Give ac­tors a big­ger slice

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

CityPress - - Voices - Shaka Sisulu Fol­low me on Twit­ter @shaka­sisulu

Many years ago, a tall, skinny guy with a com­i­cally high­pitched 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.

Katlego Danke

Win­nie Nt­shaba

Seputla Se­bo­godi

So­phie Nd­aba

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