Lights, Camera, No Action
My friend; one of the most talented women I know in television today had ambitions of growing in the industry from doing obscure Mzansi productions to the big league of soapies. She’s got some of the most inspiring ideas that would make Mark Burnett green with envy. She wants to put them to use not only for her own wallet, but for the benefit of South Africa as a film and television destination.
My friend says when she tried to get her into two of the five biggest soapies in South Africa she was not granted an audience to pitch but shown the ‘casting couch’. When she wanted to know what was it all about, she was told that’s ‘how every actress starts’ and if she was not going to be cast that way she can take her ideas and shove them where the sun don’t shine.
In her own words ‘it was made obvious that my talent was only secondary to my potential success and that what was primary was between my thighs’. She got disorientated and decided to forget about her television ambition beyond Kasi Love Story. She is lost to South Africa and the world. South Africa has dimmed a bright star before it could shine its glory to the country.
Lights, Camera, Cut!However her struggle is not unique. A few friends who did manage to get behind the camera and actually started their own television production houses have been frustrated by first; late payment for projects commissioned, completed and screened and the need to oil the hands that decide who gets a commissioning brief.
One of my friends says he has seen mediocre television programmes that now fill both the SABC and DStv get commissions while his ‘superior’ ideas get shoved by the wayside. I might not be the right person to appraise ‘superiority’ but I have written two films for Mzansi (Cast the First Stone and The President’s Patient) and I know what is good.
His ideas make mine look like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Someday soon, once he is frustrated enough he plans to pack his camera and disappear into either the bureaucracy or corporate world. His ideas will be lost to South Africa because in a country where we claim to have smart people, it’s so surprising why there’s still Selimathunzi, Cula Sibone, Shift, RGB, Friends Like These etc. It’s surprising why syndicated programmes such as Fear Factor, Survivor, Big Brother etc smooth their way to the top of the commissioners while indigenous ideas get thrown in a bin.
Are commissioning editors who shoot down ideas because a producer does not have R25K to oil their hands realise how some of those ideas will someday build the profile of overseas industries and only resonate here when syndicated?
The Undoing of Cadre DeploymentThe civil unrests that characterise South Africa’s body politik are not an accident or a Third Force in operation. We all know they are a reflection of a community tired with below par infrastructure; irregular water supplies, potholes, no roads, no street lights, no visible policing and many more. Most happen because tenders get given to comrades who don’t deserve them and have no capacity to execute them.
Catering tenders given to men who have never fried an egg only for get them to hire the real caterers who lost the tender at a reduced fee. Thus the quality of the food is compromised as there are more hands that have to be oiled. The tender system, which has seen the highest bidder getting the job has resulted in mediocre public infrastructure and service.
It has resulted in the ballooning of the Nkandla security upgrade budget while the service itself leaves a lot to be desired. There are already structural cracks at some of the infrastructure provided to President Jacob Zuma at taxpayer’s expense. Some will need to be demolished to protect the president from accidents.
The question is; who are the suppliers who got the upgrade jobs at exorbitant fees? Why is their work not standing the test of time? The Union Buildings was built in 1910 but is of a better quality than millions of RDP houses built by this government since 1996. It is structurally sound that even Nkandla, which was built at twenty times its budget will not withstand seasonal rigor.
Marikana happened because Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was on the board of Lonmin. A lawyer-turned-unionist-turned-businessman who is suspected of ordering a speedy end to the labour dispute at the platinum producer. We all know how ‘speedily’ the poor miners were disposed with. Because once again we had a comrade running a capitalist entity and a comrade running a police force without having made it past obstacle training. Cadre deployment at various levers of society is the undoing of societal progress.
And then we complain that our soccer is of the lowest standard that we never know if we are going up or down. Ten goals make a striker a top goal scorer. Sad. Why? Simple, South African soccer, with all the millions pumped into its professional stage is going down. Not because players are paid well since European players are paid better which is the reason why their soccer is brilliant. Because players are paid to show up in the field of play and leave after 90 minutes.
