South African Soap Stars Fight For Higher Pay

Written by Dana Sanchez

Launched in 1994 when apartheid ended, “Generations” became South Africa’s most successful soap opera, but the show went off the air after cast members got fired for striking for higher pay, according to a report by Luso Mnthali in EqualTimes.

The cast had been negotiating with the production company MMSV and the South African Broadcasting Corporation since October 2013. After they went on strike, all 16 cast members were fired in August, 2014, by executive producer and series creator Mfundi Vundla.

The program went off the air for two months, relaunching in December as “Generations The Legacy” with a new, less experienced cast. Audiences didn’t take to the new show, however. This week, a new soap opera – “Ashes to Ashes” — launched on South Africa’s top commercial TV station, ETV, featuring four of the original “Generations” 16. You can watch a promo snippet here.

At its peak, the original “Generations” had almost 8 million viewers. Audience numbers for the new show are at around 3.9 million, according to EqualTimes.

Not everyone in South Africa was sympathetic to the striking actors, who asked for 3.6 percent in residual earnings, royalties, profit sharing and secure contracts — a recurring theme in South Africa’s TV industry, particularly for black soap actors, according to EqualTimes.

In a country where 34 striking platinum miners died while on strike for a raise, and 23 million people live below the poverty line, many thought the striking actors were spoiled.

Actors reportedly earned 30,000-to-60,000 rand ($2500-to-$5000 US per month).

“Generations” was a revenue ratings blockbuster for the SABC, earning as much as 500 million rand (US$42.5 million) per year, EqualTimes reports.

“Generations” actors said they were exploited and insecure. Vundla said they were among South Africa’s highest-paid actors and were being unreasonable and spoiled.

Many South African soap actors have to take second jobs such as voice overs or run businesses in order to live comfortably, according to the report.

South African actor and playwright John Kani, whose son Atandwa was one of the 16 original fired cast members, said in a CityPress report the show’s producers perpetuated “an apartheid-style master, servant relationship”.

Kani said in August the dispute was “an embarrassment” for the democracy that people fought for during apartheid.

He called for unions to take charge and fight for the actors and discouraged other actors from auditioning for the vacant positions on the “Generations” cast.

“There are no vacancies at ‘Generations’, so don’t go look for work there,” he said in a CityPress interview.