The latest industry news to your inbox.


I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities


I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy


Big Concerts mobilises lawyers over Sara ‘racism’ claims

The leading promoter has accused the SA Roadies Association, which provides on-the-job training for South African youth, of defamation after a string of accusatory tweets

By Jon Chapple on 31 Aug 2018

Femi Kuti will play Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100

Femi Kuti will play Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100

image © Steven Pisano

South Africa’s biggest promoter, Big Concerts, is considering taking legal action against the South African Roadies Association (Sara) and its president, Freddie Nyathela, over allegedly defamatory remarks posted about the company on social media.

Nyathela has used the impending visit of Global Citizen Festival, the UN-backed series of benefit concerts, to South Africa (Beyoncé and Jay-Z will headline Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, held in Johannesburg on 2 December) to once more draw attention to what he sees as the company’s failure to nurture young – especially black – backstage talent in the country.

The dispute dates back to at least the turn of the millennium, with a report in the 3 April 2000 issue of Pollstar reporting Sara – which provides young people with accredited training in ‘backstage’ skills including lighting, sound, staging, power, rigging, AV and production – had organised protests against the alleged “racist activities of Big Concerts”. “Big Concerts doesn’t want visiting personnel to conduct workshops for the disadvantaged,” said Nyathela at the time.

“They’re against technical and production skills development, and the sharing of information.”

Both Nyathela and Sara have spent the past two weeks furiously tweeting at Global Citizen, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and Big Concerts and its parent company, Live Nation, accusing them of, among other things, “systemic racism” and “Apartheid”-like conduct for their alleged support for “the development of the industry and youth empowerment in Europe/UK and [the] Americas but not in Africa”.

In a latter dated 23 August 2018, Big Concerts’ lawyers, George van Niekerk and Wim Steyn of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENSafrica), accuse Nyathela and Sara of conducting an “extensive and malicious smear campaign against our clients” and Attie Van Wyk, Big Concerts’ founder and chairman, “with the view to extorting some undisclosed benefit, probably of a selfish financial nature.”

ENSafrica gave Nyathela and Sara until today (31 August) to withdraw their “defamatory” statements and publish an apology, or face “urgent legal action”.

According to Sara’s lawyer, Graeme Gilfillan of Nisa Global Entertainment, the association won’t be doing so, and is “obliged to defend” its case in a court of law.

Recalling Linkin Park’s visit to Sara in 2012, Gilfillan says Sara alleges Big Concerts has previously tried to block artists and organisations from working with it. “You may recall Linkin Park were out in South Africa and wanted to do a workshop for Sara,” he tells IQ. “Big Concerts, who were the promoters, refused to have the workshop at the venue – and tried their level best to block the workshop. Undeterred, Linkin Park left the venue and went to Sara House to conduct the workshop.”

“In the current instance,” he continues, “after Sara had initiated communication direct with Global Citizen, who indicated a keenness to include skills development, Global Citizen advised that they would be consulting their production partner in South Africa: Big Concerts. True to form, Big Concerts were having no Sara, no skills development or the like, and the impact was such that Global Citizen disappeared without a single response. Five unanswered emails later, and the penny dropped.”

“This allegation or insinuation is without merit”

Justin van Wyk, son of Attie and Big Concerts’ CEO, dismisses Sara’s allegations as baseless, pointing to Global Citizen’s training scheme for South Africa, the Global Citizen Skills Training Program, which includes an event management and production element – and which the promoter “intends to get behind in a big way”.

“Global Citizen published a request for proposals on 20 August,” van Wyk explains. “Mr Nyathela knows, or should know, that interested parties have until 3 September to submit their proposals, and that after a review of the proposals by a selection panel, shortlisted organisations will be asked to interview in mid-September, and the final selection will occur by the end of September.

“We’re not on the selection panel – and it’s obvious that it is not 3 September, nor the end of September, as yet – so this allegation or insinuation is without merit.”

Gilfillan says Sara disagrees, explaining that the Global Citizen Skills Training Program was not launched until 20 August – Sara has been speaking to Global Citizen since late July – and is therefore, in its opinion, “a Johnny-come-lately, knee-jerk reaction” to “Sara taking to social media”. “The Global Citizen Skills Training Program is not accredited under SAQA (the South African Qualification Authority) in respect of event, technical and production skills, and is viewed as a sloppy attempt, it is alleged, to parade a development agenda that is doomed to fail,” he adds.

Both parties have said they reserve the right to make representations to South Africa’s Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts

That’s far wide of the mark, counters Van Wyk, who says the programme is, “in our considered opinion as the market leader for the past 29 years, the most comprehensive skills transfer programme ever undertaken for the live music industry in South Africa, and they [Sara] should fully support it if their intentions are indeed skills development and transformation of the technical and production industry.

“That’s what we’re going to be doing, and have been doing long before the most recent round of vitriol from Mr Nyathela and the extensive and malicious smear campaign that he is engaged in.”

“We are very proud of our association with Gearhouse South Africa,” he adds, “and our ongoing support of the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy, which is an accredited training provider that offers a free-of-charge, in-house annual learnership and trains technica- and production industry entrants to globally recognised best practice. To date, the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy has produced more than 450 graduates who have participated in skills transfer opportunities and skills transfer situations with international production teams at many of the first-class productions presented by Big Concerts.”

With the dispute looking increasingly likely to head to court, both parties have also said they reserve the right to make representations to South Africa’s Human Rights Commission and Equality Courts.

Global Citizen Festival Mandela 100, produced in partnership with Big Concerts, will take place on 2 December at FNB Stadium (94,736-cap.) in Johannesburg. Other performers include Usher, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Femi Kuti and Pharrell Williams with Chris Martin (Coldplay).


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.