2Cents: The #Generation16 and cultural activism

The past two weeks have been the stage on which a wage dispute has turned into a full on cause to change the entertainment industry as it pertains to artists working in broadcast television.

Sixteen gatvol Generations actors decided to withhold their services (not strike they say) until their production company and the national broadcaster, SABC entered into wage negotiations with them.

They were given an ultimatum to return to work or get fired – the latter was chosen for them or by them depending on which “side” you’re on.

Since headlines have been abuzz with stories of inflated salaries, new talent, forlorn stars etc. This past Tuesday, for the first time in two weeks everyone got a big ol’ dose of perspective.

Initially when Mfundi Vundla spoke last week dropping the R55 000 bomb – I was like, well that is some good money, why are these guys kicking their toys about. But I immediately chided myself – the 21 year old soapie probably makes more money than any production of its kind in the country. Yesterday I learnt they make R500 million a year now.

That they cannot sit down to negotiate a way to cut the actors a piece of that pie seems unreasonable, to me at least. Apparently they have only received R3000 in royalty fees for the past 11 years.

Some of the dismissed cast members highlighted what was wrong, what they wanted and broke down in tears when doing so – illustrating to me that I actually have no idea how the “industry works”. Then Dr Johan Kani explained for us all.

“We carry the residue of the apartheid era master/servant relationship,” he said. Kani expanded on this saying that actors are not employed by their production companies, they are in a contractual relationship with them. Adding that actors should not be treated in the disposable manner that the dismissed 16 were treated.

He spoke at length about he had used his art to help bring down an oppressive system, yet here sat 16 people, 21 years later who were being treated in a way that resembled that past regime. He said that as an academic entity in society, artists should be valued and now was the time for them to stand up to say they are worthy of more.

He called on them to make the Generations set unworkable, much like the miners in Rustenburg had done to Lonmin for five months. Block the doors, barring clening staff, writers and the like from going to work until their demands are met.

His speech was the ultimate ah-uh moment. His son, Atandwa Kani then took to the podium. He was fired along with the 16 after only being a part of the team for three weeks, he had not even been on screen yet.

He admitted that he came on board wanting to “ascend his status as an actor”, acting alongside some of the country’s best.  However, “this was a battle I could not turn my back on,” he said.

“I come from a family where I was raised by a father who spent most of his life, and dedicated his life to the emancipation of this country – as a political activist through the arts. Now, I cannot having his blood running through my veins sit back and be silent.”

What they had to say, what everyone had to say on Tuesday afternoon made me realize the dire need for cultural activism of this kind in South Africa.It also made me realise that this is no longer just about the 16, but about something much bigger.

I really do hope their cause catches on and that they do stand as firm as they have promised to. Pay back the royalties maan. 

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