More claims against state arts bosses

State arts funding body is accused of creating false proposals using artists’ names, of splurging on trips for its board and of bullying whistle-blowers, reports Charl Blignaut

Every day for over a year at 11am, Freddie Nyathela sends out an angry tweet to Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa, accusing him and his department of abusing the public purse and not caring about developing the nation’s artists.

Nyathela is the founder and president of the SA Roadies Association, which runs a school teaching young South Africans the technical production skills needed to stage concerts and live events.

Fake proposals

Almost three years ago, Nyathela was told of a proposal that the Roadies submitted to the state arts funding body, the National Arts Council (NAC).

He was perplexed because he says he never submitted that proposal for an ongoing partnership starting at R350 000 a year from the NAC to support the school.

Once he got his hands on the proposal which City Press obtained, he reported the NAC to Parliament and the department.

And although it was never funded, the proposal, which came from the office of NAC chief executive Rosemary Mangope, became the subject of two investigations.

“It’s a fake proposal. I never submitted it. There are many stories like this, many documents like this over the years. It’s how they siphon off funds for themselves. It’s a long-running scheme. They will use artists names to do what they want,” said Nyathela.

In response, NAC spokesperson Janet Molekwa said: “Please note that the matter is currently under investigation and we are unable to speak on it until the investigation is finalised.”

Mthethwa and his department declined to comment.

Nyathela says the “fake” proposal jeopardised the Roadies’ chances of receiving funding for their real proposal to the NAC for equipment. He says that eventually, Mthethwa ordered a forensic investigation into the matter and appointed a company called Business Innovations Group. Mthethwa then released a report on the outcome in October 2016 which cleared the NAC.

“I took it to the Public Protector and they are investigating now,” said Nyathela.

One of the questions hanging over the original investigation is that the investigator worked at the Development Bank of Southern Africa in the forensic audit division and was acquainted with Mangope who worked there as a divisional executive.

“After I went to the Public Protector, the minister then called for another investigation, which is now under way,” says Nyathela.

He also questioned why, in the same batch of proposals from Mangope’s office, the NAC was proposing to fund the five star Legacy Hotels group to host musicians in a restaurant at the DaVinci Hotel in Sandton.

Molekwa says the hotel never received funds, which went only to the artists via an agent.

Board answers City Press

Last week City Press reported on the NAC’s R50 000 funding of a schools art education project, Lalela, owned by Andrea Kerzner. Parliament heard how Mangope failed to declare a longstanding relationship between the Kerzner and Mangope families and that Mangope awarded herself an irregular salary increase. The NAC did not respond to the claims.

This week, NAC board chair Hartley Ngoato dismissed claims he worked with Mangope to capture the board and claimed Mangope had no idea Lalela was attached to Kerzner when she signed the contract and that her salary increase was a mistake. Mangope is yet to face disciplinary action.

Mangope went on to fund Lalela with a further R1.8 million, still apparently not knowing Kerzner was involved even though City Press has seen documents in which NAC staff express shock and unhappiness at the Lalela funding.

Splashing out on board trips

Molekwa also denied there was anything irregular about a number of NAC-funded trips to high-profile events by several members of its board.

These include trips to musician and original NAC board member Ray Phiri’s funeral in Mpumalanga, the Macufe Mangaung African Cultural Festival in Bloemfontein, and the Crown Gospel Music Awards in Durban.

Former NAC board members this week told City Press that such trips were kept to a minimum by previous boards because staff working on these projects should visit for work purposes, not board members.

They say council would even hire a minibus if they wanted to attend a funeral, and seldom arrange flights, hired cars and accommodation on the NAC’s account.

But it is particularly Phiri’s funeral that has tongues wagging at the NAC.

Four board members and, allegedly, musician Mercy Phakela and a group of artists attended.

It is also one of the reasons former board member Mmathebe Moja resigned from the board. Molekwa said she could not respond to the allegations in the time available.

Curious contradictions

Ngoato spoke of the “mess” he inherited when he took over the board, claiming that the previous board was not dissolved only because they were improperly appointed by Mthethwa (the positions were advertised only in The New Age and Sunday Independent) but also because four members were questionably receiving funds directly from the NAC.

Two of these, he said, made it on to the new board but one resigned when he raised the issue.

Moja has been the only board member to resign. She laughed when City Press repeated Ngoato’s claims, and vehemently denied them.

She says she quit because she was unable to do her job, and questioned the council’s spending on the trip to Phiri’s funeral.

She also claims nobody listened to her when she raised issues of poor governance, strategic planning delays and about board decisions that were sometimes taken over WhatsApp.

Molekwa denies this: “According to the resignation letter she submitted, she resigned for personal reasons ... The board does not take decisions over WhatsApp. Where matters of poor governance are concerned, the NAC has achieved three consecutive clean audits and the organisation is committed to sound governance practices.”

She would not answer claims before Parliament that more than R1 million was spent on the dissolved board but only R100 000 reported, saying this was up to the department to respond to.

The department did not respond to questions this week.

Molekwa denied further claims that Ngoato did not tell the board he was paid nearly R90 000 to investigate whistle-blower accusations about Lalela, and Mangope’s salary increase.

“He acknowledged payment for the investigation,” she said. Sources on the board claim otherwise.

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