Johannesburg - The backstage drama at South Africa’s most-watched TV show is finally heading for a nail-biting conclusion, City Press reports.
The 16 Generations stars who were fired after going on strike have agreed to go back to work following negotiations facilitated by the SABC’s chief operating officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng.
Not all their demands have been met, but they will be getting more money, annual increases and longer-term contracts.
They have also sent a lawyer’s letter to Mfundi Vundla’s MMSV Productions saying they were willing to return to work.
But whether Vundla will take them back remains a mystery.
A highly placed source at Generations told City Press on Friday that the actors had “thrown in the towel” and agreed to return “unconditionally”.
But yesterday Bulelani Mzamo, the lawyer representing the actors, said: “To be clear – it is incorrect... that the actors are willing to return to set under the same conditions which they left.
Rather, the letter states that they are willing to return to conditions agreed to in November 2013 that were not implemented.”
First strike last year
The actors first went on strike last year. After returning to work, they said nothing had changed and went on strike again.
City Press is in possession of the letter sent by Mzamo last week.
It reads: “Our clients are grateful that you agree to pay the rates agreed to in November 2013. They are also grateful that you agree to three-year contracts.”
In the letter, the actors object to these contracts only being offered from December this year and agree to enter further negotiations through an independent panel around “the issue of commercial exploitation”.
The letter concludes: “In light of these developments, our clients immediately tender their services without any conditions. Should you agree to their unconditional tender of their services, you can directly contact them as to when they can resume work.”
Actors claim victory
The agreements reached are a result of negotiations between the actors and the SABC, said Mzamo.
City Press has subsequently learnt that this happened after a meeting with Motsoeneng.
Another victory the actors are claiming is the agreement that increases are made annually, based on inflation.
But that does not mean the conflict will have a happy ending for all of them. In fact, things will come down to the wire.
Executive producer Vundla, speaking from Paris where he was on holiday last week, was not willing to comment on the letter. All he would say was: “The situation is very fluid right now.”
But he did confirm that by the end of this month, Generations would have run out of episodes to broadcast.
Vundla also confirmed that the show’s writers and creative brains were scheduled to hold a lekgotla to determine the fate of the characters and to plot new episodes.
The brainstorm was to have seen the creation of “a new Generations”, said another well-placed source on the production team who did not want to be named.
Unclear if actors' return to be accepted
It is not clear if the show will be replotted or if Vundla will accept the actors’ return and continue with their story lines. He flew into Joburg from his holiday on Saturday.
People close to him said he was hurt by the actors’ actions. “They can’t just expect to walk in, hug and everything’s back to normal. Things have happened and they’ll have to be dealt with,” said one.
Writers on Generations were told to down pens when the crisis hit. Production insiders told City Press the writers were still being paid despite not being expected to plot their usual cliffhangers and tempestuous love triangles.
They’ll get back to work this week, but whether it’s with a new set of characters or the old ones remains to be seen.
If Generations is going to be redesigned from scratch, it will almost certainly go off air until new scripts, characters, wardrobes and sets are designed. But it’s more likely that Vundla will settle with the actors.
Meanwhile, calls by trade federation Cosatu last week for viewers to boycott the show in solidarity with the actors are not likely to make a major impact.
The crisis does not appear to have hurt the show so far.
Two weeks ago, ratings by the SA Audience Research Foundation showed a dip to 20 audience ratings (ARs), while the show usually garners between 21 and 23 ARs.
But the latest ratings – for the first week in September – show a return to 21.6 ARs.
According to the foundation, this amounts to 9.27 million viewers.
Generations is the show of choice for 68% of all South Africans watching TV during its time slot.
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