Generations: Entire cast of South African soap fired

Generations' Sophie Ndaba on a Soweto billboard Generations cast member Sophie Ndaba looks out from a Soweto billboard

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The cast of popular South African soap opera Generations has been sacked after going on strike in a long-running dispute over pay and contracts.

The show's 16 actors, watched nightly on state broadcaster SABC, were fired after resisting calls to return to work at studios in Johannesburg.

The programme will continue to air until October, while producers have indicated new actors will be recruited.

Generations follows black middle-class characters working in advertising.

It first aired in 1993, a year before South African's first democratic multi-party elections brought Nelson Mandela to power.

The programme - known as a "soapie" - is a popular draw with ordinary South Africans, providing a source of aspiration to TV viewers.

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Analysis: Pumza Fihlani, BBC News, Johannesburg

The showdown between 16 actors and the public broadcaster has caused a furore in this soap loving nation. South Africa's entertainment industry is quite small and work is difficult to come by, but the move by the cast to go on strike over pay has been praised by many.

Generations is one of the longest running and, reportedly, the top rated show in the country. Wage strikes are not uncommon in this highly politicised nation but the arts had always been spared.

Now actors are demanding more for their talent, they say they are tired of "dying poor" while generating "millions" for their bosses. Some politicians are even likening their stand to the days of the struggle - over-reaching perhaps but a sign that their "plight" has resonated with many.

The show's bosses, though, seem determined not to be strong-armed into what they have described as "Hollywood" salaries.

While words like "exploitation" have been used liberally since the story broke, very little has been said about how much the actors actually earn, only that it is below the industry standard. Critics are hopeful that the raging debate will lead to policies on how to regulate industry salaries - that it will lead to a break from the "struggling artist" tag.

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Executive producer Mfundi Vundla told a South African radio station that new cast members would be sought.

"There were other actors before, there will be other actors in the future," he told Talk Radio 702. "Generations will go on, it doesn't mean the demise of the series."

"We've been engaging with them since October last year," said Mr Vundla, who added the cast had been asked to continue recording the show while negotiations continued but had not returned to work.

"That's it, it's finished, it's a termination," he added.

Mr Vundla branded the actors' pay and contractual demands "unreasonable" and claimed 12 of South Africa's highest paid actors were Generations cast members.

The cast have contended they are underpaid and also receive no repeat fees for their work, which is screened in other African countries.

Among the actors losing their jobs is Sophie Ndaba, who has played Queen Moroka since the show's inception.

The cast's lawyer said they would seek further advice before deciding how to fight the programme makers' decision.

South Africa's Arts and Culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, said he was willing to help reach "a speedy and amicable resolution to this matter" and added the drama had helped foster the development and growth of the country's creative industries.

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