Cartoonist slaps Eskom with R25m bill

2012-09-30 15:48
Charl Blignaut, City Press
Johannesburg - One of the largest copyright abuse claims in South Africa’s history has landed Eskom with a R25m invoice.

And if they don’t pay up, say lawyers, cartoonist Mvuyisi Wilber Mfebe could lay criminal charges that may land the electricity parastatal’s bosses in jail.

Mfebe claims that Eskom stole his work to create their ongoing national campaign, called Wiseman, without ever paying him a cent.

For the past decade, the artist and shop steward has appealed to numerous government departments and tried repeatedly to settle the matter, which was eventually investigated by Eskom in 2010.

He then received word from Ayanda Noah, an Eskom group executive, asking for an invoice but refusing to admit culpability for any copyright infringement.

“Our investigation could not ascertain that you are the owner of the idea,” Noah wrote to Mfebe in correspondence in the possession of City Press.

“But we will pay an amount that we believe is fair ...” In another letter, she said the decision was made “purely on the basis of ubuntu”.

After consulting a lawyer, Mfebe supplied an invoice of R25m for the extensive use of his concept, cartoons and words that had appeared in newspapers, on radio and on television.

Public protector

The matter has also been taken up by the public protector’s office, which last week escalated it.

Their communication manager, Oupa Segalwe, told City Press: “The public protector is of the view that there is merit to Mr Mfebe’s complaint, hence the decision to investigate. A meeting has been scheduled between the parties.”

Mfebe’s dealings with Eskom began in good faith when he was working as a freelance cartoonist with Indabazethu, the now-defunct Xhosa-language edition of the Daily Dispatch.

He created a series of electricity safety cartoons about a man called Silumko (Wise Man in Xhosa) that he faxed as an educational advertising strategy proposal to Eskom’s Eastern Cape operation in 2002.

“A lady called Letitia Ndeda called me. She was tremendously happy about the idea and made a commitment that Eskom would take Silumko national and that I would drive the strategy,” said Mfebe when City Press visited him in Meadowlands.

Mfebe is now unemployed and lives alone in a modest house belonging to his aunt. He is clearly disheartened after years of trying to fight the parastatal without any resources.

Confronted Eskom

“I was shocked when I saw that they started publishing my work as a series of advertorials in Indabazethu,” he recalls. “They had removed my signature from the strips.”

When he confronted Eskom, he was told that it was the newspaper’s duty to pay him, which Indabazethu denied.

“Then I saw they had created this character Wiseman for a big campaign exactly like the one I had proposed. There were radio adverts where he used the same words as Silumko. Later, there were posters and pamphlets, and inserts in newspapers.

They even did a TV show. The character is now generated by computer, but he is the same! You can see from how he makes hand gestures, and what he wears and how he talks.”

Mfebe took his complaint to SAfm.

“They put us on radio and a Mr Zulu told me the problem was that Eskom was trying to get hold of me to meet, but couldn’t find me,” said Mfebe.

Towards the end of 2009, a general manager at the parastatal, MJ Möller, wrote to Mfebe saying Eskom denied his claims that Wiseman was based on Silumko and that “Eskom regards this matter as closed and will not entertain any further correspondence”.

Lost job

Mfebe continued to lobby, though, until Eskom agreed to conduct an investigation. In the course of his battle, Mfebe lost his job at liquor company Distell and was threatened by President Jacob Zuma with a R5m lawsuit for a cartoon he drew for the Sowetan about Zuma’s rape trial.

It seems his complaint is finally receiving attention – and has left Eskom on the back foot.

Last week, spokesperson Hilary Joffe said Eskom was not in a position to answer detailed questions.

“We are co-operating fully with the investigation by the public protector and we are due to meet on October 8 to resolve the matter,” she said.

But Mfebe’s lawyer, Asael Phetoe, said the sudden meeting was premature.

“I’ve consulted with an expert in copyright law, who is preparing a report into exactly what damages can be claimed,” he told City Press, adding that civil action was not the only remedy available.

Phetoe said he might decide to rather advise his client to pursue criminal charges against Eskom.


