SA Entertainment Industry Shakes

Article by Lindiwe Karosa 

A global pandemic rapidly spreads and the world comes to a halt. Schools are closed, sports is prohibited, events are cancelled and countries have gone into lockdown.

South Africa has been in lockdown for almost two weeks now. The economic effects have rippled into the various sectors and the entertainment industry has been subjected to blows from artists across the spectrum. This begs the question, are artists becoming too demanding or have they become confident enough to expose exploitation in the name of showbiz?

Thando ‘Thabooty’ Thabethe broke her silence last night when she posted a thread on Twitter sharing why she had resigned from 5FM. The actress describes the ill-treatment she endured at the hands of 5FM top management – to have to negotiate an increment of a measly R200, to hear through the grapevine that she and her show were sacked, to be labeled and vilified by a management team that you’d expect protection from.

Prominent actress Rami Chuene took her time to school South Africans about the realities of being an artist in this country. She highlighted the different working conditions, pay scales and lack of certainty experienced on a daily basis. Artists accept the bare minimum from industry bosses because there is no alternative way to realise their dreams.

Chuene recently left TV drama series, ​The Queen ​and is rumoured to have done this because of poor treatment from the show’s production house, Ferguson Films.

Veteran actress Vatiswa Ndara confronted the Department of Sports and Arts & Culture with an open letter that shined a light on the abusive practices and little compensation artists were subjected to. She made a call to Minister Nathi Mthethwa to introduce a new legislature and guidelines that sought to protect the employee (artist) in the workplace. Her experience in the industry has allowed her to establish that there has indeed been a lack of evolution.

But it is evident that the cries of artists are deep-rooted. One can recall the time when the entire cast of the famous soap opera, ​Generations ​was fired for staging a strike because of wage disputes and zero benefits (e.g. UIF, medical aid) as workers. This occurred in 2014 and 6 years later, the discussion hasn’t changed. Is the government dragging its feet because it stands to benefit less if provisions are made to protect all artists?

Since the amalgamation of the Department of Sports and Department of Arts & Culture, the Department has been criticized for valuing athletes more than artists. Athletes often enter into better structured contracts that will continue to compensate you even when you might not be able to perform your job, whereas artists are tied to ‘no work, no pay’ principles with no benefits.

South Africa’s entertainment industry is estimated to be worth almost R200 billion making it relatively small compared to Nigeria’s. The size of the industry makes the complexities of artists’ issues greater with others accused of gatekeeping spaces to prevent an influx of new talent. Will this industry ever grow if artists continuously refuse to pass the baton?

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