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Soap opera cast given protection after star is shot

THE STARS of South Africa's top television soap opera have been offered police protection after an actor was injured in a shooting outside her house and investigators learnt of threats to three other cast members.

The warning to the stars of Generations - a four-nights-a-week South African-made soap with three million viewers - comes as Florence Masebe, who portrays a young musician, is recovering in hospital after 24 shotgun pellets were fired at her car two weeks ago.

Staff at the Generations production office in Johannesburg said yesterday they did not think the threats nor the attack on Ms Masebe, 27, could be connected to a current storyline. "The matter is in the hands of the police. Our role is to keep morale high and minimise speculation,'' said the show's publicist, Sandile Ngidi.

South African "soapies", as they are known, have gained a reputation for tackling burning issues, such as the crisis in education and domestic violence. One highly popular soap, Soul City, was launched with an Aids education message and is partly funded with British money.

Generations - a kind of black EastEnders - is shown at 8pm on the public broadcasting channel, SABC1. The Star newspaper's television critic previewed last night's episode: "Karabo learns that Mandla sent flowers to another woman. Look at it this way, honey, it could have been to another man.''

Police confirmed that they were concerned for three actors in the soap- Sello Maake ka Ncube, who is also a resident director at the prestigious Johannesburg Market Theatre, Fezile Mpela and Carol Mogale.

But they would not confirm a report in The Star that Ms Mogale had been stalked and that there was a price on her head, nor that she had been the intended victim when Ms Masebe was attacked outside her home.

South African showbusiness contacts said that stalkers, abusive phone calls and public confrontations were a considerable problem in a country where "real-life" soaps are a new phenomenon.

One agent said Ronnie Nyakale, a tough character in Yizo Yizo - a soap which addresses education and youth issues - had been forced to change address after receiving threats. David Rees, who played a likeable character in the glamorous soap Egoli, was called "white trash'' in the street because his character dated a mixed-race woman.

Mr Ngidi, the Generations spokesman, said the attack and threats had not affected the show, which is recorded three months in advance.