Equity moves to turn unbanning around

Contrary to most reports, the decision by the council of the British actors’ union, Equity, to lift its ban on sales to South Africa is neither universally welcomed by South African actors, nor irreversible.

“Speaking personally, as a black actor, it makes me very angry,” John Kani commented on the council’s decision to end the prohibition of sales of television and radio programmes to South Africa. “It is so hypocritical. Equity in its rejection of apartheid felt a moral obligation to boycott South Africa. Are they supposing things have changed? Instead, I suspect the politics of the stomach have triumphed.”

His response was very different from the enthusiasm of organisations like the SABC, and theatre folk like Sun City’s entertainment director Hazel Feldman who found “any decision to lift any ban commendable” – and Des Lindberg, head of the South African Association of Theatre Management who claimed some credit in lobbying Equity people to lift the “meaningless” ban.

Kani said South African actors would suffer as “has-been West End actors” and dusty British Broadcasting Corporation programmes were imported, instead of developing work with a South African identity.

“I don’t see anything to jump around about,” commented Johannesburg actress Gcina Mhlope. British film actress Glenda Jackson has said she will oppose the decision and other actresses and Equity members – including Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Christie – are reportedly considering demanding a special meeting to renew the ban.

The 40-year-old prohibition by the British musicians’ union on sales to South Africa, remains in effect, and would complicate sales of programmes.

The London Anti-Apartheid Movement’s executive secretary, Mike Terry, told Weekly Mail the movement deplored the council’s decision. “It overturns the express wishes of Equity’s membership. On a number of occasions members have voted to adopt this policy. But he said, the result was “a temporary setback, not a defeat.” 

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail newspaper

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