members lack of cohesion too.

“Its very sad for me to say that I have just done a series iNkaba with Mzansi Magic and M-Net, I was treated with incredible respect. I was understood as a partner and stakeholder. I do not understand that the people who are engaging these beautiful people don’t understand that.”

Dr Kani pointed out his incredulity at a recent comment that actors can return but their contracts will be negotiated on a one-on-one basis. He added: “In the US, there is an award for Best Ensemble…it is the ensemble that we are talking about!”

He added that striking is more a Marikana and labourer issue and hit back: “We are an academic entity. We carry degrees and we have been trained. You never hear a lawyer is on strike. The magistrates were on strike because of overloading, they were not called workers. Nurses are on strike, doctors are on strike – they cannot be summarily fired. It is arrogance and stupidity and ignorance that you can tell these professionals in one letter that you are fired.

“Come on guys, we didn’t struggle for this!”

He continued: “This is time we show our teeth. This is time we stand up and lock the doors and make sure these wonderful people are taken back. Not tomorrow, today. It is the only way the union will have teeth when we say enough is enough.”

After openly declaring his solidarity with the workers, he cautioned those actors considering filling the shoes of the fallen ones, so to speak.

“I’m embarrassed by even this average salary. I haven’t worked for that much since the 70s. I have worked for much more money. An average of R55 000 is below working a slaves salary. I wouldn’t work for that for a day on call,” he admitted.

Dr Kani also added: “Please there are no vacancies for Generations! Don’t go and look for work…there are no vacancies left by present actors. Be decent enough to say not until that situation is resolved will I walk and take someone’s bread out of his mouth.”

If this were a political rally, Dr Kani would have been leading the polls after that impassioned speech.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Dr Kani’s support makes an indent – not just in headlines.