This year’s Heritage Day debate in the National Assembly centred on the life of South African music composer and singer Solomon Linda and the country’s indigenous music. Opening the debate, the Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Mr Nathi Mthethwa paid tribute the celebrated composer of the international hit Mbube, which later became the world famous song The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

“The song generated and continues to generate millions of dollars across the globe, but not for Linda, he died penniless,” the Minister explained. The story of his life encapsulates the experience of many creative workers in South Africa and the continent more generally. “A life story that is directly connected to the brutal and painful history of colonialism and its apartheid derivative in the case of our country.”

In efforts to avoid repeating these experiences, the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition supported by the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture have over the past few years campaigned for the passing of the Copyright Amendment Bill and the Performers Protection Bill, which have both been passed by the National Assembly and sent to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for concurrence. 

“The two Bills are aimed at promoting the economic interests of content creators whilst at the same time accommodating the need to reasonable access to information by users, this is in line with the latest and changing technology. For the first time in the history of our copyright system, our law introduces resale rights for visual arts work, thus ensuring that the artists and/or families receive compensation each time the work is resold on the market,” the Minister said.

Mr Brian Madlingozi, an EFF Member of Parliament, said the story of Solomon Linda was a typical African story, because at the core it represents Western accumulation of wealth by dispossessing African people of what is theirs. “In essence, there is a direct correlation between the development of the West and the underdevelopment of Africa, one feeds off the other, one is responsible for the other.

“The same logic defines the so called inequalities in this country – the comfort and privileges that European settlers enjoy in this country are linked and are responsible for the poverty, landlessness and dehumanisation of native people of this land,” he said.

In paying tribute to Linda, Mr Madlingozi said the KwaZulu-Natal-born composer’s potential was held back by the racist, colonial and apartheid regime. “The West’s disdainful regard for African property, particularly African intellectual property, would not leave Linda be. In 1952, US musician Pete Seeger of the group The Weavers, stole the original version of Mbube, and adapted it into a song called Wimoweh.”

This song went on to become very popular in the US and was later re-arranged by George Weiss into The Lion Sleeps Tonight. The song has since been recorded by over 150 artists across the world and has been used in the sound track of several films, including Lion King.

“In all these productions of the song,” Mr Madlingozi continued, “Solomon Linda did not get any recognition. While whites grew popular and rich because of his production, he grew poorer and more destitute, dying in absolute poverty in 1962 without ever getting royalties for his work,” he said.

It was only in 2004 that Solomon Linda’s surviving daughters began a lawsuit that would eventually see them getting royalties of their father’s work. “The sad story of the theft of Linda’s work is not dissimilar to the theft of African land by the marauding invaders who have now settled in the land. Whatever notions of heritage we are to celebrate in this month remains meaningless unless and until Africans get back all that was stolen from them by the white people,” said Mr Madlingozi.

The Democratic Alliance’s Mr Denis Joseph likened the ANC government to the colonial regime and accused it of “abuse of hospitality of the natives”. “The abuse of hospitality by colonisers is continuing under democratic government. The ANC is abusing the hospitality of South Africans; one example is the recognition of the Khoisan people which is only on paper.

The Sarah Baartman Memorial Centre in Hankey Valley is a very important site for the Khoisan, as it is where Sarah Baartman was buried in 2002. However, despite a R200 million cost escalation, the memorial site is still incomplete, which is an insult to the Khoisan people, Mr Joseph said.

Sakhile Mokoena
9 September 2022