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Sara slams lack of regulation in South Africa

The South African Roadies Association (Sara) has hit out at the loose regulations governing live events production in South Africa, as it emerged no one has been held responsible for the death of a rigger over two years ago at the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100.

Speaking to the Weekly SA Mirror of 4 June, Freddie Nyathela, president of Sara, describes the sector as a “free for all”, blaming the Department of Employment and Labour for dragging its feet on a proposed new framework for the technical events production and production services industry.

Lack of transformation in the industry is ultimately responsible for the death of Siyabonga Ngodze, the 36-year-old who suffered fatal injuries after falling in the set-up for the Mandela 100 event, which featured performances from Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Ed Sheeran.

Though Ngodze’s mother has received compensation from his employer, production company Gearhouse SA, and the Department of Employment and Labour (R39,000 [US$2,900] and R35,000 [$2,600], respectively), Thembekile Ngonze says she has yet to see justice for her “beloved son”.

“I cannot understand why it is taking so long to have someone prosecuted”

“I cannot understand why it is taking so long to have someone prosecuted for the death of my son”, says the 56-year-old.

According to the Weekly SA Mirror, progress in resolving the case has been delayed by successive lockdowns in South Africa. However, a Department of Employment and Labour investigation found that Gearhouse SA had failed to comply with the provisions of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

In addition to the death of Ngodze, the Mandela 100 event, held to celebrate the 100th birthday of the late Nelson Mandela, was also marred by reports of widespread lootings and assaults, blamed by the venue, FNB Stadium, on the lack of police presence.

The concert raised billions of dollars for education, HIV prevention and anti-poverty initiatives in Africa.


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Rigger dies amid turbulent Global Citizen: Mandela 100

A rigger who lost his life setting up Sunday’s Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 in Johannesburg has been named as Siyabonga Ngodze.

Ngodze, an experienced rigger who formed part of the charity concert’s production team, plummeted to his death on Saturday 1 December. He was helping to set up the stage for the mega-event, hosted by South African comedian Trevor Noah and headlined by Beyoncé and Jay-Z, at FNB Stadium (94,736-cap.) in the Soweto township.

Global Citizen spokesperson Andrew Kirk says the festival is looking into the circumstances surrounding Ngodze’s death. “A rigger working on behalf of a production partner for the Global Citizen Festival suffered fatal injuries arising from a fall at the site,” he tells South Africa’s Sunday Times.

“Global Citizen has been advised that the deceased was an experienced rigger and was wearing all appropriate safety gear and equipment. The circumstances around his death are being investigated.

“Global Citizen extends our deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased and all of his colleagues and friends.”

The free-ticketed Mandela 100 event – which also featured performances by Ed Sheeran, Eddie Vedder, Pharrell Williams and Chris Martin, Wizkid, Usher, Femi Kuti and Cassper Nyovest – aimed to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, the late Marxist revolutionary and former South African president, and continue his fight against extreme poverty.

“Global Citizen extends our deepest sympathies to the family of the deceased”

Current South African president Cyril Ramaphosa used the festival to pledge significant commitments towards education (R60 billion/US$4.4bn and youth projects (R2bn/$147.5m).

“Nelson Mandela has taught us that it is not the influential, the rich or the powerful who make history, but those citizens who are determined to make a difference,” he said.

Actions taken by ‘Global Citizens’ in the run-up to the event are additionally worth nearly R100bn ($7bn), according to the Global Poverty Project, the organisation behind Global Citizen.

Despite the positive economic impact, the Mandela 100 event was also marred by reports of violent assaults and thefts on concertgoers exiting the stadium. “The criminals were basically having a field day,” said Zikhona Tshona, a reporter for the South African news outlet eNCA, the Associated Press reports.

Jacques Grobbelaar of the venue’s operator, Stadium Management, blames the muggings on the lack of police presence, saying while security was tight when the festival kicked off, it thinned out as the evening wore on.

“What we saw happen last night in the precinct is a direct result of the lack of resources in the parking areas, on roads in, near and adjacent to the stadium and the road functions,” he tells Eyewitness News, “which in terms of the planning, were meant to be executed by the JMPD [Johannesburg Metro Police Department] and the South African Police Service.”


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Big Concerts mobilises lawyers over Sara ‘racism’ claims

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).


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