We have often heard of the Mafia operating in Mzansi’s entertainment industry but why is that not a single name pops out as that of thee master mobster?
THE word “Mafia”, which strikes fear in the hearts of those that have crossed path with the mob, has been often bandied about in various quarters of South African society.
In the months leading to and after the national 2009 general elections the pubic heard of the politically related “Alexandra Mafia.”
Insinuations were made that the minister of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile, is somehow linked to the “Alex Mafia” which we have been told (by media reports) wants to control the economically powerful Gaunteng province. The Sunday Independent reported -on October 31st, 2010- that the suspected Mafioso Vito Roberto Palazzolo escaped extradition to Italy in 2007 on the basis that membership of and collusion with the Mafia are not crimes under South African law.
In the same report it is said that in the late 1990s and early 2000s the then Investigating Directorate Organised Crime investigated several mafia linked matters, including money laundering and the hiding of fugitive Mafia hit men in South Africa. The existence of the mob in Mzansi’s show business, that some have blamed for their miseries, has also been alluded to on several occasions. Bongani Fassie, son to the late Queen of pop Brenda, was recently quoted in the Sunday World blaming his woes – in the battle to gain control of her late mother’s estate- on the Mafia’s manoeuvrings.
“We have a Mafia in this industry and their job is to steal from vulnerable young black artists like me. That is why when you ask them questions they don’t like they will call you all sorts of names (he was labeled a drug addict). I’m not bothered about that,” Bongani told the weekend newspaper. “It is clear that they are using their Mafia tactics to discredit me so that they can be reappointed (as executor of Brenda Fassie’s estate).“Why can’t they go away? “If there was no R6m in Brenda’s estate, Graham (Gilfillan), (David) Feldman and Lance would be nowhere. They jumped in because they were going to benefit from legal fees. How many South African musicians are suffering and they don’t get help? Why are they not helping other needy musicians and chose my mom?”
At the centre of the battle is the executor of Brenda’s estate, lawyer Feldman who is supported by Lance Ster, owner of Ghetto Ruff, in opposing Bongani’s attempts to strip-off the executors stripes from Feldman. Interestingly, Sello “Chicco” Twala –who is reported as helping Bongani to survive the hardships of life as he did with his mother – has been labelled a Mafia in the past.
Twala’s response to the allegation was: “When you work hard and don’t sleep, people don’t understand why you are successful. It’s all about jealousy. When you do well some among our people find reason to rubbish you. These are lazy people. Everything I have is through my talent and hark work.”
The marriage, so to speak, between show business and the Mafia, particularly in the United States of America, stretches way back to the days before the invention of cassettes and CD’s. Apart from drug and money laundering operations; the US Mafia had (it probably still does) commercial interests in Casino’s, Clubs, films, cinema and theatre houses and in individual artists.
Roshnie Moonsammy, executive director and founder of Urban Voices says with a playful laugh that there was (at some point) something called moffie Mafia that controlled all the South African Theatres.
“It’s about who you know, who controls the purse strings and this is particularly true when it comes to government funding. Take the Free State, as an example, where certain guys are pushed to the front for the Macufe event. The Mafia thing is not monolithic it does not have one face. It is constantly changing and the new Mafia knows nothing about the arts.”
Views vary, just like the understanding of what the Mafia is, as to whether there is a mob operating in the local creative sector or not.
“Anything is possible,” says Ray “Chikapa” Phiri “I mean if you don’t belong to (managed by) certain companies or individuals you don’t play at certain festivals and concerts. It (Mafia) is there it has always been there. There should be a tribunal or TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) of the industry to investigate how it happened that artists were made to sign off their work (intellectual property) to recording companies.”
“Eish!” cries Tshepo Nzimande, managing Director at Zuz’muzi music and a former model.
“…that’s a sensitive and difficult issue. There is a Mafia situation … there are schemes… look at the issue of piracy I think the Mafia’s is involved. The people (pirates) are selling our artists music for R5 on the streets. And then you have the issue of drugs, you don’t know how they (drug pushers/lords) get close to artists, they seem to know and target the ones (artists) that are making money.”
“There’s lots of money in the music industry. Some of these drug lords operate with artist managers. I have seen some bad things happening in the film industry,” says Nzimande.
Asked about the Mafia in show business 999 Music founder, Arthur Mafokate responds with his trademark naughty smile.
“Hay’ Hayi! wena Ufun’ abelungu bang’bulale (you want the white men to kill me,”
He avoids unpacking his statement only adding that his short line says all one needs to know about the local show business Mafia. Sipho “Hotstix” Mabuse, who was once managed by a white person, tells us he has never been made an “offer he could not refuse,” in his over 40-years music career.
“Ey! It’s a difficult subject. You don’t want to corroborate something you have not experienced. What I know is that like in any business there are people who would like to control the show business. I believe in the South African context, the use of the word is just symbolic. Mafia goes deeper – there is serious crime involved.”
“In the case of Bongani, I think he is right in questioning the motives of those who supposedly represent Brenda’s interests and why are they not interested in helping other musicians who are in desperate need of the ‘services’ they offer. I believe institutions like the NPA must be engaged in this (Brenda Fassie ‘s estate) and help resolve it.”
Perhaps Mabuse has a point. In United States of America the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) got heavily involved (thought the main fear was that the communists might use the Mafia to take over US) to investigate the mob in show business. Unlike in Mzansi where concrete evidence is hard to come by, the Mafia-show business link in the US has been well documented in films like the GodFather and several books such as in Frank Sinatra’s biography-The life, written by Anthony Summers and Robyn Swan.
Summers and Swan unpack the supposed meaning of the word Mafia.
“The origin of that word (Mafia) is as much a mystery as the criminal brotherhood itself, but in Sicily (where it originates from in Italy) it was originally used to refer to “a state of mind, a philosophy of life, a concept of society, a moral code. At its heart are marriage and the family, with strict parameters. Marriage is for life, divorce unacceptable and impossible. In “mafia” with a small “m,” those who lived by the code and wielded power in the community were uomini rispettati, men of respect. They were supposed to behave chivalrously, to be good family men, and their word was their bond. The corruption of the code and the descent to criminality was rapid. Before the dawn of the twentieth century, the Mafia with a capital “M,” was levying tribute from farmers, controlling the minimal water supply, the builders and the businessmen, fixing prices and contracts- in Sicily. Cooperation was enforced brutally. The mafia made a mockery of the state, rigging elections, corrupting the politicians it favoured, and terrorizing opponents.”
Other mob’s characteristics include extortion, drugs, murder, theft, intimidation and money laundering. It’s one hell of a mission to try to get people to name the individual faces that are the masterminds of the alleged mob in domestic show business. But one thing is certain, Mzansi’s show business has plenty conmen, sharks, vampire like creators, cheats and greedy individuals that should get the mama’s and the papa’s worried about their kiddies thinking about a career in show business.