Durban jazz fest deal questioned

2012-07-02 13:13
Charl Blignaut and Charl du Plessis
Durban - The company that may stage the multimillion-rand, taxpayer-funded North Sea International Jazz Festival in Durban has as its directors the chairperson of the National Arts Council, and a key player in last year’s controversial R10m art exhibition in Venice.

The news of the country's latest jazz festival was broken by KwaZulu-Natal economic development and tourism MEC Michael Mabuyakhulu two weeks ago.

In his budget speech, he outlined how his province would "fulfil its potential as a tourist gateway to Africa" by staging "strategic major events".

These include a Durban jazz festival and the hosting of the MTV Africa Music Awards.

The North Sea enterprise is Dutch-owned and has a troubled history in staging a similar jazz event in Cape Town.

Although the KwaZulu-Natal government failed to respond to questions this week, an insider said that it had asked the national department of arts and culture for R30m over three years to fund the festival.

City Press traced the event to two Pretoria companies: Profile Communications Events and Creative Designs, and MPM Productions and International Projects.

Profile Communications is owned by Charmaine Cornille, who claims on her website that she has "managed events such as the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town for ESP". ESP is the local company that took over the North Sea International Jazz Festival Cape Town and turned it into the now-famous Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

Company created to secure rights

ESP's director Rashid Lombard this week denied that Cornille worked for the company in a management capacity.

Cornille is also a director of MPM, a company created to secure the rights and stage the North Sea Jazz Festival in Durban.

Another director of MPM is Angie Makwetla, the chairperson of the National Arts Council – government's primary arts funding vehicle which allocates about R67m to local artists every year.

MPM's third director is Tim Mangwedi, who owns CulArt Productions with Joburg gallerist Monna Mokoena.

They received R10m from the arts department to stage the South African exhibition at the Venice Biennale last year.

This decision provoked an outcry in the art community as two of the three artists chosen to exhibit were from Mokoena's stable at Gallery Momo.

Their R10m budget was spent in a questionable manner – including R800 000 on an  "advertising wrap", which was in fact a small banner; and R360 000 on "social media", which constituted only a Twitter account.

When first contacted this week, Cornille was hostile and refused to comment. When City Press called Makwetla at the National Arts Council, we were told that she "will have her son contact you as she is not involved in the project".

'I have removed myself'

Mangwedi referred most questions to the provincial economic development department. Asked whether it was true the arts department had been approached for funding, Mangwedi said he did not "remember" whether MPM made the request.

City Press later received calls from both Makwetla and Cornille.

Makwetla said her positions at the National Arts Council and MPM did not pose a conflict of interest. "I was a director at MPM," she said, "but I have removed myself."

She remains listed as a director on the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission database, but she said her name was being removed, and that "it would take about three months".

She also said that her son, Thabang – who co-owns Elim Investment Holdings with Mangwedi – was working with MPM on the Durban jazz event.

Cornille confirmed that MPM was established late last year after a meeting at a Pretoria restaurant, where a decision was taken to secure the North Sea festival for Durban.

She said she went to Holland to secure the event rights and pitched the idea to the government's special events commission.

The arts department's Lisa Combrinck said: "We are working through the project plans with (the KwaZulu-Natal government) prior to making any final decisions as regards funding. Our support, if any, will be in line with our Mzansi Golden Economy strategy."

The Venice exhibition was also listed as an Mzansi Golden Economy initiative, which targets South African culture in the global arena and appears to have an extraordinary budget, which would allow it to spend as much as R30m on the festival in Durban.