A few months back sixteen unsatisfied actors took a bold stand of voicing their frustrations against their producers by going on strike and letting the media know that they were unhappy and ‘enough is enough’. Underpaid, unsatisfied actors are nothing unusual in the Television and Film industry build on tight budgets and unscrupulous producers. This was even seen in Hollywood earlier this year when the actors of the highest rated Comedy Sitcom Big Bang Theory demanded pay raises, that was obliged with pay raises that have seen the cast become the highest paid actors on Television. How is this different? Well, the sixteen actors on strike were from the longest running, highest rated Soapie in South Africa Generations. The feud between the actors and the Generations mastermind Mfundi Vundli supposedly stems from a few years back when the actors confronted the producer about being underpaid, demanding a pay raise. After being promised open salary negotiations between the broadcaster SABC (South African Broadcasting Commission) and Mfundi Vundla in 2013, the actors were (according to the actors) once again shunned aside in 2014, prompting the strike.
Forward two months later following public showdowns consisting of the actors being fired, then a press conference (see video here) held by the sixteen actors, Mfundi Vundla releasing the actors salaries, the actors then filing a complaint with CCMA (The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration), the issue is yet to be resolved threatening to bring an end to one of the most successful soapies to be created in South Africa.
This obviously upset millions of fans who idolize the stars, and fans were further saddened to hear that their favorite soapie would be going off air from the 1st of October, though MMSV Productions (production company behind the hit Soapie) and SABC issued a statement to ease hearts that an “all new generations” will be returning in December. While that temporarily eases hearts it does spark a curiosity that has given birth to this article, and that every South African will be asking themselves between now and December. Will Generations ever be the same? What will the success or failure of the ‘All New Generations’ mean for the rest of the industry?
Re-casts in soapies are pretty much the norm in this genre of television, we’ve seen over the decades The Bold & The Beautiful, Days of our Lives and other long running American soapies replace actors. Usually with a major announcement before the show stating, “this character will now be played by this actor”, this is usually met with uproar from fans. But after a few weeks it’s water under a bridge with viewers back to their daily television schedules. We’ve even seen it on South African TV screens; I remember the character of ‘Tendai’ on Backstage (a famous soapie years back) made famous by Dini Nondumo being recast and how it was received with uproar. To replace sixteen actors like Generations will be attempting to do is unheard of (as far as I know), especially in a soapie. The sixteen actors were principal cast with interweaving story lines, and story arcs driving the show forward, characters such as ‘Queen Moroka’ (Sophie Ndaba) have been a major component of the show for sixteen years, providing an anchor for long time fans. Earlier this year the country witnessed ‘Ma ‘agnes’ from the other popular South African soapie Isidingo being written off the show after decades portraying the character. But to suddenly have a major character such as ‘Queen Moroka’ ripped out the show without warning might be what ultimately plummets the rating and ends the show.
Mfundi Vundla promised a very different Generations that will draw on some elements from its predecessor, he jokes,
“No, it will not be called Generations 2…”.
He sounds very relaxed for a man that will be costing the SABC a R140 million loss during the production break, this is in addition the programme reshuffling the channel has had to undertake.
Only time will tell if Mr Vundla has a right to be so jovial about firing sixteen actors who have brought him a lot of glory and money during their employment. Whether the new show is a smash hit or it tanks, the bold move by these sixteen actors will have a rippling effect on the rest of the industry. Should the new Generations be successful it will subconsciously shift the balance between actor and producer even further, actors might start fearing for their jobs thus accepting lesser pay. Should the new show tank (which I hope it does), it will signal a new wave in the South African television industry whereby actors will have more power, power to negotiate better pay, incentives, longer contracts and royalty money which they currently don’t get much of.
I commend the sixteen actors for taking such a bold stand, they could have happily gone on with their jobs grateful to be employed, but when you have the number One rated soapie in the country surely there has to be more. More than twenty years after apartheid the SABC need to realize that black actors can’t be expected to just be grateful for employment they need to be paid the worth they have proven. But that is an argument for another time, all I know is come December we will all be tuned in to learn the fate of “Generations 2.0”
Kgosana Monchusi @kgosanamonchusi