By Jabu Kumalo

Since time immemorial, artists’ money has been going into the coffers of crooks.

It does not seem likely that we will ever see the day when no musician or artist will live and die as a pauper.

Can’t artists form a strong united front and tackle this matter head-on, once and for all?

According to one of their kind, Eugene Mthethwa, their cause is not helped by the disunity among them. This is fertile ground for vultures to feast.

Mthethwa told The Telegram that one of the major problems was fear.

He said: “If artists/musicians/composers could stand up together and fight this, it would come to a stop, but the challenge is that people are fearful and scared of being victimised, isolated and starved.

“This also happens due to the fact that there is no political will and clear understanding at government level.

“The complication in our sector is that it is not formalised and therefore labour movements die a natural death if established because members have no standard salaries.

“The only alternative would be for government to regulate the space, starting with defining practitioners as workers. The second thing would be if artists themselves would “establish their own collecting societies that would compete with the existing as the existing enjoy monopoly over royalty management space and thus do not care if they are managing these correctly or not”.

Mthethwa said most of the money that is supposed to be going to the creatives was going to what they labelled as the black box “and then to the big publishers who have more power in the decision-making processes and in the voting”.

“This is the system that needs to be transformed as it poses as a democratic process but in reality, it is divisive.

“For as long as we have a department headed by someone who is in denial of his lack and not surrounding himself with knowledgeable people from the sector but cronies, we are still going to see this phenomenon that has become synonymous with artist pauper deaths,” he said.

He added that those who crook artists are doing it with impunity as they do not fear the consequences.  

He reiterated that divisions among themselves were a major challenge.

“But also, some of these divisions are sponsored wherein certain individuals would sell-out to get the support of big publishers to get into the boards, committees to enjoy board and special committee fees.

“Also, the fact that there is no law that regulates the royalty management, they do as they wish knowing that the majority of members are uneducated to even understand the complexities of the policies applied and how the intransigent processes deprive them their rights.”

He said there is a lot of corruption involved in this industry than meets the eye. For example, documented songs get moved into “undocumented”.

There is also a deliberate misspelling of names of works to create confusion.

Earlier this year, Mthethwa chained himself at the offices of Samro because of what he regarded as “the unfairness and maladministration happening at Samro”.

He said it should not have been confusing, problematic or of concern that South Africa has a number of different reporting and collecting agencies like SAMPRA, RISA, RAV and Samro if they were managed correctly. 

He said this was supposed to “necessitate excellence and quality management knowing that each structure deals with a particular royalty regime”.

He said a report by the Copyright Review Commission that was assigned by the DTI ministry, presented to and adopted by parliament, reflects clearly that there is so much wrongness in the management of royalties, pointing out that Samro has been keeping more than 30% of commission/admin fees as opposed to commonly adhered to standards of not more than 20% admin and distributing to the last cent.

“Thus, these royalty collection societies can declare surplus year in, year out and you wonder where the surplus comes from,” Mthethwa said.

He said yes, the music industry has declined because the systems adopted are no longer serving the market audiences of our continent.

“These are meant for the first world countries whereby the material conditions are different from the developing countries’ material conditions,” he said.

“For example, many black people are blacklisted and therefore do not qualify to have credit cards that are required to process the downloading of music, thus many would opt to stream music and that only benefits the digital platforms more than artists in terms of the low rating they offer artists for such streaming.”

On the matter of the R300 million promised to artists, he said so far, they have not heard any answer or adequate explanation of what really happened.

Mthethwa said the report has been “kept secretly” and only the minister was giving them his word “that is always contradicting even his previously uttered words, so no one would say they know the truth”.

“We are only hoping to get the Hawks’s forensic report when it is ready,” he said.

Mthethwa said due to a lack of political will, Mzansi paid more money to international stars than locals.

“There’s no political. We have a government that gets excited to participate in international platforms and even sign bilateral agreements that they do not even understand or implement.

“Under the UNESCO Cultural Diversity Declaration, there is a clause that relates to preferential treatment which seeks to protect developing countries from being culturally bullied by the developed countries. Mzansi is a signatory to this declaration, but contrary to its meaning and purpose, it allows foreign content to dominate the airwaves and events with music and artists from the US that refused to sign the declaration.”

According to Mthethwa, the solution was the appointment of a minister or Director General who comes from this sector.

“It also requires visionaries who would be burdened by the need to transform the sector and thinkers who would think out of the box,” Mthethwa said.

It was after this action that many began to do the sit-ins at NAC, PACOFS, DSAC and GPSPORT. It highlighted the need for a different approach as sitting in boardrooms and workshops had not delivered any returns for the sector.

He still feels more than ever, they are still treated as “dogs, slaves and prisoners” by Samro and other organisations and the government.

Efforts to get comment from Samro drew a blank.

Meanwhile, 9 December, a day before Samro’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), the CEO of Samro, Mark Rosin, e-mailed Mthethwa a letter of suspension, the contents of which have been seen by The Telegram.

Among other accusations, Mthethwa was suspended include bringing bad publicity and exposure to Samro by chaining himself to the pole earlier this year.

He was also suspended for “his offending social media, TV and newspaper posts and articles that made disparaging comments about Samro”.

Apparently, he was suspended so he could not be voted into office at the AGM.

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