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Five star trips, unhappy staff ... Now state film body faces more trouble

2017-10-23 01:39

Already under forensic investigation after a spate of resignations and a mass staff grievance, the state’s film development body the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) has been hit with new accusations from within its top structure.

A frank and critical letter has been sent to the arts minister Nathi Mthethwa from an anonymous council member, speaking of a governing board that is “ruled with an iron fist” by its chair Phil Molefe.

The letter fears that some council members are trying “to protect the old administration and senior management” who are believed to be under investigation.

The NFVF’s embattled chief executive officer, Zama Mkosi, has vehemently denied the claims and accused City Press of waging a “relentless campaign” using “nefarious, faceless sources” to tarnish the “transformation agenda” and “good name” of the foundation.

The independent film industry has accused the NFVF of spending as little as 27% of its budget on actual films while splurging millions on unnecessary trips to film festivals and awards, with certain members of council being treated like movie stars by Mkosi.

Last month City Press revealed that Molefe and fellow council member Thabiso Masudubele had taken a five-star trip to the Cannes film festival without Mthethwa’s approval.

Masudubele also enjoyed a three-day state-funded trip to London for no apparent NFVF purpose.

At the time, Mkosi said: “Every global positioning activation that NFVF staff or council members participate in is in line with the approved NFVF annual performance plan.”

Both these council members are also mentioned in the newest letter, which City Press received a copy of three weeks ago and has been verifying through three impeccable sources, some of whom serve on the NFVF council.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they confirmed certain of the claims in the letter.

‘Don’t fix it’

Sources confirmed an account in the letter that at the new council’s induction in May this year, Molefe referred to the NFVF, saying, “If something is not broken, you do not have to fix it.”

However, a “fixed” NFVF is not what they say they found at their first meeting. Council meetings take place at the upmarket Emoyeni venue in Parktown or The Rosebank hotel.

“At that first proper meeting the council went straight into crisis mode,” said a source.

The grievance letter, signed by almost all staff except senior management, had been reported in City Press and the council needed to urgently address it. Sources say there was also a concerned letter from the minister urging action.

Mkosi responded by saying that Molefe “was quoted to you completely out of context and intended to mislead. There has never been a crisis situation ... The Council has acted with utmost urgency when staff issues were raised and the minister’s letter presented to it, by immediately establishing a Special Task Team.”

Council split?

The council’s first job was to set up committees and panels to divide duties. However, according to the letter, Molefe “provided a list that he had autocratically decided who should be in those committees” and that “people that had been in the previous council with [Molefe] and who served in some capacity at the NFVF” were favoured by him.

Molefe and Masudubele are two of three returning members of the 13-person council, but at least two others worked with the previous council on committees.

Mkosi denied the claims: “There was never a unilateral decision ... A proposal was tabled and this was deliberated at length by council members before a final decision was taken.”

She said “it is absolutely not true” that there was preferential treatment of former council members and associates.

However, another source believed that Molefe took advantage of the inexperience of new members to use “a combination of an iron fist and democratic processes” to “cleverly outplay” the council to get his way.

Particularly the committee chairs, said sources, were not democratically elected and were determined by Molefe.

A source added that there were not many objections until later council meetings.

Mkosi rejected the claims, pointing to the experience of the new council members and adding, “Mr Molefe is renowned for being an affable person who gives all council members the opportunity to express their views before a decision can be made.”

Sources describe Mkosi as talking little during council meetings, allowing the chair to lead.

Two investigations

According to sources the NFVF council hired auditing firm SizweNtsalubaGobodo (SNG) to investigate the staff claims, and provisional findings were established.

Numerous sources have told City Press in the past weeks that the report’s findings were reported to be “not good”. City Press has not seen the report.

Mkosi denied that there were any preliminary findings, saying, “the investigation is yet to be completed. Witnesses still have to be called to respond to the allegations that have been made.”

However, by then Mthethwa had also instituted a ministerial forensic audit, currently underway.

The letter expresses concern that the minister’s investigation will be tainted “because of instructions that have been given to certain staff members not to divulge too much and release information freely”. Mkosi denied any hint of interference with contempt.

A source on the council told City Press: “If the forensic investigation is there to find the truth, it will, there will be no way to hide it. If they delay the process, we should be worried.” The department of arts and culture did not respond to City Press’ request for an update on the investigation.

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November 18 2018