It may be the most popular soapie in South Africa, but the set of Generations is in no way a happy home.
Last week, a group comprising the soap’s leading actors embarked on a strike in a desperate bid to get the SABC and MMSV Productions to take heed of their concerns over salaries and contracts.
Those among the striking group include some of the cream of the South African acting fraternity, like Sophie Ndaba, Menzi Ngubane, Seputla Sebogodi and Patrick Shai.
The mass walkout of the soap’s most popular actors could spell doom for a show that attracts an average of 7.5-million viewers. But while the stars flex their celebrity muscle, the SABC is determined to play hardball.
According to SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago, the actors will be fired if they do not report for duty.
"We're giving them a last chance to get back to work. If they fail to do so by tomorrow, we will definitely dismiss them," he said..
The strike action has been on the cards since October last year, after the actors demanded three-year contracts, as well as royalties and syndication fees for episodes broadcast outside of South Africa’s borders. They also demanded better pay, in line with industry norms.
The battle between the broadcaster, the production company and the actors has allegedly made for a hostile working environment.
In a statement by the Generations Actors Guild last week, the striking staff listed their concerns.
“We are essentially in exactly the same position we were in last October when we first went on strike,” read the statement.
“Nothing has been resolved, we came back to work after the first strike in good faith, understanding that all issues would be brought up to be addressed by the SABC this past March-a date they set.
“Since then, they have missed their own deadline, with no disenable resolution to our grievances in sight.
“Instead, we’ve been ordered back to work and threatened with dismissal, with no explanation of why our issues have not been resolved.”
Today, the Guild released another statement, which we have carried in full below:
By now, you would have heard that we, the principal cast of Generations, have made a decision to embark on a strike, and walk off
the set of Generations. 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.
We wanted to take this opportunity to explain to you exactly what led to this drastic action, and give a full context of the events to date.
It is also important for us to state that before we went on strike, we made a point of communicating our unhappiness to MMSV Productions, to no avail. 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.
There are a number of issues that led us to the strike - however, the main ones are:
1. The Generations cast, despite the show being the most popular in South Africa, is paid rates well below what is understood to be the industry norm. There has been a great deal of talk from the SABC that we want to be paid extravagant salaries – this is simply not true. Our actor colleagues on the same platform, SABC, are paid at much better rates – so it is possible. For some bizarre reason, however, the powers-that-be choose to keep Generations cast locked into a lower pay grade. This is unjust, and we want it reviewed. We don’t think this is an unreasonable request, considering the audience figures and revenues that the show generates. We just want to be paid fairly, that’s all.
When we went on strike last October, we proposed a set of rates that we should be paid. In November 2013, MMSV Productions agreed to meet these rates, provided the SABC would also support the proposed normalization of salaries. The SABC responded that they would like some time to review the proposed rates, and would revert in March 2014. In March, the SABC requested an extension to July 2014 to continue examining the proposed rates. When the July deadline elapsed, there was no communication from them as to the outcome of their deliberations. When we enquired, we received no response. It became clear to us that their requests for extensions were merely a delaying tactic, and there had never been an intention, as promised, to review the salary scales.
Bear in mind, that based on the SABC’s November 2013 commitment to review the salaries, the cast honoured the broadcaster’s request that they return to set and continue filming. 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.
2. Royalties and syndication fees. Our contracts stipulate that we, as cast, are due certain fees whenever Generations is sold to an international broadcaster. To date, the show is aired in a number of different countries across the world. However, we, as the cast, have never received our royalties. Syndication fees and royalties are a very important revenue stream in any actor’s life, and it is worrying – and telling - that the SABC continues to deny us what we are owed in this regard. Why is this?
3. 3-Year Contracts - the Generations shooting schedule is intense, and leaves little time for us as actors to pursue other
professional opportunities. In requesting 3-year contracts, we are not demanding a blanket 3-year guarantee of work. We understand that clauses can be inserted to terminate employment due to issues of non-performance, insubordination and issues of that nature. However, if we are effectively locked into working only for Generations, we feel that it is only reasonable that there be a level of stability that we be afforded in turn.
We have tried repeatedly, to accommodate the SABC and MMSV Productions – whenever they requested an extension to examine the issues, we agreed. When, in November 2013 they asked us to end our original strike while they reviewed our demands, we agreed. They committed to reverting to us with their responses to our demands – instead, they have issued us with threats to dismiss us if we don’t return to work. 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.
The cast remains open to negotiating and working out a solution, and hopes that the broadcaster and production house respond to this sentiment.
We thank you for your patience with us, and hope you understand our difficulty and stand with us in this troubling time.