  • evans.s.mazi - 2012-09-30 11:23

    Cadre deployment has its consequences.If there anyone smart enough at ESKOM, he/she would know that, every piece of writing/ art out here, be it in cyberspace or libraries someone created it.It's called intellectual property.You either reference it or ask permission to use it.In academia its called plagiarism.In business, breach of intellectual property.Now, ESKOM must pay.For a company of its size and what its campaign has achieved for it, 25 million is not punitive but reasonable, otherwise, it it was me, I would have asked for more. - 2012-09-30 16:00

      I wonder if Eskom is run by educated people. Surely one of them had to be aware of the copyright infringement. Or perhaps they never thought the guy would pursue the matter.

      squeegee.pilot - 2012-09-30 16:19

      Bunch of skelms. They even steal ideas.

      claudia.meads - 2012-09-30 16:34

      Ye and if Eskom pays then the taxpayer must sue Eskom's directors personally for criminal negligence. In the end it would be the South African taxpayer that will fit the bill - yet taxpayers have done nothing wrong. Objective: sue the ANC out of the government (the only way to save SA).

      triple.aitch.9 - 2012-09-30 19:29

      Corporates do this all the time, relying on their deep legal pockets to shut up the little guy. Even the famous "You wouldn't steal a car.." clip on every DVD was using pirated audio - check the link if you think I'm lying : Hit them hard, and pay the man!

      mattewis.kat - 2012-10-01 07:43

      In ESKOM's case it's really easy! They just hike the price of electricity to pay for it, as they are doing now to fund their incompetence! What choice does consumers have but to pay, or go back to candles?

      preshen.govender.90 - 2012-10-01 07:55

      You have to make money it’s the recession

      glen.e.huysamer - 2012-10-02 07:54

      I hope he takes these ESKOM 'Bosses' to court in their personal capacity as well, because they will hide behind the 'parasitals' huge amount of lawyers which are permanently employed by the company. You will probably find that some big wigs wife, or son has already received payment for the cartoon idea and is receiving huge sums for the continued add campaign. Eskom operates as a law unto it's own, ........if don't like what we do we will just switch the electricity off....... ........give us more tax payers money.......if you don't we will switch the electricity off.... ........we want Zuma new King of the Zulu's as president in the next term......if he is not.......well we will switch off the electricity......

  • jacques.shepperson - 2012-09-30 15:58

    eina... and next years tarrif hike will be higher due to cartoons...

  • sakhi.TheNextKent.dlala - 2012-09-30 16:02

    let me add this guy on facebook haha

  • WigzellRM - 2012-09-30 16:17

    Give him his money. Fire those responsible.

  • Gatvol Griet - 2012-09-30 16:21

    Demand payment for the invoice and persue criminally.

  • Stewart Croucamp - 2012-09-30 16:35

    Not really intellectual property.

      TSR01 - 2012-09-30 19:01

      Google it, search for the current revisions of Intellectual Property and Creative Commons License, you've clearly got no clue what you're talking about.

      kevin.watson.7906 - 2012-09-30 19:13

      It is very much the product of the cartoonists intellect. He owns it and therfore unauthorised use of the idea is theft. Stewart apparently your knowledge is deficient in this area.

      dewaldmontgomery - 2012-10-01 15:02

      You have no idea what you're talking about if you believe cartoons aren't intellectual property. Hey everone, go copy and make money from your favourite TV cartoons!

  • Zahir - 2012-09-30 16:57

    R25 million is a lot how did he work out that figure

      gordon.turner.37 - 2012-09-30 17:11

      Go and look what an advertising company would bill for concepts execution etc for 10 years. I hope he gets it. Only pity is that an operation will throw double this amount at lawyers just to screw him. Disgraceful.

      TSR01 - 2012-09-30 19:09

      He created the characters, content, dialog, and concepts (even if the concepts were guided by Eskom's needs / suggestions). The artist holds full ownership and copyright claims to said intellectual property and any profits or royalties due from uncompensated and illegal usage of said content. Seeing as its been 10 years since the matter escalated, as well as the national scale and coverage of the content (yes, its been recreated as a TV series), the subsequent damages to the UNPAID artist over 10 years @ R25m is R2,083,333.33 per year for infringements. R2,083,333.33 per year is a fair claim for damages, loss of property, breach of contract and fraud / copyright theft (they removed the original artist's signature, thus implying the work was their own, and taking further potential work away from the original artist). The guy's life for those 10 years was basically ruined by Eskom for failing to pay him, give him credit, and reimburse him for any royalties / publishing fees (rights usage, etc.) on the later national project. I say he deserves it!

