Many South Africans are doing their parts during the Covid-19 pandemic by staying at home to try to flatten the curve. But for many, lockdown has been a setback, especially for business owners and artists.Like many artists, veteran pop singer Mercy Pakela is unsure about her next paycheque. “I know what it’s like to hustle. God blessed me with the gift of hustling,” she says. “Even when I was down and out, living on the streets, I was clean, I ate and I knew where I would get money,” she adds. “But with the lockdown extension, I have no plan.
“I have no idea where I will be getting money.” In March, Mercy received R500 in royalties from Southern African Music Rights Organisation (Samro). “I don’t know why it’s R500, I don’t even know for which song. I just saw a notification of R500. And I used it long ago to buy food and toiletries,” she says. “I won’t go into the politics of royalties, but as artists, we are in a mess because we can’t even hustle for small gigs during this time. My music has been played at radio stations, but I will further investigate after lockdown why I received R500.”
Mercy says she mainly lives on handouts from friends and family. “My partner had enough money for us to buy groceries and that’s it. I have my niece and her child living with us that I have to take care of, but lockdown is forbidding me from hustling,” she says.
Last month, minister of sports, arts and culture Nathi Mthethwa announced the finalisation of the process to identify beneficiaries of the R150-million relief fund to help assist artists and athletes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent international and national lockdown. Mercy says she is in the process of applying to the fund. “The minister promised us money from the relief fund, but we are even struggling to get data to download the many forms,” she says. She feels South African legends have been neglected. “People love us and they support us, but we are financially side-lined as if we contributed nothing to the South African industry,” she says. “It’s really sad to hear that a great artist died a pauper. I don’t want to die broke.” But she isn’t giving up on her dream of teaching young people about the good old pop days.
“I still have a dream of mentoring young people. And it will come true whether there is money or not,” she says. Mercy currently has a single with Uni-Boyz called Don’t You Do.
“I collaborate with young people and make great music. How I get my next meal will be in God’s hands,” she says.