Canceling “Days of our Lives” is a sign of more drama behind the scenes in South Africa

South Africans will say goodbye to the cast and crew of ‘Days of Our Lives’ from July.
South Africans will say goodbye to the cast and crew of ‘Days of Our Lives’ from July.
Image: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
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On South African screens at least, the sand has finally run through the hourglass for beloved soapie Days of our Lives, which will no longer be broadcast in the country from mid-July.

The decision to drop the daytime drama was announced Monday by the country’s public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation,  and is part of a drive to implement a 90% local content quota on their channels. Other American programming being dropped includes reality show The Amazing Race and comedies The Office and Whitney, according to News24Another long-running US soap, the Bold and the Beautiful, will continue for now.

South Africa’s public broadcaster has a wide-ranging public mandate and is partly funded by a TV license fee. With three free-to-air channels, a 24-hour news channel and 18 radio stations, the SABC also has a wide reach and holds much influence across South Africa (and some if its neighbors). As such, its moves and schedules are closely scrutinized by the public.

Recent sweeping changes led by the controversial COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng has created real-life drama to rival that of the shows it is canceling. While local musicians welcomed a dictate that radio stations play 90% local content, a move to ban broadcasts of local protests for fear they may inspire copycat demonstrations led to complaints by a number of human rights groups, and raised questions over the editorial independence of SABC News.

Rather than take to the streets over the erosion of a public institution, however, audiences are more likely just to flip the channel to privately owned DStv’s satellite channels, which air the latest international content. The success of American imports like Dallas, All My Children and of course Days of our Lives, has also inspired local producers to capitalize on the South African penchant for drama, creating their own long-running soap operas and high-quality telenovelas in isiZulu and other South African languages.

Motsoeneng is hoping the SABC quota will spur the growth of the local TV industry, but Thinus Ferreira, a local TV critic who covers the industry in South Africa, says the broadcaster and the industry as a whole lack the funds and resources to implement the mandate.

“South Africa’s broader TV industry also doesn’t have the capacity to make 90% brand-new local content for a TV channel and to keep funneling new content to it,”  Ferreira says. “The capacity in terms of production houses, expertise and skill and money simply doesn’t exist.”

Days of our Lives turned 50 last November and is one of the longest running scripted TV shows in history. Its two decade run on South African screens has provided afternoon entertainment and elicited plenty of eyerolls for viewers looking for a bit of escapism, with plot lines ranging from burying characters alive to demon possession.

While some on social media were relieved to hear the soap opera’s far-fetched storylines of betrayal and love triangles was soon going to be gone from their screens, others mourned the decision—and dreaded breaking the news to their mom.

Some viewers also shared how transgressive the soap opera was in their households: