Pretoria - A legal tussle over the film rights of afro-pop icon Brenda Fassie was laid to rest this week when the company which claimed it had the exclusive rights to make a film of her life lost their court battle.
This leaves her son, Bongani Fassie, the sole heir to her estate, free to conclude a film deal with whomever he wants to tell her story.
In Pretoria, the Gauteng High Court dismissed an application by veteran music producer Sello Twala, director of Leakgona Multimedia Ltd, who had wanted the court to rule in his favour and give him exclusive rights to make a film about Fassie. He also wanted a final interdict to prevent Bongani and Fassie Records from entering into any agreement with a production company other than his.
Fassie, known as “MaBrrr” by her fans, and described as the “Queen of African Pop”, enjoyed popularity with songs such as Weekend Special and Too Late for Mama. She collapsed at her home in Gauteng in April 2004 and died a few weeks later, aged 39. A post- mortem revealed she had taken an overdose of cocaine before her collapse.
Last year, the court had granted an interim interdict by agreement between the parties, in terms of which Bongani and Fassie Records were restrained from conducting any casting auditions or promoting the proposed film. They were also prevented from continuing with pre-production or from entering into a contract with any third party for the production of a film about her.
This was pending the outcome of the present application, in which Twala wanted them permanently interdicted from concluding an agreement with anyone else but his company.
Social media had been abuzz with news that a film on Fassie’s life would soon be released, and UK-based company Shobizz Bee announced they had a deal with her son to make the film.
Twala objected and said he had the exclusive rights to her story, and went to court to have this confirmed. But Judge Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi this week dismissed his application.
Twala had earlier told the court he had Bongani’s blessing to make the film, and that this gave him exclusive rights to do so. Twala said Bongani asked him in 2010 to help him make a documentary on his mother’s colourful life.
They entered into a joint venture in 2011 for the production of the film. According to the deal, Bongani agreed to give Twala pictures, video images and other material for the film. He was due to receive 10% of the profits from the film.
The problem, however, was that Fassie’s estate had not been wound up at the time and it was still under the control of an executor. Because of this, all her pictures, music rights and other material, belonged to the estate.
Twala then entered into a second agreement with the executor, and his company was given “non-exclusive rights” to use the Brenda Fassie trademark and the right to produce, market and distribute the film.
Twala said they had already done some preparation for the production of the film and concluded interviews with various people who had dealings with Fassie. A scriptwriter - Professor Zakes Mda - and a movie director were contracted to work on the project.
But Bongani terminated the agreement he had with Twala in which he gave the latter the blessing to make the film. Twala told the court that Bongani couldn’t go back on his word, especially as he had given his blessing for the second agreement to be reached with the executor.
Bongani, in turn, said the second agreement was invalid as Twala never got written consent from him, nor was he consulted. He said his mother’s executor didn’t obtain his consent.
Regardless of this, Twala did not have exclusive rights to the material on his mother’s life and, her son said, he could pick whom he wanted to make the film.
Judge Thusi said while the executor could deal with the assets in Fassie’s estate, this right was subject to the heir to the estate’s consent. As Bongani did not give the executor the nod, this made the second agreement invalid, she said.