Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 8 November 2013

Mfundi Vundla, let’s talk frankly about the threat to write out the ‘Generations’ cast entirely.

Congratulations on running the biggest soapie in South Africa since 1994. You have demonstrated how a local production can go beyond the usual short-termism, and have shown instead the huge staying power of local production – bucking the trend of television projects in our country.

Dear Mfundi

The meandering story line not withstanding, Generations has proved to be the opium of the masses. No other television programme can boast the kind of viewership numbers – in the order of millions – that you and your production team have achieved.

I hope that you are aware that such a success can only have been possible because of a core of committed artists who have been with the soapie through good and bad times, even when sometimes faced with pedestrian script writers – in comparison to the likes of Isidingo, who have distinguished themselves through numerous awards.

Despite these ups and downs, Generations has produced stars, and the industry continues to watch with acclaim as these stars rise. Now let’s talk frankly. Aren’t the stars of the show the artists? How do you justify giving them a middle finger in such public and humiliating manner?

Your clumsy spat with the artists, however, has helped the country to focus on the plight of artists across the entertainment industry. I don’t claim to know much about how you get by in an industry that is so generally insecure. All I know is that the industry is a temp’s paradise. If you are commissioned to produce a thirteen-part series, you can’t hire artists for 14 episodes. It is truly that simple. So, a part of me sympathises with you. But after twenty years of being at it, you surely have negotiated better terms with the SABC. If they have given you commitment beyond a year, then you have no leg to stand on refusing to sign artists longer than one year. If they haven’t – after a twenty-year run – you should be able to take up the matter for the sake of your artists.

But of course this assumes you care about the artists and don’t merely see them as a means to the end of your strange storyline. Frankly, it is expected that you should take the lead in fixing the set up in this industry where artists are an afterthought. Is it asking too much that you should create conditions for artists to have a sense of stability? Does it please you if your key actors can hardly afford their hospital bills or raise a bond with a bank? I am sure it does not please you. But of course this is based on an assumption that you care.

A dispute about a contract in the workplace is ok as we all try and build a workable model of fair pay. But it left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Generations fans when you flaunted your pen in threat to the artists telling them that you, the mighty one, can wield your pen and ‘write them out of the soapie’ if they don’t behave.

You used this moment to try to assert your right to ‘write out artists’ who don’t perform. I understand that prerogative. But I wonder whether the scripting of a soapie this size can merely rely on the misbehaviour of artists to change the story’s course. So, if an artist is incompetent, their incompetence will be corrected by ‘writing them out’. How is this building young and upcoming artists if hard-core talent management is replaced with a lazy weapon of just shuffling those that don’t live up to the standards out of the soapie?

I don’t understand. I am sure this was a comment made in your moment of madness. There is no law that says if you are employed on a contract, or even permanently for that matter, you can’t be fired for non-performance. You should be allowed to fire an actor who is not working for you and replace her or him before the end of their contract. I don’t understand the SABC to mean that the three-year contracts suggest that artists can hide behind the contract duration and be incompetent, thereby making the soapie unworkable. But you don’t have to listen to me. If you do proceed with the total purge, that is, writing out the whole cast currently on strike, let me offer ten suggestions for good measure.

  1. Sibusiso – write him out. Sentence him to death for the murder of Caleb.
  2. Katlego – write her out at your own peril. Sentence her to life imprisonment for the attempted murder of her husband and mistress.
  3. Phenyo – write him out already. Sentence him to 25 years as an accessory to the fact of Caleb’s murder.
  4. Queen – write her out if you are brave enough to face the public’s wrath. Fire her as ECC of Ezweni for shopping during office hours.
  5. Noluntu – write her arrogant self out. Sentence her to life imprisonment for attempted murder of her mother drugging her for weeks.
  6. MJ – write his wet-behind-the-ears self out. Get him arrested for using drugs ahead of his matric sporting examinations.
  7. Selwyn – laugh out loud while you write him out. Get him arrested for running an illegal crèche in his flat.
  8. Khethiwe – write her deadly and drunken self out. Get her arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Khapela. Easy one this; add some drama and place her in the same cell as Khuboni in the first unisex cell of our time.
  9. Senzo and Jason – crash them out. Their plane crushes while they travel to Namibia with Mqobi and Zodwa.
  10. The rest of the cast can be obliterated in the usual Siqalo Court new year’s party, through a car bomb that was meant to target Khethiwe by Khuboni’s friends, but clearly missed.

So, this should take care of this generation of Generations. And now the search for the new actors to replace all these who have been written out can commence. And as for you, sir, overnight you have no more reason to nag about pay and three-year contracts. Is this really how you want to play this. Yes? No?

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane. DM

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