Battle over Mama Afrika’s legacy continues.

Posted: December 21, 2009 in Investigative articles
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First Published in The Event newspaper:  December ’09

A long standing battle over the commemorative concert, which was to be held for one of greatest musical legends, Miriam Makeba, continues to rage between The Department of Arts and Culture, and Morris Roda Productions.  Makeba passed away on 9 November 2008 after she collapsed whilst performing on stage in Castel Volturno in Southern Italy.

The Miriam Makebe tribute concert, which was set to take place from 7 to 9 November, was cancelled by the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) just days before it was set to take place.   Themba Wasaka, director general of DAC, says it was a very difficult decision for them to take, but they were not satisfied that all the logistics were in place to host a successful event.

This would then lay the blame at the feet of promoter Morris Roda to whom the DAC had already given R3m to produce the event.  The DAC instituted legal action against Morris Roda Productions, and despite both parties filing urgent applications to the High Court in Pretoria, they managed to reach a temporary compromise.  The DAF was instructed by the judge to not interfere in the event and Morris Roda was directed to not distribute any material that would name the DAF as sponsor.  The two parties were then given 30 days in which to institute legal action against each other. The DAF threatened to sue Morris Roda Productions for the R3m, and Morris in turn threatened the DAF with legal recourse if they did not stick to their agreement. 
However the dispute really started as far back as July when Graeme Gilfillan, a trustee of the Makeba legacy, accused Morris Roda of not asking permission to produce the event.  For a while it seemed as if the concert would be cancelled, yet Morris persevered with, what he said was, the support of the Makeba grandchildren.

Vanessa Perumal of JT Communications, who handled the publicity for the event on behalf of Morris Roda, says she is very dismayed by what she calls Morris’ unethical behaviour in handling the event.   “Our business is always above board and we take care to work with only legitimate clients,” Says Vanessa, “Especially when it comes to the taxpayers’ money.”  Vanessa says that she has been dealing with Morris Roda since last year and that she decided to take him on as a client despite being warned otherwise. “I had my suspicions but I checked with the Department of Arts and Culture and they confirmed that an agreement was in place,” Explains Vanessa. “I then also checked with the National Heritage Council who confirmed that they are supporting the event.” 

Vanessa says what finally convinced her that the event was legitimate was when Morris paid her the requested 40% deposit. “This is something which is rumoured that he not usually does,” Says Vanessa. 

In a public statement Vanessa expressed her distress at the turn of events. “We were assured that the line-up of African and South African artists and venues had all been confirmed,” reads part of Vanessa’s statement.  She also says that despite her disappointment at the cancellation, she respects the decision taken by the DAC. Vanessa says that to date, 60% of Morris Roda Production’s invoice is still outstanding. 

The Department of Arts and Culture’s director for legal services, Anil Singh, says the matter is now resting in the hands of the department’s attorneys.  “They have already served Morris Roda with a letter of demand for the return of the R3m,” Says Anil, “And it’s envisaged that Morris will not pay. The summons has been prepared and after the expiration of the 10 day period for the letter of demand, the summons will be served on him. If he defends the matter the normal litigation process will follow.”

In November, Morris Roda said that the free concert, which will include overseas artists such as Manu Dibango, Angelique Kidjo and Salif Keita, will take place in December, however he could not be reached to confirm the date or for further comment.

Miriam Makeba’s grandchildren initially supported the event saying that it would serve as an important reminder of her great legacy. They have since expressed their sadness at the turn of events.

 Footnote:  Morris Roda has since confirmed that the event will take place on Human Rights day march 21st 2010, at the Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown Johannesburg.

The End

Astrid Stark


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