South African soccer is receding because of the high level of corruption in the amateur and semi-professional leagues. It’s not the best teams that make it to the premier league but those with owners who can bribe the referees to officiate in their favour.
The domino effect is a Bafana-Bafana that has not qualified for anything significant in years. A Bafana where players are picked by player agents who it is rumoured are prepared to bribe to have them play for the nation to up their value overseas. At the end of the day the best players do not even don the national team jersey while you have the same old players from some teams playing even when they are injured.
While this is happening the only attempt at fixing this mess, named Operation Dribble remains classified. No SAFA official wants to release the only commission finding that would shed light into how bribery is conducted in our soccer and how to stamp that the rot.
Sex for Jobs
The same happens where in this patriarchal society men are given too much power to hire and fire. You find a situation whereby every single woman employed had to sleep with the boss. Every man hired has to pay a bribe to be considered for a position they spent years and money studying for.
In that situation, whereby every woman slept her way to a position there’s never an ounce of professionalism. No one in their right mind will feel duty-bound to do well when they know the environment itself is poisoned. This practise is tolerated a lot in the lower echelons of the public service. AIDS is rampant and professionals die like ants under the boot of a miner.
Dead On Arrival
And then we wonder why so many people die in the country’s roads every holiday season while we tolerate driver licenses being sold at traffic testing grounds across the country. In places such as Bushbuckridge, Sabie and Thulamahashe there’s a price fixed for those who can drive, those who can’t drive and those who don’t even want to be tested for their driving (or absence of it).
At the end of the day we take all these frauds and put them in big engines then wonder why hundreds of breadwinners die every holiday season on our roads. It’s not that government, the employer of all traffic officers and officials does not know. They do, but there’s such a high level of tolerance for corruption that if we could stomach Nkandla and Marikana there’s nothing worse.
Not even traffic officers taking bribes to overlook drunk drivers on our roads suffer any repercussions. Not even them asking for lunch to overlook overloading, speeding, unroad-worthiness and fatigue to a full chicken. And we wonder why Nigeria’s economy overtook South Africa by size earlier this year. In South Africa nothing is moving. The Naija work hard even with high levels of corruption; South African’s are lazy and corrupt – generally.
The ultimate corruption is when government that claims to be encouraging investor confidence allows members of its executive to take money out of the country and open offshore accounts. This makes a large chunk of our news every weekend.
They not only allow for massive money transfers but also for family members of politicians to hold millions worth of overseas assets while telling the world they have confidence in the investment environment in the country. A government committed to good governance cannot allow members of its executive and their families to have one foot in Virgin Island banaks and another in rural Msinga. That just does not work well.
Finally we are the only country whereby a record company executive works for a public radio station (Metro FM), is a deejay and hosts a television show (Friends Like These) in a public broadcaster. Where that person plays their own artists’ music and openly align with political parties without any furore given that people pay for TV Licenses.
And with this corrupt creative environment and the payola that continues to exchange hands in the music industry we wonder how come Nigerians are the most successful musicians in Africa? South Africa has the most advanced recording infrastructure and industry but when it’s time for awards Nigerians beat us hands down; both in the continent and internationally. The days of Brenda Fassies, Lucky Dubes, Ladysmith Black Mambazos, Stimelas being the cream are gone. Today it’s friends of friends who reach prominence.
A friend of mine who works as a publicist took her frustration to social media. She said she is disgusted by radio music compilers who, when she gives them new music from her client do not even acknowledge receipt of the work. And worse still, they don’t even playlist it.
All because of the dreaded payola. The music we end up hearing on our radio stations and taking to the world is not the best there is out there, it’s like our soccer, it’s music coming from companies whose owners can dish out bribes to compilers to playlist their artists.
And we wonder why South Africa is failing. * Gakwi Mashego is a record company co-founder and a film scriptwriter.