DURBAN - In under a month, the Department of Arts and Culture’s Living Legends Trust account was cleaned out of R8million, believed to have been orchestrated by the chairperson of the trust, Themba Welcome Msomi.

Msomi is a household name in KwaZulu-Natal as he is known for founding the Izulu Dance Theatre and Music in 1965.

The highly-acclaimed 76-year-old artist and playwright appeared in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court in Gauteng yesterday, facing a charge of theft.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) Gauteng division arrested Msomi at a hotel in the city centre on Saturday after it was alleged that R8m intended to honour the living legends was deposited into his personal account last year.

According to sources, the transactions into Msomi’s account started the day the department transferred their first contribution to the trust.

In August last year, the department pledged R20m to aid The Living Legends Trust Committee programmes. A source said R40000 was transferred out of the account on September 28, the same day the R8m was deposited.

When the account was opened and its internet banking set up, it was agreed that no transactions would be done online. The account also needed three signatures and had an in-contact messenger system in place. The system would notify all three signatories of any transactions on the account.

However, the source said the account conditions were changed “at some point” to allow for online transactions and the in-contact facility was disabled.

“In January when the other two signatories decided to go to the bank to get a statement, they found that only R668 was left in the account. That was when they immediately notified the department of the theft,” said the source.

Hawks spokesperson Captain Lloyd Ramovha said Msomi was remanded in custody until his next court appearance on April 2.

Msomi currently serves as the chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission and was a nominee for the Laurence Olivier Award for best theatre choreographer.

Department spokesperson Asanda Magaqa said Msomi’s arrest was an “extremely bitter pill to swallow”.

“The department has, over the years, accorded the greatest respect to the suspect as an arts icon. For the living legends, who also held their peer in high esteem, him being implicated has been the greatest betrayal and a devastating blow.”

THE MERCURY