This week has been shell-shocked by the last minute withdrawal of free-to-air commercial channel from the South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAS), which takes place this weekend at Gallagher Estate in Midrand.

Latest word yesterday from SAFTAS custodian, the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), was: “The SAFTAS will continue as planned, no shows will be taken out”.

All the judging was completed in the first week of February, which means it’s possible that some people who worked on the soapies Rhythm city and Scandal and music show Club 808 may have already been judged winners of a SAFTAS Golden Horn Trophy.

I left a message for Monde Twala, group head of Channels at yesterday to follow up the brief press release that sent out on Monday announcing its withdrawal. I received the following statement in response:

“ has tried, on numerous occasions, to address our concerns with the SAFTAS committee over the past two years. Lack of transparency and unclear processes are some of the reasons is withdrawing its participation from this year’s awards.

“The credibility of the SAFTAS should be a priority and this necessitates a greater need for transparency and fairness. There should be a well outlined judging process and formalised structure in the form of an Academy that will manage and take full responsibility without bias or favour towards a single broadcaster.

“, therefore, recognises that efforts need to be directed towards achieving a working structural committee that has clear objectives and takes full accountability for the process. The current structure does not work and needs to be urgently revised.

“We have formally submitted a list of concerns to the NFVF representatives and the chairman of the SAFTAS committee Mr Eddie Mbalo. has withdrawn its participation until all matters raised are addressed.”

On Monday the NFVF and the SAFTAS expressed their disappointment at’s withdrawal and stressed that the SAFTAS is an industry initiative and its committee representative of the local broadcasters, two cinema chains and industry organisations.

In the statement SAFTAS chairperson Eddie Mbalo noted that Keshni Rajoo,’s representative on the committee, had not raised’s concerns to the committee prior to withdrawing participation in the competition.

Mbalo described these latest events as “a blow to the entire film and television industry” and he’s right. But, if a party feels as strongly as obviously does, then it is entitled to withdraw although I can’t help feeling sorry for the nominees, not to mention the SAFTAS organisers.

The statement asserts that the SAFTAS should be run as an Academy. Right from inception that has been the long term goal – the creation of an Academy that would take the SAFTAS over from temporary custodian the NFVF. The delay in setting up such an Academy I can only assume has been to do with issues of funding, because it would have to be funded by the industry, including broadcasters and cinema chains.

It’s sad that an initiative that started out with the best of intentions (ie. to honour and acknowledge the best work in the local film and television industry) should be plagued with problems at this late stage and especially after the recent furore surrounding SABC2 soapie 7de Laan’s decision not to enter the SAFTAS. Come next week, the SAFTAS committee, the NFVF AND the industry will have to start sorting things out to ensure there is a SAFTAS in 2013. The South African industry needs its own prestigious national awards.

Source: Screen Africa – Joanna Sterkowicz