CWUSA vs M-Net


The standoff between the Creative Workers Union of South Africa (CWUSA) and pay-TV
channel M-Net continues. CWUSA has used public protests to pile pressure on M-Net to
review actor’s contracts and labour practices after what they term the “unfair dismissal’
of actor Tony Kgoroge from M-Net’s new soap The Wild.

According to the president of CWUSA, Mabutho “Kid’ Sithole, they started their public
protest by picketing the launch of The Wild at Montecasino in Johannesburg on 3 April,
and followed up with a march to M-Net’s offices in Randburg on 20 April.

Kgoroge refused to sign a contract with M-Net that would have seen him lose all
commercial exploitation rights and the right to residuals. M-Net states that Kgoroge was
re-cast, but Sithole says “re-cast’ is a “beautiful sugar-coated’ word to disguise the way
the broadcaster treated the actor.

In a roundtable discussion on Talk Radio 702 on 13 April M-Net’s head of Regulatory
and Legal Affairs, Karen Willenberg, disputed CWUSA’s claims by saying: “It’s been
repeatedly said that M-Net doesn’t pay repeat fees or residuals. This is not a fair
statement. M-Net’s contracts are a buy-out, so we pay for repeat fees and residuals
upfront. The structure of our contracts is different to other broadcasters.’

M-Net communications manager Lani Lombard has explained to Screen Africa that,
although repeats of local programming and programme sales are not known factors
beforehand, each contract is negotiated separately and the content of individual
contracts are confidential.

On 702 Willenberg added that it was also incorrect to say that Kgoroge was unfairly
dismissed. She said the first step in M-Net’s contract process is to issue a letter of
intent saying they wish to cast an actor in a production, and the second stage is for the
actor to sign a cast agreement. “Only when the actor signs the agreement is he
considered by M-Net to be employed. Mr Kgoroge did not sign the cast agreement and
therefore was not employed by M-Net.’

Actors at the launch of The Wild, however, said that scenes with Kgoroge as Tiro
Lebone had already been shot before he was replaced by Putla Sehlapelo, and had to be
reshot in time for the launch.

Sithole says actors deserve the right to be consulted on the terms of their employment
and not simply have contracts imposed on them. The union also claims that Kgoroge
was dismissed via SMS.

Public protest

During the march to M-Net’s offices members of CWUSA sang struggle songs, including
the controversial phrase “Dubula iM-Net’ (“Kill M-Net’). Sithole says the singing of these
songs have a very serious context as they inspired the struggle against apartheid and
still inspire those struggling against injustice.

CWUSA handed over a list of demands to M-Net, including the immediate re-instatement
of Kgoroge; urgent amendment to individual contracts offered to the cast and crew
members of The Wild; standardisation of contracts; a collective bargaining recognition
agreement between CWUSA and M-Net in line with the Labour Relations Act; and a
commitment to treat cast members with respect and dignity.

CCMA hearing

Sithole says the ball is now in M-Net’s court and they have given the broadcaster 10
days to respond to their demands. At time of going to print they were also set to
appear before the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) with M-
Net on 6 May to address the issue of fair employment.

Lombard responded to the latest CWUSA action by saying: “M-Net respects Mr Kgoroge
and his union’s decision to refer the matter to the CCMA and we want the process to
follow its due course.’

CWUSA will also use the CCMA meeting to show them how to proceed and Sithole
emphasises that they are not closing their doors to a sensible resolution. “However, if
M-Net is stubborn we will be equal to the task and will respond with a massive
campaign,’ says Sithole.

He emphasises that CWUSA will use all its influence, including the affiliation with Cosatu
(Congress of South African Trade Unions) and the ruling ANC (African National
Congress) party, as well as their international labour union partners. Sithole says they
will weigh their options, but mentioned that a boycotting campaign would be one of the

The public protests are meant to show that the unfair treatment of actors in South
Africa is widespread. “This is not a Tony Kgoroge issue; this is an entire industry issue.
Members of CWUSA are getting a raw deal all the time,’ says Sithole. CWUSA is also in
the process of finalising a meeting with public service broadcaster SABC to discuss
repeat fees, among other issues.

Sithole is convinced that the amount of publicity the Tony Kgoroge issue has received
has helped their cause, with “some very notable forces’ joining the fight, including
comedian David Kau and acting stalwarts Fana Mokoena and Tobie Cronje.

Lombard says they cannot say whether the publicity from the Tony Kgoroge issue has
influenced viewer interest in The Wild. “The public’s reaction to this ground breaking
show has been phenomenal and we trust that The Wild is fast building a loyal

SAGA negotiations

Meanwhile the South African Guild of Actors (SAGA), which enjoys the support of many
of the cast of The Wild, continues to follow the route of negotiation instead of

According to SAGA legal chair, Hans Strydom, the guild held a meeting with M-Net on 12
April to commence talks on a possible review of M-Net’s standard agreement for actors.

“SAGA requested that M-Net consider setting up a standing contract committee with
which SAGA could meet on a regular basis in order to work through the standard
contract to see if there are ways to make it more user friendly to both parties. In the
process SAGA hopes to also discuss the contentious issues of repeat and commercial
exploitation fees,’ says Strydom.

Lombard comments that M-Net and SAGA decided to meet regularly to discuss relevant
issues. “We believe that these talks will create a better understanding of the pay-
television environment in which M-Net operates as well as the expectations of actors and
their agents’.


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