Generations shut down as cast demands better from the SABC

Cape Town – The SABC is silent as the public broadcaster's biggest money spinner, Generations on SABC1, was forced to shut down production entirely as the cast refused to return to work.

MMSV Productions was forced to let the lights of the Generations set go dark as actors demand the better contracts the SABC promised, better remuneration, and the payment of years of royalties due from the SABC.

It will not be possible for the SABC or the production company to dismiss, fire, or get rid of the entire striking Generations cast and to start over with new actors without immense damage to the show.

Such a basically wholesale talent dismissal and dramatic on-screen reset would likely destroy the long running local soap and not only damage the show’s huge appeal but also dent viewership numbers – although creator Mfundi Vundla last year ominously warned the cast that "no-one is bigger than Generations" when the first strike took place which lasted weeks.

Channel24 has learnt that production on Generations shut down on Monday this week – 10 months after the Generations cast also brought filming to a halt when production in October 2013 was brought to a standstill for weeks.

The Generations cast's decision to stay away was taken on Thursday last week, according to sources.

Channel24 has further learnt that the Generations cast has now organised and formed the Generations Actors Guild to collectively bargain and protect the actors' interest on the SABC's number one rated show.

Generations earns hundreds of millions of rands for SABC1 and the SABC. It is the most watched soap, drawing a national average audience of around 7.5 million viewers on weeknights on SABC1.

Cast ‘ordered’ to work ‘or face immediate dismissal’

On Tuesday this week, 12 August, the SABC has sent communication – according to the Generations Actors Guild – “ordering” the Generations cast to report to duty by Wednesday 13 August "or face immediate dismissal – with no reference whatsoever to their unfulfilled commitment to address cast grievances".

The Generations cast declined and has not been on set this entire week. Channel24 was told that nobody has any intention of returning if long running complaints are not resolved and this time in writing.

The SABC has not commented as drama swirls behind the scenes.

‘This is very, very bad’

"This is very, very bad. This is going to be very, very bad," an insider told Channel24.

"This time it looks like is going to be detrimental for the SABC and the soap because nothing has been done and the actors are tired, furious and finally out of patience with the broken promises. The situation is really bad," the insider said on Thursday.

"This time the Generations cast will definitely not be back before every single issue has not been sorted out. This time it can really mean that viewers will be left with Generations suddenly vanishing from SABC1 when there's no further episodes to screen".

The SABC has not responded to written media enquiries made about Generations and the cast issue that was made last week, and again multiple times on Thursday.

"The issues are exactly the same," another insider told Channel24. "The Generations cast went back to work in good faith with assurances that the parties involved and the SABC would come back to the table. They didn't. And this situation can't continue".

Another insider told Channel24 on Thursday that "it's about the future. It's not about short term goals but about what is right, what is proper and what is fair in a professional TV industry. Nobody wanted this to happen but core issues about on-air talent and what is fair, have not been addressed. How much longer?'

The Generations cast was coaxed back to work in November 2013 after the legal action first set in motion in October 2013. They said they believed that the multiple issues would be addressed. According to them, it was not.

Failure to address ongoing issues

Now Channel24 is told the strike – which  completely shut down Generations and led to a production standstill, "is in response to the production company, MMSV Productions and the SABC's failure to address the terms that all the parties agreed to in November 2013 - which then resulted in the cast returning to work".

The Generations Actors Guild legal representative, Bulenani Mzamo from Mzamo Attorneys, told Channel24 on Thursday that "the issues remain the same".

"The SABC and MMSV Productions left the Generations actors little choice but to revive the strike".

In a statement the Generations Actors Guild says "nothing has been resolved".

"We came back to work after the first strike in good faith, on the understanding that all the issues that we'd brought up would be addressed by the SABC by March 2014".

"Since then, they have missed their own deadline, and pushed the date out, with no discernible resolution to our grievances in sight".

Threatened with dismissal

"Instead we've been ordered back to work and threatened with dismissal, with no explanation of why our issues have not been resolved,” says the cast.

The Generations cast who are adamant to not return to the biggest TV show in South Africa are some of South Africa’s most famous TV faces: Anga Makubalo (MJ), Atandwa Kani (Samora), Katlego Danke (Dineo), Mandla Gaduka (Choppa), Menzi Ngubane (Sibusiso), Nambitha Mpulwana (Mawande), Patrick Shai (Patrick), Slindile Nodangala (Ruby), Sophie Ndaba (Queen), Seputla Sebogodi (Kenneth), Thami Mnqolo (Senzo), Thato Molamu (Nicholas), Winnie Ntshaba (Khetiwe), Zenande Mfenyana (Nolunthu), Zikhona Sodlaka (Priska) and Zolisa Xaluva (Jason).

Striking over contracts issues, no royalties paid

Although the SABC's chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng promised three year contracts, the Generations cast says they haven't all been given these longer contracts "especially in light of the fact that the intensity of the shooting schedule means that the cast is virtually exclusively committed to Generations and effectively unable to pursue other projects".

The Generations cast is also unhappy about the unresolved issue over months, about the payment of royalties and syndication fees for episodes of Generations that are broadcast in various countries worldwide.

According to the Generations Actors Guild, MMSV Productions and the SABC promised to "review the payment rates, rationalise and bring them in line with industry standards and norms". This has also not happened the guild claims.

Generations cast: The SABC failed us

"This action isn't something we embarked on lightly," says the Generations cast in a strongly-worded statement.

"This is both our livelihood and our passion. Working on Generations is something we take extremely seriously – we only wish the SABC and the production house took us as seriously".

"We have continuously worked in good faith with them, choosing to believe that they would honour their commitments. It's unfortunate that they have failed to do that".

"We deeply regret the inconvenience to our fans and loyal viewers, but feel strongly about taking a principled stand about fundamental labour issues that our employers seem not to be taking seriously - instead they threaten us with dismissal".

"It is our fervent hope that these issues are resolved sooner rather than later. We are eager to get back to work," says the Generations cast.

"It is a real pity that the SABC and MMSV Productions have consistently failed to meet their own deadlines, and now seemingly choose not to deal with the cast's issues at all," says lawyer Bulelani Mzamo.

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