Parliament urged to investigate R54-million national orchestra

Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra CEO says it is not obliged to reveal details of operations and finances

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The Mzansi National Public Orchestra performed in Cape Town in December. Photo: Daniel Steyn

  • DA MPs in the Parliamentary Committee for Sports, Arts and Culture are concerned that public funds are being paid to Mzansi National Public Orchestra without sufficient oversight and transparency.
  • The Auditor-General is investigating R41.5-million transferred to the Mzansi orchestra by the National Arts Council (NAC) as potential irregular expenditure.
  • But the orchestra and the Department of Sports, Arts, and Culture maintain that all relevant processes have been followed.

The Parliamentary Committee for Sports, Arts and Culture has been urged to investigate the establishment and funding of the Mzansi National Philharmonic Orchestra, after MPs said they had not received information they asked for on the R54-million allocated to the orchestra.

DA MPs Tsepo Mhlongo and Veronica van Dyk raised concerns about a lack of transparency in how the orchestra has been spending the money allocated to it. They urged the committee to launch a full investigation.

The committee voted rather to wait for the outcome of an investigation by the Auditor-General into the potential irregular expenditure of R41.5-million transferred by the National Arts Council (NAC) to the national orchestra, and for the outcome of a case that has been laid by the DA with the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). The NAC and the Department of Sports, Arts, and Culture have submitted documents requested by the SIU.

But Van Dyk said MPs had not been given all the documents they had asked for. “There’s information like the feasibility study and the budget that we have not received, despite several requests,” he said. “That’s problematic.”

In January, GroundUp reported that the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) had declined to accept a R3.2-million grant from the Mzansi orchestra, citing concerns over transparency.

The Mzansi orchestra, established in terms of a 2018 White Paper, has been allocated R54-million to date and will receive a further annual grant of about R21-million. Its objectives include contributing to social cohesion, bringing orchestral music to more regions in the country, developing young musicians, and strengthening “cultural diplomacy”.

The orchestra has performed several concerts, including a Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. It has also recruited fellows and cadets to receive training and financial support. R20-million has been allocated to fund other regional and local orchestras and music development programmes.

The orchestra is a registered non-profit company with a board and CEO appointed by the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture. The CEO, Bongani Tembe, is also CEO of the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic and Johannesburg Philharmonic orchestras.

Tembe has argued that the Mzansi orchestra is an independent non-profit organisation and is not obliged to make all details of its operations and finances public.

“How does this fall within the Public Finance Management Act?” Van Dyk asked. She also asked whether those who receive funding would be monitored to ensure that the funding is used in the way it is intended. Responding to the questions, Tembe said that the Mzansi orchestra is not a funding agency.

Van Dyk also asked questions about the feasibility study conducted by the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra before the Mzansi orchestra was set up. The Department paid R1-million for the study. Van Dyk said that she had not been able to get a detailed breakdown of how this money was used.

Tembe told the committee that part of the orchestra’s mission was to “broaden the orchestral experience in South Africa”. He said the Mzansi orchestra was working with 40 other organisations and had provided 1,010 job opportunities.


EFF MP Brian Madlingozi commented on the lack of transformation in the orchestra sector. “Of course we’ll have white players because it is a white kind of music,” he said.

Madlingozi said that the style of music played by the Mzansi orchestra should be changed. “What we have seen is the Zulufication…of Bach [and] Mozart kind of music.”

During its national tour, conducted by famed American conductor Marin Allsop, the Mzansi orchestra incorporated Zulu text and music in its performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Tembe said that transformation was a challenge, but that the Mzansi orchestra recruited musicians from various provinces in South Africa and 50% of its musicians were black.

In its audit of the NAC’s financial statements for 2021/2022, the Auditor General flagged R41.5-million transferred to the national orchestra as potentially irregular expenditure.

After engagements between the Auditor General and the NAC, it was agreed that the amount would be disclosed in the NAC’s 2021/2022 annual financial statements as “irregular expenditure still under investigation.”

Representatives of the Auditor General told the parliamentary committee that they had received all the documents needed.

NAC chief financial officer Reshma Bhoola told the committee that the funding was in line with the NAC Act. She said because the funding was ring-fenced and the NAC had been instructed by the department to pay the national orchestra, the usual procedures for the adjudication of grant funding did not apply.

TOPICS:  Arts and culture

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