LOCAL soapie, Our Times, has parted ways with 26 of its 50 cast members over a salary disagreement.
According to the soapie’s producer, Motheea Mpharoane, the 26 cast members’ one-year contracts were terminated after he failed to meet their expectations. Some of the departing cast members told the Weekender on condition of anonymity they had continued to receive “paltry” salaries despite being promised their remuneration would improve.
Our Times is a production of Mpharoane’s Thetsane-based Landlocked Entertainment and delves on the themes of betrayal, tragedy, romance and tradition among others.
The soapie was aired on South African broadcaster eTV’s continental service e-Africa in January this year until March. Mpharoane also inked a one-year deal with the Lesotho National Broadcasting Services (LNBS) in February to provide 260 episodes, with 120 episodes already completed.
Mpharoane said he had failed to deliver the lofty heights envisioned at the beginning of the project, hence the decision by some cast members to jump ship.
“Before I began shooting Our Times in 2013, I researched about soapies in South Africa and found out they made approximately M300 000 per episode. I was very excited about the amount, and would always share it with the cast members to motivate them,” he said.
“We were very ambitious as a team and set high goals for ourselves. However, when things didn’t go according to plan, I couldn’t face the team. Some of them came to terms with the reality, but others could not believe it and accused me of keeping the money for myself.”
Mpharoane said claims the soapie was making a lot of money were baseless.
“We first sold Our Times episodes in January this year to eTV, but they paid a very small amount which I cannot mention. All I can say is the amount was not even five percent of what I expected,” he said.
“We won a tender to supply content to the LNBS in February this year until March next year and given close to M2 million.”
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He said the cast members started getting salaries in March this year, although they were much lower than what they had expected.
“I blame myself for making them believe they would be driving their own luxury cars by now. But the revenue we are generating does not allow us to pay them between M20 000 and M30 000 as they had expected,” said Mpharoane.
“I promised them the situation would improve with time as we would get more money next year when the LNBS contract is renewed. Some understood, but others could not accept what I said, hence we came to a mutual agreement to terminate the contracts of the latter group and settle the nine months left of their contracts.”
He indicated the soapie was yet to be broadcast on LNBS adding the delay had contributed to the “chaos”.
“When we were awarded the LNBS contract in January, we were told Our Times would be aired starting from February, but that has not happened. We were then told the soapie would be broadcast once digital migration has been effected,” Mpharoane said.
Digital migration involves shifting broadcasters from analogue to digital signals, and the process is key for opening up more frequencies and faster mobile broadband services. The digital technology affords countries such as Lesotho, with a frequency spectrum for only one channel under analogue, to accommodate 20 television channels.
Lesotho is now waiting for South Africa, which is still behind in digital migration, to also complete the process to prevent signal clashes between analogue and digital.
“I believe this delay has shattered the hopes of our cast members as we had hoped to increase their salaries with the money from the renewal of the LNBS contract in March every year,” he said.
“But since it has not yet been aired, they didn’t see the salary increases happening. I have also lost hope.”
Mpharoane said the silver lining to the departures was the reduction in the number of cast members, adding they would continue with those left behind.
“If you were to compare our cast members with other popular soapies, it becomes apparent we had too many people. I am happy now that I am left with a manageable number, which means we can pay them more money,” he said.
“I want to assure Basotho that they shouldn’t be worried about us closing down. We will continue to produce Our Times as promised, although we would need to tweak the script which is something we are already working on.”