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Opinionista

ANC arrest of much-needed legislative protection for performers erodes Parliament authority 

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Jack Devnarain is a veteran actor and chairman of the South African Guild of Actors. Jack started his acting career in Durban while completing his undergraduate law degree at UKZN, and served as a policeman for nearly 10 years before pursuing his career as a professional actor. He has won several awards for his work on TV and is a vocal activist for actors’ working rights and fair regulation of the creative industry.

On Thursday 29 February 2024, the National Assembly voted in favour of the bills, paving the way for the final step — the presidential stamp of approval. What happened next will forever be remembered as our ‘Dallas moment’.

I was one of the lucky ones — a young actor with a dream and a humble set of skills who landed a major role on Isidingo — one of South Africa’s favourite soapies. For years, this was SABC 3’s flagship daily drama, and the show thrust me into a national TV spotlight. When my time on the soapie came to an inevitable end, I felt enormously grateful for that 15-year journey. My character’s departure from the story was crafted with care and sensitivity, and there was closure on all sides.

Of course, we have that luxury in the world of TV entertainment, where we can rely on a team of professional storytellers to set up a dramatic premise and see it through to a poignant end. Real life is far less considerate.

Such a real-life story would be the campaign for statutory royalty rights for South African actors, a project I can only describe as a seven-year epic of dirty politics, drama, and intrigue that, thankfully, has now succumbed to its denouement.

For actors, at least, we are witnessing a finale about as hollow and absurd as the infamous 1986 ‘Bobby Ewing shower scene’, where fans of the hit TV series ‘Dallas’ were strung along for 31 weeks, only to discover that the whole of Season 9 was just ‘a dream’. It will be remembered as one of the cheapest story cop-outs ever to insult a loyal TV audience.

Since 2016, the South African Guild of Actors (Saga) stood at the forefront of lobbying for the reform of South Africa’s copyright regime. The Performers Protection Act (11 of 1967) and the Copyright Act (98 of 1978) are archaic pieces of legislation that have failed to keep up with advancements in the age of streaming and social media, and Saga was committed to the process of modernising these statutes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: After the Bell: SA’s new copyright law is neither copied nor right

The Performers Protection Amendment Bill (PPAB) secures actors a statutory right to earn royalties for film and TV, while the Copyright Amendment Bill (CAB) provides the regulatory framework for those royalties to be collected and disbursed. The amendments were drafted by the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition (DTIC), and the bills were introduced to Parliament in 2017. For actors, the stakes could not have been higher, and Saga was proud to receive a mandate from its members to embark on a campaign to support the bills.

Saga remains the only actors’ representative organisation to have recorded submissions in support of actor royalty rights, and we embraced every opportunity to participate in Parliament’s extensive stakeholder engagement process.

Predictably, not everyone agreed with the bills, so lobbying for and against was heated and unrelenting.

From 2017 to 2023, the bills wound their way through Parliament’s Portfolio Committee for Trade, Industry and Competition, to the National Council of Provinces (Ncop), then on to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who remitted the bills back to the Portfolio Committee in June 2020, and so it went merrily round the mulberry bush once again.

After months of consultation at provincial level, the Ncop passed the bills (for the second time) in September 2023, and there was a growing sense that the bills could indeed survive the acid test of a National Assembly vote. On Thursday 29 February 2024, the National Assembly voted in favour of the bills, paving the way for the final step — the presidential stamp of approval. What happened next will forever be remembered as our ‘Dallas moment’.

Bills blocked

The ‘anti-bill’ lobby, represented by the Copyright Coalition, Independent Producers Organisation (IPO) and others, demanded a meeting with the ANC’s secretary-general, Fikile Mbalula, to voice their grievances and opposition to the bills. The meeting on Saturday 16 March 2024 was widely reported on, and Mbalula gave his commitment that the ANC’s leadership will advise President Cyril Ramaphosa not to sign the bills.

It was interesting that notifications for the meeting carried the bold footnote “VOTE ANC”. Conspicuous by his absence at this meeting was DTIC Minister Ebrahim Patel (who was apparently not invited). But the critical point here is that the ANC is now in direct conflict with its own deployees who all voted in favour of the bills in Parliament. Not only did the ANC subvert Parliament’s lawmaking process and undermine their own members’ majority vote, but they have ruined a seven-year process of inclusive stakeholder engagement.

This development also creates a conundrum for President Cyril Ramaphosa. There is sufficient evidence to support the view that President Ramaphosa places the interests of his party above the needs of the country. So if his role as State President falls into conflict with his role as ANC president, which side is he most likely to favour?

To put it another way, if Parliament asks him to sign the bills, while the ANC advises him not to sign the bills, what is he most likely to do? Saga is of the view that he will probably file the bills away (together with his cabinet performance appraisals) and pretend it was all a dream. We are unlikely to ever hear about the bills again.

I take no issue with the ANC undermining their own cadre, but I do take issue with the ANC undermining Parliament.

Parliament is not Luthuli House. It is no longer relevant how President Ramaphosa decides to settle the issue of the bills, because the ANC has itself corrupted the process, and the tortuous seven-year-long effort has been a spectacular waste of everyone’s time.

Sadly, actors will probably never see their royalty rights under an ANC administration, but anyone reading this would know that the real issue has little to do with the bills at this point. It has to do with what becomes of our legislative process when serious and nuanced issues brought before our State President are taken hostage by the clowns of his party’s own election circus.

If Parliament’s lawmaking process was a carefully crafted tale of political intrigue, then the ANC’s latest move is a garish, ham-fisted cartoon by a team that has clearly lost the plot. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Richard Robinson says:

    Is this inaction by the SA President, treason?

  • John Cartwright says:

    Beautifully put. Bravo.

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    The interests of the ‘party’ and that of the ‘state’ has always been subject to confusion (more likely abuse) … and often conflated . Such deviant behaviour applies to all parties .

  • Deano Maduramuthu says:

    The ANC has used public processes for its own benefit. Ditto individual ANC members. So what’s the pay off for the ANC and/or Mbalula? Did the anti-bill lobby dangle any enticements before them?

    After all, it is an election year and election campaigns are expensive. And his dealings with Sedgars Sport show that Mbalula is not above receiving gratuities from those who are willing to give them.
    Cheers Jack
    Deano

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