21/05/2014 Scenes from " Mandela The African Opera" during the final dress rehearsal, the show opens on Friday at the South African State Theatre in Pretoria. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Johannesburg - They turned down jobs in an industry that doesn’t guarantee a steady salary to be part of a production that was the first of its nature in South Africa.

Now, about 150 people - 18 soloists, a 45-member orchestra, 60 choir members, five actors and technical crew - who had immersed themselves in Madiba: The Opera are shattered.

The reasons why the plug was pulled on the production three days after it opened differ depending on who you speak to.

The producer, Unathi Mtirara, blames the National Lotteries Board (NLB).

Mtirara claims the lottery approved about R11 million in funding to run the show but ended up giving them only R2.8m. They would not have been able pay everyone involved, so they cut it short.

That, however, is disputed by the lottery’s Sershan Naidoo. He said the amount initially requested was too high and they asked Mtirara’s company, Opera SA, and the African Cultural Organisation of SA (Acosa) to revise their budget.

Mtirara’s Opera SA is still new and they had they roped in Acosa to help them get funding. Naidoo said Acosa sent them a revised budget on March 26 and the amount came to R2m.

Mtirara said they were lying. “I am not fighting with them but they are lying through their teeth. When we revised the budget, we only removed about R200 000 from the amount we initially requested. They must provide me with that letter so we can see.”


Nonhlanhla Yende, a distant cousin of soprano Pretty Yende, turned down a job in Cape Town to be part of the production. She wasn’t alone.


“Normally we tell Europeans’ stories. People had to turn down jobs to be part of this production because it tells a story that is closer to home, in their language. A story they can understand. Now they are broken,” Yende said.

The opera was two-and-a-half years in the making.

Mtirara, Nelson Mandela’s grand-nephew, said he had wanted to tell the not-so-known side of the former statesman’s rural life growing up in Mqhekezweni.

He roped in Sibusiso Njeza, who wrote the music, and Kutlwano Masote to orchestrate it.

Mtirara said that towards the end of last month they received a call from Akhona Njovela, the NLB chief executive’s executive assistant, confirming they had secured the funding of about R11m.

However, two weeks before the show, she called again to tell them they would get R2.8m, Mtirara said.

Naidoo said it was not true: “He was told he would receive the outcome of the application in writing. This is our process. The office never called Mr Mtirara with any news.”


Mtirara disputed that and said he would approach Vodacom for phone records to show that Njovela had called him.

As the lottery gave them the money only this week, Mtirara said he and his production partners spent close to R1m of their own money to transport, accommodate and feed the cast and crew before and during rehearsals.

But he said what they spent on the opera was worth every cent. He hoped for sponsors so that more people could see it.

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The Star