The filming of Uzalo has abruptly ceased with production that has shut down on the set of one of the SABC and South Africa's biggest and most-watched TV shows. This comes after the South African public broadcaster's failure to pay producers. by Thinus Ferreira
The move sent shockwaves through South Africa's TV industry on Monday.
Uzalo is the most watched show on SABC1 and on South African television drawing in excess of 9 million viewers per episode, however the SABC is no longer able to afford the show.
Last week SABC executives told parliament the public broadcaster will only have R26m left at the end of August while its debt has spiralled to over R694m. It means that the SABC owes 27 times more than the money it has left.
The SABC said it's struggling to pay to keep "water and lights" on, then staffers and freelance workers, and pays what it can to other service providers and producers.
After years of mismanagement, corruption, looting and irregular expenditure of hundreds of millions of rands, the SABC is once again hovering on the brink of collapse, desperate for another government bailout since its previous one in 2009 when it got a R1.47bn Nedbank loan guaranteed by the government.
PRODUCTION SHUT DOWN
Stained Glass Pictures that produces Uzalo said production shut down on Monday on the KwaMashu set prime time drama series until the SABC starts paying.
It follows two weeks after producers within South Africa's TV community started buzzing that Uzalo is in serious trouble as well and is facing the impossible choice of either firing crew and staffers or having to shut down if it's not going to get paid by the SABC within two weeks. That has now happened.
"It's so sad because they're such sweet people and don't want to lose their contract and they're still a relatively new production company, trying to hard to create good work for the SABC," a producer not directly involved with the show but with connections there, said.
Channel24 was reliably informed that other production companies are likely set to follow Stained Glass Pictures, with producers who are at wit's end and fed-up with the SABC who can no longer continue to take make content for the public broadcaster and take out bank loans to finance it, instead of actually getting paid by the SABC who has simply shifted the cost burden to producers.
"As a company we carried the cost of production for as long as we were able to, while waiting for the outstanding payments to be settled by the public broadcaster," says Pepsi Pokane, Uzalo's executive producer.
Uzalo will remain shut down for at least this week until the end of August with the cast and crew who suspended their services since they were not paid on 25 August. It means that the window between production and episode delivery to the SABC will narrow by at least a week as SABC1 starts to use up and play out the reserve episodes.
Stained Glass Pictures says the production staff have exercised their right to withhold services until they receive their August salaries. "We are in constant communication with the broadcaster and are confident that this will all be resolved in the next week," the company said.
Ironically the SABC reached out to Stained Glass Pictures to help after the disastrous implosion of its other TV drama, Uselwa where all the money is gone and with the cast and crew unpaid and the broadcaster having no footage to show for it.
The SABC asked Stained Glass Pictures to take over managing the Uselwa crisis, although Uzalo is now itself experiencing a crisis.
"Is the government ever going to let the SABC fail?" asked a TV executive who previously worked for the SABC as a producer but who is no longer doing work for the SABC. "Why isn't the government approving another SABC bailout and delaying the inevitable? Production companies have been made to suffer when they haven't had anything to do with causing this crisis".
'EXPERIENCING DIRE FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES'
The SABC asked for comment about the Uzalo shutdown on Monday night again cited it's precarious financial position.
"The SABC has reported on numerous platforms that it is experiencing dire financial difficulties with the corporation unable to meet its monthly financial obligations, after making critical payments," said Neo Momodu, SABC spokesperson.
"Payment arrangements are being made with suppliers, service providers and creditors and we are proactively engaging with these stakeholders."
"We remain concerned that a financially distressed public broadcaster will not only have negative effects on its staff, the local production industry, small, medium and micro enterprises, but on every citizen," Neo Momodu said.