Generations' actors deserve a bigger slice of the pie

2014-08-24 15:00

SA’s most popular soap opera made about R500m for the SABC last year alone

Many years ago, a tall, skinny guy with a comically high-pitched voice walked into Parliament and appeared before a subcommittee on arts and culture.

For hours, he pleaded his case, wearing the committee down with the shrillness of his voice. It worked.

Parliament passed a law mandating all radio stations to play at least 60% local content. He’d pushed for 80%, but would take 60% – a tremendous increase from the typical 20% of South African music stations then played.

He ambled out grinning, only vaguely aware that his actions would soon create kwaito music empires.

That chap was Khulekani Ntshangase, the spokesperson of Malusi Gigaba’s ANC Youth League of 2002.

He remembers dryly how people asked what the youth league was doing lobbying for entertainers, blissfully unaware the industry primarily comprises the youth.

This week, when the Generations bosses wiped out their entire cast and the youth league stepped into the fray in defence of the actors, we heard the same refrains.

There has been little reflection on the bizarreness of this mass axing or on the issues that made the actors strike in the first place.

Many had experienced up to three years of no increases in their salaries – something no industrial union would let fly.

They had short-term contracts, so couldn’t plan their lives beyond six months – meaning they couldn’t get the credit many of us build homes on. And of course, this being South Africa, they had worse working conditions than other soapies aimed at the “white market”.

Generations has the highest viewership of any show in South Africa, as well as the highest revenue. Last year alone, this crew of 16-odd actors, and possibly another 20 production staff, made the SABC a cool R500?million.

If it was a cooperative, each would take home R12.5?million. This, incidentally, is the equivalent that a top TV production was paying its actors in the US – a decade ago.

Of course, since Generations belongs to a corporation, such an arrangement wouldn’t do. Which brings us to the heart of what is wrong with the South African film and TV industry and why leading entertainers still die paupers.

While the SABC retains the bulk of this money, the producers of the show rake in no less than R150?million each year. Of this, the faces and behind the scenes people that make this money earn less than?10%.

So a boss or two earn 90% for the work others do. This sounds like exploitation to me.

Over the past 20 years, we have seen musicians become more economically liberated as stations began paying royalties and the collection agencies that get these royalties started paying the money to the artists while they’re still alive.

Black musos, in particular, have become smart and have moved up the value chain – they now publish their own music and pay for their own recordings so they retain ownership of the content. It’s not easy but it is possible to live well as an artist, but many still don’t.

TV entertainers aren’t as liberated. They don’t own a share in the content, which is a reflection of apartheid-style economics and the real reason we will never have a Hollywood, Bollywood or Nollywood.

If we’re to talk economic liberation, we should not be limited to mines but to the content we fill our minds with.

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