Veteran pop sensation Mercy Pakela. Picture: Itumeleng English African News Agency (ANA)
It has become a worrying trend that when artists - be it musicians or actors - pass away, stories of their being penniless start emerging.

Think Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde of Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, Senyaka Kekana and Tiki Nxumalo.

It is this final assault on the legacy of these fallen greats that veteran pop star Mercy Pakela wants to change for herself and others in the future.

She has been singing and dancing since 16 but says at 52, she has nothing to show for it.

Pakela was famous for her hit Ayashisa Amateki from the 1980s.

The hitmaker said that because she saw her music just as entertainment for people and not a business, she was now left in the lurch with no royalties, rights to her music or money to sustain herself.

Pakela doesn’t have a car and lives in Lenasia, south of Joburg.

She said she wouldn’t rest until there was transformation in the local music industry and artists were not exploited.

She said that to this day the Southern African Music Rights Organisation has not paid her royalties from 1990.

“I’m not gonna say, ‘hey I’m leaving everything to God’, no. God helps those who help themselves. I have made so many hits and I never got paid for them.

Mercy Pakela says she has been singing and dancing since 16 but says at 52,  has nothing to show for it.

“Now I want to own my music.

“The challenge is that I worked with the white people and internationally owned record companies,” Pakela added.

In March, the National Council of Provinces voted to adopt the Performers Protection Amendment Bill and the Copyright Amendment Bill, after the South African Guild of Actors lobbied the government to effect changes to the act, which dates to 1967, and fails to protect the rights of artists in the current environment.

Veteran actress Florence Masebe said: “On the artists’ side, we gave the fight all we could. I have engaged with the government and Parliament and did all the administration.

“It’s really up to the president. If he doesn’t sign it, then it won’t pass and we will continue fighting, but we hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Pakela has also just recorded music with Nigerian artist IC Omo Allen, but was reluctant to release it.

“We have already recorded the music but I am keeping it until we get capital. They are also going to steal it but it will be released soon,” she said.

Although still a loyal ANC supporter, she said she felt forgotten and unsung despite her loyalty to the party during the Struggle.

“I used to perform at packed stadiums for free for the ANC shortly after Nelson Mandela was released. They never paid us but because it was still the early days of the party, so I did not mind.”

Pakela added that because the government didn’t understand how the music industry worked, it was reluctant to support artists.

“The government need to make sure they deal with the less fortunate artists of our era who are not cared for. They hardly understand the music business but want to be involved.”

She said she had made peace with her mistakes, past and shortcomings. “Everything I have learnt from the artists who came before me are lifetime lessons. I don’t wish the young and new generation to go through the same things that I went through,” Pakela added.