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. 

My vote cost me my job

Mynhardt Black (right) speaks to The Citizen whilst his wife Debbie feeds her ten month old baby, Giovanni, 14 May 2014, at his house in Brixton, Johannesburg. Mynhardt, a tow truck driver, was fired when he failed to show up to work on Election Day to go vote. Picture: Alaister Russell

NOTE: Article first appeared in The Citizen newspaper on May 15, 2014. 

All tow-truck driver Mynhart Black wanted to do was vote for a better life – instead he lost his job because he took time off to vote.

Yesterday, Black, 47, said that on the eve of the elections his boss at A1 Assist, Robbie De Freitas, refused to give him time off to vote.

But Black was determined to make his mark so he ignored his boss and took time off to cast his ballot – that decision to exercise his right to vote cost the tow-truck driver his job.

At least 18 million citizens voted last Wednesday.

“He (De Freitas) called me to say I must bring back his truck because I was now fired,” Black said angrily yesterday.

Black, who earns R1 300 a week and has a wife and four children, said he was upset by the turn of events.

Seated next to his wife in their modest Brixton home in Johannesburg, Black described the events leading up to the loss of his job.

“They called me to say I had to work, but I said I can’t work on the public holiday because I had to vote,” Black said.

Even though last Wednesday was declared a public holiday to allow eligible citizens to vote, Black said that his boss De Freitas had told him that he alone would decide who would be allowed to have time off.

“He likes to fire people, but this time he took on the wrong person – I’m a Dutchman, I’ll stand up for my rights,” said Black.

He was even more infuriated two days later when he discovered that his boss had withheld his wages.

Distraught and disappointed Black’s wife, Debbie, 40, said: “We need the money. I don’t see how people can be this cruel to just fire someone.”

Contacted for comment yesterday, De Freitas’s secretary who only identified herself as Bianca, initially said he could not respond because he was in a meeting.

Later De Freitas declined to comment, saying he was still in consultation with his lawyers.

But Black insisted the matter was far from over.

He has been advised by the Independent Electoral Commission to approach the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration for help with his situation.