'Mbongeni swanks, we starve'
CONTROVERSIAL playwright Mbongeni Ngema stands accused of starving his artists throughout the festive season while he drove around in a spanking new Mercedes Benz.
This after they signed a contract with him for the extravagant Siyagiya Cultural Extravaganza in late December, at which big names such as Thandiswa Mazwai, Jimmy Dludlu and Freshly Ground also appeared.
"We signed contracts with Ngema's Committed Artists Foundation," says one of the aggrieved dancers, Lindiwe Kunene.
"We were promised R15000 each and we were given a R2500 transport and food allowance.
"We were assured the rest of the money would be paid on December 21 after the show.
"When we went home without our money, we put it down to the festive delays, but by the 24th it was clear we'd spend the Christmas without anything to show for all that hard work," she says.
The dancers and singers say they rehearsed and practised for three solid weeks before the show.
"We'd clock in at 9am and sometimes leave the next morning at 3am. That was hard labour and we should've been paid.
"We have protected this man for far too long now. It's not the first time that we haven't been paid."
Though they were cradled in a posh Durban hotel, Khaya Dladla, one of the singers, says it was a charade.
"I don't know about other people but I was paid R3000 allowance before the show and I received a payment of R3500 on the 27th.
"I was expecting R12000. When we started complaining we were told that the National Lottery, which was the sponsor, hadn't paid. But when I asked Thandiswa she told me they were paid in full on the same day.
"On Tuesday we received letters saying we'd be paid in around April.
"We've already endured a miserable festive season without cash.
"Now we have to wait three more months. It's wrong."
And the method of payment also varies greatly. Lindiwe Hlengwa says she was paid only R500 for her food and transport allowance.
"I was only paid the other R3500 that some got after I went crying to Committed Artists' MD Thandekile Mqadi. That was in the first week of January and there was nothing to eat at home. So I went to that office and Mqadi gave me the money," says Hlengwa.
Ngema's spokesperson Norman Qobolo confirms the National Lottery paid the requested funding in full, albeit later than expected.
"We thought we'd counterbalance that with ticket sales but we ended up with a smaller audience than we had anticipated," says Qobolo, who promises that the artists will be paid all their money soon.
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