Bonang Matheba. Picture: Instagram
Bonang Matheba. Picture: Instagram

'Being Bonang' in name but not rights

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Oct 23, 2021

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Why are celebrities continuously being short-changed on contracts?

The current lawsuit debacle with Bonang Matheba and her former management agency, Celebrity Services (CSA) Global, over the ownership rights of House of BNG has shone a light on this weighty issue.

We know that the music industry is rampant with discords between artists and their record labels. Whether it’s a beef over the rights to their masters or discontent over the actual contract, it usually ends on very acrimonious terms.

A perfect example of this is Taylor Swift’s battle with Scott Borchetta and Scooter Braun of Big Machine Label Group circa the 2019 American Music Awards.

Their $300 million acquisition of the label meant that they owned her music. As such, she was initially blocked from performing her own tracks at the AMAs, where she was to be honoured as the Artist of the Decade.

Swift took to social media to vent.

She posted: “I feel very strongly that sharing what is happening to me could change the awareness level for other artists and potentially help them avoid a similar fate.

“The message being sent to me is very clear. Basically, be a good little girl and shut up. Or you’ll be punished.

“This is WRONG. Neither of these men had a hand in the writing of those songs. They did nothing to create the relationship I have with my fans. So this is where I’m asking for your help.”

Sadly, as big an artist as she is, she wasn’t impervious to such exploitation in the industry. And she is one of a host of well-known figures who are stymied by those fine print trappings.

Closer to home, rapper AKA (real name Kiernan Jarryd Forbes) weathered his share of legal battles.

Last year, he took to Twitter to address his grievance with Reebok for not remunerating him for his collaboration on the SneAKA limited-edition sneaker collection.

“Can you believe they didn’t pay me a single cent for this? … not one cent,” he posted.

Bonang Matheba. Picture: Instagram

Reebok responded in a statement to IOL Entertainment, where the company said: “Reebok is aware of the claims made by South African rapper Kiernan Jarryd Forbes, known as AKA, on Twitter where he has stated non-payment for the brand collaboration of his custom made Reebok SneAKA.

“In October 2019, we executed a successful launch of the Reebok SneAKA. Upon entering into the relationship, both parties were happy with the agreement, and the terms of the launch were not disputed.

“Reebok met all of our contractual obligations related to the launch. Earlier this year, Reebok communicated with AKA and his management that due to a shift in strategy, we would not be able to renew his contract as an ambassador for the brand.

“However, we did discuss a new approach of working with AKA. Reebok is thus very disappointed to be learning of the issues raised on social media, as we believed the relationship to still be on a strong footing to negotiate potential future deals.”

And then in August, AKA took legal action against the stakeholders’ Cake Media and MakhuduCom Media as well as the state broadcaster, after he was replaced by arch-rival Cassper Nyovest on “The Braai Show”.

As an alleged joined owner, he demanded 50% remuneration, which included proceeds from the channel, sponsorships, brand or otherwise. And he wanted an executive producer credit too.

But the stakeholders laughed off the threat. In their issued statement to media, they said: “We have instituted legal proceedings against Kiernan Forbes (AKA) to desist from causing more harm to our brands and business. We are confident about our legal position and all will be revealed through legal means.”

That was the last we heard of it.

Now getting back to Matheba’s tug-of-war, how did it come to this?

In November 2017, she signed up as a client of CSA. They were her official management company, handling her various portfolios in entertainment, fashion and, of course, entrepreneurship.

I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Matheba was already a success story when she joined. As one of the biggest stars in Mzansi, she had immense clout, especially on social media.

To be honest, she clocked many milestones since making her arrival on SABC1’s “LIVE” (now “Live Amp”:). She was the first international ambassador of Revlon, out of the US.

She also dabbled in fashion when she collaborated with Legit in 2008 and launched her first clothing line, ’Just B’. She went on to work with a UK-based designer to create a handbag collection, ’Baby Star’.

She was the first South African to host the pre-ceremony for the 2014 MTV Europe Music Awards. She was the first African to be featured on E! New Special Africa.

Of course, Matheba signing up with a management company was prudent given that her cup runneth over with opportunities. In the same year that she signed up, she founded Bonang Matheba Entertainment.

She has graced more covers than most female icons in the industry. While her autobiography ’From A to B’ sullied her flawless achievements for its litany of grammatical, spelling and factual blunders, she bounced back with her reality show ’Being Bonang’.

Her documentary film ’Public Figure’, which she starred in and co-produced, premiered at the Manchester Film Festival and got a fair amount of attention.

Her prowess as a host, which saw her host ’Clash of the Choirs SA’, ’Afternoon Express’, ’Top Billing’ and ’KFC Taste Kitchen’ as well as some of the leading events from Miss South Africa 2018 to co-hosting the Global Citizen concern in December 2018, is unparalleled.

In March 2019, she launched House of BNG amid much fanfare. Anyone who questioned her ownership of the brand was shut down on social media.

CSA is accusing Matheba of spreading mistruths, claiming she was aware of her legal standing with the House of BNG ownership rights. They also allege that she neglected to honour her commitments with several brands, including her own.

In Matheba’s interview with Sunday Times, she claimed: “I brought that business with me and asked them to facilitate some business activities on my behalf and on behalf of House of BNG.”

In the statement put out by CSA, it read: “Ms Matheba and her lawyers are fully familiar with the terms of agreement in which it was stipulated from the onset, prior to joining CSA, that any IP, Trademark, copyright developed by CSA, shall remain in the possession of CSA, especially as we have not been paid to develop such assets, and we are the ones who carry all costs to develop such assets.

“However, Ms Matheba is fully aware that her earning rights shall continue for so long as earnings on such intellectual property are being received.

“We are not in the business of destroying brands, but rather in the business of building them. However, we do believe in the merits of contracts and that agreed upon terms should be respected and honoured.”

Matheba, who is now based in New York, isn’t letting go without a fight. And why should she? Her name, face and clout have, and continues to be used, to promote the House of BNG.

Given that she worked so tirelessly to build her brand, has been exhaustively promoting House of BNG – even in a recent radio interview in the US – it’s a bit of a slap in the face to say she “made millions of rands out of The House of BNG while CSA is still at a loss after having invested millions in this venture to make it the success it is”.

If this battle proves anything, it is that celebrities need to really brush up on their business acumen and seek solid legal advice before signing on the dotted line.

And if this advice isn’t heeded, such disputes will continue to rear their ugly head and all that hard work goes down the drain.

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