Edward Tsumele

The Umoja cast was sent packing back back to South Africa from Canada last week because of the artists' "appalling" behaviour show creators Thembi Nyandeni, Todd Twala and producer Joe Theron told the media yesterday.

The producers have denied claims that they were forced to cut short the tour of Canada because of a strike over daily allowances by dancers and singers.

Reacting to a story in Sowetan last week [that Umoja's producers cancelled their Canadian tour because of a money dispute with the producers], the producers yesterday dismissed the claims.

Nyandeni said the whole cast threatened not to perform when she withheld part of the money for three members as punishment for misbehaving.

"They put a gun to my head saying they were in solidarity with their three colleagues and would not perform. It was blackmail. I had to reinstate them to avoid an embarrassing situation," she said.

The producers stunned the media by sketching a pattern of what they described as highly unprofessional behaviour by the artists, which led to their Canadian promoter cancelling the tour, four weeks before its scheduled time.

"One of the cast members tried to commit suicide by drinking a laced substance after a dispute with another artist over a boyfriend who is also a cast member.

"These kids were sleeping around among themselves, which is against the rules of Umoja. One senior member who is a veteran artist we employed only five months ago as a narrator for the Canadian cast beat up another cast member," said an irate Nyandeni.

"The problem is that these kids are unruly, they insist on sleeping around and drinking alcohol in large quantities in our presence. When we confront them and discipline them, they turn around and claim that we are exploiting them. They can call me a strict Mzalwane (born-again Christian), but as long as they are in Umoja we will mete out discipline.

"Umoja, like any other company, has rules, and we are not going to tolerate a situation where there is drunkenness and drugs are abused," said Twala.

Nyandeni, who was the tour manager when the incident took place in Canada, said what happened was shameful. She said it was the first time that an Umoja cast had faced such a challenge.

"One of the cast members fell on stage because she was drunk or had taken something. I'm not going to allow a situation where the Umoja cast embarrasses the country with such bad behaviour abroad."