Striking Generations cast: No dignity on SABC’s most popular show

2014-08-18 15:38

Cape Town – The SABC's striking Generations cast – given an ultimatum to show up for work on Monday or be fired by the SABC – tells Channel24 that "there's little dignity in being associated with Africa's most popular TV drama" and that it's a constant struggle to even try and buy a car.

The Generations cast went on strike for the whole of last week for the second time in 10 months.

The unprecedented strike follows after the actors on the SABC's biggest TV soap were coaxed back to work in November last year following the first strike – demanding longer 3 year contracts they say were promised to them, as well as better payment, and back payments for rebroadcasts.

Similar to the cast of Friends in 1995 and earlier this year with the cast of the American comedy The Big Bang Theory, the striking Generations cast are united as a collective group, willing to walk away from the highly successful and lucrative 21 year old primetime TV soap if better deals and agreements with the SABC and MMVS Productions are not agreed upon.

The television brinkmanship is massive and the Generations cast embarked on a second stay-away because there's real leverage: It will be lose-lose if the SABC goes ahead with its threat to fire the large group of actors.

It's their familiar and famous faces that 7.5 million viewers tune in for on weeknights on SABC1.

If the group of actors are fired they will be out of their jobs, but their abrupt absence might lead millions of SABC1 viewers to tune out Generations and onto other channels.

As a result the SABC's biggest and most watched show will suffer irreparable damage since multiple actors will suddenly have to be written out bluntly – the characters either instantly gone, or replaced with new, unknown actors in the roles.

This which will have a huge impact on the SABC, SABC1 and Generations brands and quite possibly also see viewership figures plummet – something the SABC, SABC1 and the production company can ill afford.

The SABC's Hlaudi Motsoeneng personally intervened as chief operating officer (COO) into the issue at the end of 2013 and declared then that "the matter has finally been laid to rest".

Ten months later it's now clear that it wasn't – and the strike suddenly crippling the SABC's and South Africa's biggest TV show twice in less than a year over the exact same issues – indicates the dramatic structural problems and uncertainty that remains at the South African public broadcaster.

It's unprecedented for the entire production on a huge money-making, flagship show of a South African TV broadcaster to abruptly cease and completely shut down twice within a year.

Generations is filmed six weeks in advance, meaning that completed Generations episode for play-out on SABC1 will cease at the end of September.   

‘We don’t want crazy salary increases. We just want to be paid fairly’

"There is no reason why the actors of South Africa's most popular drama should be paid less than industry norm," the Generations Actors Guild tells Channel24.

The Generations Actors Guild says actors on other SABC soaps "are paid at better rates. For some bizarre reason the Generations cast remains locked into a lower pay grade. This is unjust and we want it reviewed.

"We don't want crazy salary increases. We just want to be paid fairly, that's all," says the Generations Actors Guild.

The striking Generations actors say it’s difficult to even buy a car or get a car loan.

"The short-term contracts certainly result in a lack of security, which makes it difficult for the cast to plan for long-term purchases. We're not considered permanent employees, so even with the banks, securing bonds and car loans are a serious, and sometimes insurmountable challenge.

"What we want most, is to be able to work, and be compensated appropriately for it," says the Generations Actors Guild. "The strike was a last resort, and not an action we embarked on lightly.

"When the SABC and MMSV Productions asked us for time to address our issues, we made a decision to give them the time they requested, and go back to work. Some may call it naive, but we were working in good faith in the interest of Generations.

"It's a real pity that the SABC and MMVS Productions seem to have selective amnesia about the promises and commitments they made to revert with a response to our grievances. They've missed their own deadline – twice – and now they aren't even talking about their promises."

‘Incredible exploitation taking place’

The Generations Actors Guild tells Channel24 that they "weren't happy when the SABC and MMVS Productions missed their own deadline of March 2014, but we worked with them when they requested an extension until July 2014."

"We realised after they missed the second deadline, 31 July 2014, without even a word about when we could expect to hear back from them – that they actually did not have a response to our grievances. So we revived the strike.

"We shouldn't have to fight about issues around pay rates, salaries and royalties when there are prescribed industry standards in place," say the striking Generations actors.

"This industry is unregulated and it allows for some incredible exploitation to take place. We need stronger industry bodies. We need government to recognise what a driver the South African TV and film industry is, culturally and economically."

The striking Generations cast say "we deplore the fact that we're not at work, but feel extremely strongly about the cause we're undertaking. It's about fair play and fair labour practice. We would love to return to work – at appropriate pay grades, and with the correct contracts in place – with royalties due to us being paid our fairly."

The SABC didn't respond to multiple written media enquiries on the Generations strike made last week and again on Sunday seeking comment from the public broadcaster.

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