SWIFT Takes Proactive Steps in South Africa
With the self-driven Zanele Mthembu at the helm, Sister’s Working in Film and Television (SWIFT) is bound to go from strength to strength.
Mthembu’s extensive film career that spans over 20 years includes independently producing local content, as well as being a lecturer in visual communications at Tshwane University of Technology. This means that she brings a wealth of experience to her role.
Chairperson Zanele Mthembu says, “I’m at a stage in my life that I call preferment where I do what I prefer to do. My focus is helping new entrants into the film industry as well as helping them to understand how to navigate the industry.”
Mthembu stresses the importance of the mentoring that she received when she was making inroads into the industry. “I’m forever indebted to those that gave me an opportunity and mentored me. I was the only black female in production, and this enabled me to understand how television works, how to research and write a story.”
Mthembu explains further. “Having said that, I’m aware of how much things have not changed, over 27 years later. Understanding challenges that are faced by Black women in the industry, particularly, I want to make it better and different for others.”
The many components of SWIFT’s work allow Mthembu to pay it forward. In 2018, the organization launched the #ThatsNotOk campaign, spearheading the attempt to address and eradicate the sexual harassment that was endemic in the film industry in South Africa, and the organization became known for that initiative.
Building on that, SWIFT has also introduced The Code of Good Practice. People on a production sign this Code, acknowledging correct set behavior and that they will not perpetuate any type of harassment on set. Together with TOKISO – an independent resolution company, SWIFT produced a booklet called The Sexual Harassment Guide, as well as a Sexual Harassment Toolkit.
An additional tier that is being pioneered is to have a Safety Contact Officer (SCO) Program. Because most people in this industry are freelancers, they do not have the same protection as employees in other sectors. The Safety Contact Officers are individuals who are mainly social workers with counseling experience. They know the industry and have psychosocial support training, as well as being trained in the legal framework of dealing with any cases when they arise. In this way they can contain the situation and refer accordingly.
The Safety Contact Officer can help investigate, find witnesses and keep records, thereby assisting the complainant to articulate what happened. Mthembu states that, although ultimately the aim is to hold people to account, individuals still need to reach the point where this system is trusted.
As well as the advocacy work SWIFT does, Mthembu is enthusiastic about the networking that takes place at their gatherings. “Here panel discussions with various women who are established in the film industry, showcase the magnitude of roles that are available to those entering the film industry.”
Mthembu notes, “Everything has a season. There was a season for us to be at the forefront of Sexual Harassment. We have also weathered the storm of Covid, where our numbers dropped from 400 to 200, but we’re still here rebuilding SWIFT and our numbers are starting to climb again. Now, it’s a season of growth, and of seizing the moment for women.”