Umoja Airs dirty linen

Edward Tsumele

Edward Tsumele

The bruising wrangle between the producers of Umoja and their 40 cast members who were sent packing from Canada for "bonking and boozing" two weeks ago, continues unabated.

About 30 members of the cast reported the producers to the Creative Workers' Union of South Africa this week for alleged contractual improprieties.

Yesterday, producers Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni, in an escalating war of words between the two parties, took to the airwaves to further discredit the story of the aggrieved artists.

But on Tuesday, in the company of union representatives, the angry cast told Sowetan that Twala, Nyandeni and producer Joe Theron had distorted what happened in Canada.

They claimed they were still owed their salaries for the 20 weeks they spent performing in Canada. The cast also claimed the producers meted out selective punishment for those who contravened Umoja's strict rules and said they did not have contracts.

The aggrieved cast also hinted that the producers were also open to criticism on issues of morality.

In last week's report, Nyandeni, Twala and Theron said the cast had to leave Canada because of their behaviour, including a love triangle tiff, boozing and general bad behaviour.

They repeated the bizarre tales of boozing and bonking on Phat Joe's Show , prompting traffic reporter Ntando to say she was ashamed to be a woman.

"Two cast members fought over a boyfriend they shared, nine members of the cast were drunk in one room and when I fined the three cast members and resolved to send them back home, the others threatened not to perform in solidarity with the three," tour manager Nyandeni said indignantly on air.

"I had to be sharper than them and decided to send them back home after the Canadian promoter decided to can the show because of the problems.

"The number one rule in Umoja is that no sex is allowed and for future Umoja cast members, we are going to add the rule that they should not drink alcohol. We will test for alcohol consumption, just as we tested for Aids last year."

Spokesman for the aggrieved cast, Penuell Phangisa, shot back with their version of events.

"We decided not to perform because Thembi wanted to fine the three cast members R21000 each and send them back home. She also wanted to fine each of the nine members $110 each for chilling with the three suspended members in their room."

Chilling is a popular urban euphemism for moderate drinking with friends.

The group also denied that they binged during the tour and claimed that Nyandeni "must have smoked something" to claim that one member of the cast fell on stage because she was drunk.

The cast maintain that the cast member just "tripped backstage and fell".

"If we indeed were in the state that Thembi claims we were in, it means we became alcoholics during the last week of our five-week tour and became sex maniacs, only because we looked at sexy pictures in Hustler magazine - of which Joe Theron is the publisher," said Phangisa.

General secretary of the Creative Workers' Union of South Africa, Oupa Leboga, has leapt to the defence of the cast.

"Since we started engaging the producers, it became clear to us that the cast's working conditions were not conducive. They need to give these people contracts instead of victimising those who speak out. We want to put a stop to this victimisation," he said.