      kevin.watson.7906 - 2012-10-01 08:40

      SARS will be rooting for him as it will be taxable income. Ouch

      gordon.turner.37 - 2012-10-01 16:54

      @ Kevin - what a nice problem to have.

      kevin.watson.7906 - 2012-10-01 20:11

      Gordon we all wish we had that problem, unless of course you are a tenderpreneur, in wihch case you do not pay SARS and have your assets attached.

      sarah.bouttell - 2012-10-02 14:01

      @ Kevin, ha ha - at least the legal fees are tax deductable. Since he has no money, I have to assume that the matter is being handled on contingecy - so he can say goodbye to +- 30% of his settlement.

  • gieljam.gomtor - 2012-09-30 17:03

    Now that's one way to get these milkers back for milking us but eventually at the expense of us once again.

  • daniel.w.gie - 2012-09-30 17:11

    Give the man his due ..........simple .

  • andre.vandeventer.16 - 2012-09-30 17:31

    I personally think that 25 mil is a bit rough to pay for something that is not really his own brainchild. he just did the drawings while using Eskom's dialogue. But that is besides the point. If they contracted him for that money then they must own up and pay.

      stella.vumazonke - 2012-09-30 17:45

      Of coause Telkom wouldnt just use any dialogu suggested by anybody,but that was his ART,not just a drawing,that was his capital intellict,that was his strategic approach. and I think Telkom is very lucky to be charge with such an amount trust me. Another typical example of being narrow minded.

      stella.vumazonke - 2012-09-30 17:46

      Sorry Eskom not Telkom

  • stella.vumazonke - 2012-09-30 19:20

    This gentleman states his story,he says Eskom was haapy for the idea,nd they even ask him to lead the campaign.nd they say there's no evedence that it his original work.nd the verbal agreement involved,or maybe bcoz he didnot record you.what a slap or maybe because he is black and comming from nowhere,it can't be his intellect.sue the pants the out of them.10 yrs.that's personal if u ask me.

      stella.vumazonke - 2012-10-01 18:39


  • stella.vumazonke - 2012-09-30 19:47

    'Sue the pants?'Ooopppps,that's Eskom we're talking about.Suue the HELL out of them.nd don't be ashamed,those pants will always be on their I think Eskom must b recorded as the biggest suckers.

  • henry.vanderburpenfart - 2012-09-30 20:25

    The sad thing is that if this oke wins, it's just gonna end up bundled into the next batch of price hikes.

  • russellblack.cowan - 2012-09-30 21:44

    They want us to report cable thieves yet thay are a bunch of F####ng theives themselves.

  • joe.blogs.98837399 - 2012-10-01 00:29

    and who pays for it in the end ??? US Take it from the executives salaries.

  • michel.pieterse - 2012-10-01 04:11

    Uuurg Im in the wrong business

  • robbie.crouch - 2012-10-01 08:01

    Sue their pants off in a personal capacity as well!

  • trevor.bush.9655 - 2012-10-01 09:48

    LMAO..I forsee a electricity rate hike again and wonder what we going to get taxed on to bail out SAA..oh ANC, you are a bunch a idiots.

  • haveyou.completelylostyourmind - 2012-10-01 10:27

    What I would like to know is which idiots are responsible for the Thumbs Down votes? Maybe Eskom Management wasting tax payers money reading News24 ... It's clear they don't really do much else ....

  • michael.awood.313 - 2012-10-01 12:34

    and now its lights out on their marketing.... now they can feel what its like to be left in the dark!

  • customdesign - 2012-10-01 14:28


  • jan.plank.35 - 2012-10-01 15:12

    Go for it. What the big shots in Escom do not pay themselves in bloated bonus, the atrist can have. Not much left.

  • stella.vumazonke - 2012-10-01 21:45

    This story is breaking my heart.the decision is taken purely on the basis of UBUNTU. this statement can only be directed to a black person. whether u like to hear it or not.who give.I can visualise what was going on these fat cats aske this bumbie Noah woman,'hey skatie can u do what u do best and make that moegoe to shut up',tell him its about,what do u call it in your culture,UBHUNTU they can't even pronounce it.I wonder how bonus she was promised. what a conceit. We wll pay the amount that we think is fair,R25m my dear then we forget abt each other.

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