Mama Afrika uproar

2009-11-07 13:33

THE battle for the control of Miriam Makeba’s legacy has only just begun.

Round two of this dirty fight will emerge in the next few weeks as music promoter Morris Roda, cleared by the court to go ahead with Makeba’s memorial gig, faces the trustees of the ZM Makeba Trust, who are adamant her legacy is being violated.

Makeba must be turning in her grave – barely a year after her death, South Africans are battling for ownership of her name instead of honouring her legacy and wishes in a dignified manner.

The tribute concert due to be held in her honour yesterday was cancelled when the main parties ended up in court after the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) and the ­National Heritage Council dumped Roda.

City Press understands that Roda approached the diva’s grandchildren, Lumumba and Zeni Lee, to stage a concert in Makeba’s honour and they allegedly gave him the green light.

Roda presented the idea to the DAC and they in turn blessed him with a R3 million sponsorship deal – without checking copyright issues.

A source says a feud then broke out because Makeba’s grandchildren wanted to take over the memorial gig. But Roda had already signed contracts with the department and had been paid. In turn, he had paid artists who had already begun to rehearse for the two concerts – a public one at the Union Buildings planned for November 7, and one at a private, VIP gala dinner at the State Theatre two days later.

City Press can reveal that a high-level meeting took place in Pretoria between trustees of the ZM Makeba Trust Dumisani Motha and Graeme Gilfillan and Arts and Culture Minister Lulu Xingwana, resulting in the withdrawal of support for Roda.

The trustees presented the legal facts to Xingwana, stating that neither Roda nor the department could hold a concert in Makeba’s name without a licence. The DAC then announced its intention to recover the R3?million already paid to Roda.

Makeba’s name is owned by the ZM Makeba Trust and represented by Siyandisa Music and Avusa Pty Ltd.

Emails in City Press’s possession show that as early as July, DAC director-general Themba Wakashe knew that the department could not allow anybody to use Makeba’s name without authorisation from the trust but paid Roda anyway.

Other documents in our possession also show that after Makeba lost the rights to her popular song Pata Pata in 1982 to Sanford Ross, her US manager, she made arrangements to own her name and all her work.

She opened the trust and registered her name as a trademark and prescribed how she wanted her name, image, likeness, songs, recordings, films, books and web address to be used.

She nominated Motha and Gilfillan as her trustees while her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren, Lindelani and Ayanda Lee, were beneficiaries.

Avusa is an economic partner of the trust and, together with Siyandisa Music, plays an administrative and an oversight role.

Top South African law firm Webber Wentzel Bowens drew up the original documents and organised the trademark registrations for the late diva.

Leanne Billet, group legal counsel for Avusa, said Makeba spent ten years trying to set up systems to protect her name and legacy after her death. What she feared the most – the exploitation of her name – “is playing out right in front of our eyes”.

“Miriam knew that after her death people would want to exploit her name and Morris Roda should have approached the trust or Avusa to use Makeba’s name,” she said.

Billet said this was a clear example of how intellectual property was not respected in this country.

“The trust is not difficult about authorisation but it must be done in a proper and respectful way. The concert is a good idea but it should be done correctly,” said Billet.

Avusa and the trust have not decided what action they would take against Roda.

The concert has now been rescheduled for December 16, but Roda has to get the blessings of the ZM Makeba Trust.

No one in Makeba’s family was available for comment.

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