Johannesburg - It has been a week of high drama behind the scenes of an epic new Zulu historical series called Uselwa, which is intended for broadcast on SABC1 towards the end of the year.
By Thursday night, it seemed the production, which is more than half shot already, would be canned after line producer Megan Firth was asked to resign and executive producer Mkhomazi Mashinini was facing a revolt from the cast and crew over allegations of nonpayment, cost-cutting, late scripts, bad rates, no medics on set, a shortage of wardrobe and transport, inexperienced production assistants and swirling claims of inappropriate sexual behaviour from a senior manager on set.
Responding to questions from City Press, SABC spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said: “We are aware that the production is facing some challenges, hence there is a commissioning editor who is assigned to visit KwaZulu-Natal to deal with these challenges.”
He reiterated the SABC’s stance that sexual harassment would not be tolerated.
By Friday night, the SABC had taken over the Uselwa set at Shakaland in Eshowe and shut it down. It will move a new producer in to complete the shoot.
According to three sources on set, where a crew of 80 are staying, Mashinini – of NCA Productions – had his car keys removed, was locked in his room and was due to be taken to the police, where a case of fraud and embezzlement was to be opened against him.
They say the SABC’s commissioning editor, Ntando Mhlongo, recounted how he had accompanied Mashinini to the bank, where it was discovered that the production’s account had only R13.65 left in it. The drama is believed to have a budget of well over R4 million.
Communicating with City Press by email, Mashinini denied he was locked in his room and said: “I have not been informed of any case that has been opened against me. Perhaps the person who is alleged to have opened it might shed some light.”
The Eshowe police were unable to comment as City Press was not able to provide a case number.
Mashinini denied some of the crew’s claims, asked for more clarity on others and said: “I have done everything humanly possible to address every issue that was raised with me and/or my office. I do admit that there have been challenges. Hence, action was taken to dismiss some of the staff members who were found not to have delivered.”
Firth said: “I deny the claims made against me. My books are open for scrutiny and I have only operated on requests from production. The defiance from some crew has been the main cause of many production delays and expenses, which I tried to avoid. I had to suffer clear and utter abuse, which led me to remove myself from set.”
In a follow-up statement yesterday, Kganyago said: “As soon [SABC staffers] have completed collating all the information from the set, they will provide us with a comprehensive report, which will guide us in terms of what action we should take.”
The cast and crew said they had held the production together despite the issues because it was a powerful story worth telling. They were pleased the series would be completed.