Already in the headlines after a forensic investigation alleged irregular and corrupt practices, the state’s funding body the National Arts Council (NAC), is facing fresh claims this week relating to the awarding of R500 000 to the Macufe Homebrew programme at the Free State’s biggest annual cultural event, Macufe, last year. And sources claim that several other NAC funding agreements should be scrutinised by the department of arts and culture as they are believed to have followed a similar irregular process regarding projects in Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.
A City Press investigation into the Macufe funding, which has reviewed numerous documents and emails, and interviewed several well-placed sources, has found that:
An NAC board member representing the Free State, Thoko Nogabe, allegedly proposed the Macufe funding despite the NAC’s Grant Awarding Manual stating that “no member of staff or council may submit an application directly to the panel, panel chair or council for consideration”;
No detailed proposal was submitted by the Free State Provincial Arts and Culture Council (FSPACC), of which Nogabe is chair, yet the NAC’s executive committee and council approved the R500 000 that was paid to the FSPACC; and
The Macufe funding was not subjected to the compulsory appraisal by an NAC arts development officer, or by an NAC advisory panel that has to assess such proposals according to the manual.
The NAC and Nogabe did not comment on detailed questions sent by City Press on Thursday. Yesterday, the NAC’s Julie Diphofa said: “The NAC needs more time to respond to the questions and will make a formal response next week.”
The Macufe case appears to have many similarities to the funding of an arts education project for at-risk youth called Lalela, which was created by Andrea Kerzner and funded by the NAC under chief executive Rosemary Mangope to the tune of almost R2 million.
This resulted in Mangope having to face a disciplinary hearing next week after a contested forensic report commissioned by the department made damning findings about funding procedures not being followed. Mangope and Lalela have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
Lalela says that the investigators did not even approach them before reaching their conclusions.
A PAPER TRAIL
The City Press investigation has seen evidence that the R500 000 was paid by the NAC into the FSPACC’s bank account in two tranches – R450 000 was paid in October last year and R50 000 was paid in March.
We have also seen a letter written to Nogabe by Mangope on October 3, in which she writes that the NAC “is pleased to inform you that your project was awarded funding”, even though board members may not pitch projects to win public funding.
Emails seen by City Press between various NAC staff, managers and board members dating back to September 14 last year make no reference to the necessary detailed proposal and panel approvals required by the NAC, but do show that the Macufe funding was fast-tracked at every stage, despite not qualifying for emergency clearance.
The first mention of the Macufe funding is in an email from Diphofa, the NAC’s development manager, to Nogabe, in which Diphofa writes that “the Macufe funding was discussed at the executive committee meeting of September
Diphofa writes that further information is required “so that the submission can be round-robinned to council”.
On September 29, a submission for Macufe funding to council reveals that R1 million was originally sought from the executive committee. That same day, NAC board chair Hartley Ngoato emailed the full council, recommending that R588 890 be awarded to the FSPACC.
Nogabe eventually signed the agreement for R500 000 funding as “programme convener” of the FSPACC, with the bulk of the admin being handled by Mario Sefo, who works for the Free State department of sport, arts, culture and recreation under the national arts department. Sefo is also a member of the FSPACC board or tribunal.
However, of the 10 artists and cultural workers in the Free State contacted by City Press over the past two weeks – who want to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardising future funding opportunities – eight spoke angrily against the FSPACC, several saying that it is “a white elephant” or “front”.
They told City Press that they believed that the FSPACC did not exist except on paper, had no office or phone number, and that Nogabe and an assistant used Gmail accounts and cellphone numbers to do business.
The department of arts and culture’s own body supporting artists, the Cultural & Creative Industries Federation of SA, is believed to be challenging the workings of the FSPACC legally, but would not comment “as the matter is with our lawyers”.
Four of the artists contacted had performed at the Homebrew festival, which included poetry, dance and theatre productions, a market and musicians performing in a marquee. None said they were paid by the FSPACC, instead referring to an outsourced agency of the department that paid them.
Questions sent to Nogabe and Sefo, as well as the national department, were not responded to by the time of going to print.