Roadie Chief Says Live Biz Is Racist

South African Roadies’ Association president Freddie Nyathela is once again making waves by claiming many of South Africa’s live entertainment business heavyweights are racist.

“White promoters actively obstruct visiting international crew from communicating with black SARA members at shows,” he told South Africa’s Sunday Sun. He is apparently referring to the time he accused Big Concerts’ chief ops officer John Langford of disrupting a production workshop given by Lionel Richie’s crew.

Langford says he was bemused as well as disappointed because, shortly after the skills workshop, Nyathela copied him on an e-mail thanking Richie’s techies for sharing their “expansive knowledge” with the SARA students. The e-mail made no mention of any disruption.

Nyathela started SARA, a registered nonprofit organisation backed by “international donations and the national lottery,” in 1992. Its aim is to help provide employment and teach technical skills to black youths in search of a career in the production business.

Nyathela’s outspoken views have often seen him at odds with many in the country’s live entertainment industry.

He told SA’s Sunday World Business that the majority of companies in the industry are owned by whites who haven’t changed since apartheid.

Three years ago, SARA tried to pressure the government to give it financial support by staging a sit-in at the department of art and culture.

Apart from the national government and leading national promoter Big Concerts, Nyathela’s other main target is production firm Gearhouse.

Big Concerts and Gearhouse strenuously deny his claims that they’re racist. The promoting company’s lawyers have already sent Nyathela a letter explaining that his comments are seriously defamatory.

Big Concerts hosted the first concert in 1992 to celebrate the lifting of the cultural boycott against the previous apartheid government.

Three years earlier, chief exec Attie van Wyk and fellow South African promoter Roddy Quin organised The Human Rainbow Concert at the Johannesburg Ellis Park rugby stadium, which would have had multi-racial acts appearing on the same stage.

The government banned it for being too subversive, a decision that was eventually overturned after a year-long battle in the Supreme Court and the Appeal Court. It eventually took place in March 1990.

Van Wyk says he’s particularly hurt by Nyathela’s inflammatory remarks, saying his track record indicates he’s anything but racist.
Big Concerts and Gearhouse appear at a loss to understand what exactly Nyathela expects of them.
“I don’t have any issues with Freddie and I still don’t know what he wants,” Gearhouse co-managing director Ofer Lapid told the Sunday Sun.

Van Wyk told Pollstar that, as a promoter, Big Concerts doesn’t engage in roadie training programmes and doesn’t employ stagehand companies.

“Our production is handled by Mushroom Productions, who will not employ SARA stagehands because of their confrontations with Freddie in the past,” he explained. “His nose is out of joint as very few promoters and staging companies are prepared to work with his organisation – and as a consequence he is defaming a lot of people, which is unlawful and unwarranted.”

Mushroom Productions chief Graham Cunningham, whose Johannesburg company employs four black people among a staff of 12, says he’d rather refuse a job than work with Nyathela.

“He spat in my female business partner’s face and called her a racist,” he explained. “When I hire crew I need them to do what I tell them. I don’t want crew who will go on strike if they can’t do what Freddie thinks they should be doing.”

Big Concerts has 14 permanent staff on the payroll at its Cape Town HQ and seven are black. Gearhouse says people of colour make up nearly 80 percent of its workforce.

Gearhouse is recognised as a contributor to the Black Economic Empowerment scheme, a government programme to redress the inequalities of apartheid by giving previously disadvantaged groups economic opportunities previously unavailable.

Lapid says he’s been reluctant to extend that by working with SARA because Gearhouse doesn’t want to be associated with the “political maneuverings, mudslinging and hidden agendas that Freddie seems to be constantly preoccupied with.”