Pieter Torien Theatre in Montecasino


So someone took a shot of Oprah’s trademark spirited salvo of gift-giving to her audience and made a crass meme ridiculing artists, creatives, freelancers and entrepreneurs who find themselves in precarious positions because of the Coronavirus outbreak. It’s no joke, kuya nyiwa and kusazo nyiwa for a coupla months.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) more than 209,000 people have been infected by the Coronavirus and just below 10,000 people have died. These numbers are expected to rise, with countries such as the US and South Africa still in the early stages of this pandemic. Mzansi President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday announced a National state of Disaster, banning all large gatherings.

Oprah Winfrey meme
Oprah Winfrey meme

It has affected global finances, the sport industry and has forced politicians to unify. But the art and entertainment industry, which more often than not isn’t taken serious, has also taken a heavy blow that has left its contributors stressed about where the next pay cheque will come from.

“This is pretty much 80% of my income so it’s definitely been a major crisis to deal with,” says Akio, DJ and Creative Director at Kool Out. “I’ve had about 15 bookings cancelled for the 3 weeks next month and that includes 2 countries outside South Africa. Beyond that, everything has been considered “put on hold” since we don’t really know what’s going to happen. If it reaches into June, then I have to cancel my US tour and possibly my Europe tour in August.”

The DJ recently got back to South African after a series of gigs in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. “Getting back in was pretty smooth, but I was worried. I think the strictest measures only begin today [Wednesday]. Also, the country I was in isn’t high risk and only confirmed their first case on Monday.”

Actress Nyeleti Ndubane, whose show Alice In Wonderland at the Pieter Torien Theatre in Montecasino has been cancelled with only a week left in the production, admits she is panic mode. “What scares me the most is the fact that this current state of uncertainty that is affecting all areas of our lives is something we just have to live with ‘until further notice’. I’m a performer. This Corona situation is making it impossible for me to do what I love- and the worst part is that this will be my reality- until further notice…”

For Melanie Ramjee, a PR specialist at Tutone Communications the pandemic has forced her clients to postpone big events such as the Boys II Men South African tour as well as the Scorpion King Live concert which were both meant to take place next month. ¬†“…business wise [I’m] beyond panic. There’s obviously no money coming in, my husband is also in entertainment and we both don’t have business insurance, so ja they’ll be overheads this month where we probably won’t make ends meet,” she says.

“I think people are not making light of it in the industry, maybe outside of the [art/entertainment] industry people don’t take it as serious. I’m in a few WhatsApp groups with publicists and another one with music industry females and everybody is super panicked record labels…all gigs have been cancelled- that means artists and DJs are not making any income. I think the ramifications are a lot longer than we think they are, I think even when we get on our feet and things have calmed down, because I just feel we’re on the first wave. I think when that does happen, people will be paying bills that they probably could not have paid for three months…umm, I think as much as South Africans do wanna have fun and we joke about stuff and everything is a laugh, ¬†this is serious.”

For a patron, if a gig is cancelled or postponed there’s always an option of a refund. But event organisers are left in tatters if they’ve already paid deposits to artists set to perform, in addition to the money invested in marketing and promoting a gig.

“I think it’s different for different cases,” says Ramjee. “I can only talk for my shows. For Boys II Men, they won’t return the money because they were paid 50% upfront, we just postponed the event. I think a lot of events are postponed until further notice, so a lot of the artists will keep the 50%. I don’t know of any instances where artists have been asked back for the money. But definitely from the promoters side, they have to return refunds to the public, they will stand at a loss if the event doesn’t happen in future. The return of funds, depends on your contract, really the truth is, there won’t be this sorta clause in the contract because it’s an act of God per se. People are gonna have to review their contract moving forward how that works. But definitely I don’t know of cases where artists have been asked for the money back, but then again some artists get paid on the day of the show or the day before if they don’t have proper management with contracts.”

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