THE DEATH OF THE JPO

14 Nov 2012 Comments 19

 

Tonight, South African society faces yet another heartache: the all-but-certain death of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra.

 

After hemorrhaging funds for years due to breathtaking mismanagement, the the 12-year-old JPO is literally on its last legs. Tonight is its final concert unless its recent ‘business rescue’ initiative kicks in and bears miraculous fruit.

 

The usual excuses have been bandied about: lack of attendance, lack of municipal funding, the international financial crisis etc. Some of these are at least moderately true. Inside sources, however, lay the blame squarely at the door of Shadrack Bokaba, the orchestra’s MD.

 

 

After pillaging the orchestra’s coffers for years, he had the gall to announce ‘rescue operations’ in October, as though the poor orchestra was the victim of some kind of act of God.

 

A recent Business Day article noted that, after months of not being able to pay the orchestra’s players, it would be ‘unlikely to pay its debts for the next six months’ even if the business rescue plan succeeded.

It then quoted Bokaba: “The board and I are confident this financial situation will turn around in the next three to six months.”

 

Shadrack Bokaba’s credentials list only his Business Management diploma from Henley Business School in the UK, and his 2004 award for Arts and Culture Administrator of the Year. A man variously described as ‘abusive’, ‘racist’, 'aggressive' and 'a total autocrat', he apparently played violin in the orchestra as well at one point. He assumed the JPO’s MD position in 2006, succeeding the embattled but energetic Sara Gon, a lawyer and former judge.

 

Reports of non-payment of the orchestra’s musicians began surfacing years ago. It got so bad, even visiting conductors and soloists were kept waiting for payment. “I and my musical friends who have appeared as soloists with the JPO have been discussing the awful situation at the orchestra and the insulting treatment which we have had to endure for years,” said Prof. Nina Schumann, professor at the University of Stellenbosch, one of the top pianists in South Africa and the eventual victim of a blacklisting from Bokaba.

 

After tonight, at least six members of the orchestra, all with long-term contracts, will be unemployed.

 

The JPO recently posted ominous things like this on their Facebook page: “Due to the financial strains on our members we field a smaller orchestra this week and replace the Brahms with Beethoven Symphony No. 1” (Nov. 6).

And this: “Thank you to all our friends joining us on stage this wk [sic] to show their support during this difficult time!! We face closure without urgent financial assistance.” (Nov. 14)

 

The JPO’s resident tweeter, after confidently stating this: “If we're saved by bus. rescue we'll continue under new business plan designed to ensure financial sustainability” (Nov. 13), also sent out mass tweets this week that read: “Last concerts of 2012 this wk [sic].Many friends on stage to support during financial strife”.

 

One orchestra member’s wife wrote heartbreakingly on Facebook: “Thinking of my darling husband and my dear friends and colleagues during an emotional week and last 2 concerts. I have no words. You are in my thoughts constantly.”

 

The JPO’s website proudly displays its mission statement: “The JPO prides itself on creating sustainable employment for South African musicians and keeping classical music alive in the country's most culturally diverse and vibrant city…Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the musicians and staff of the JPO as well as a generous grant from the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, classical music is definitely alive, well and thriving in the City of Gold.“

 

After tonight? Unlikely.

 

How does a once-culturally rich and diverse country like South Africa stand by and watch top politicians embezzling billions, building palatial compounds using State funds and travelling internationally on private jets, while the culture of the nation shuts down, one orchestra at a time?

 

'Refined Western culture is not for the masses', you may argue. Fair enough, but a country like South Africa, aspiring as it does to the glories of First World civilization, has for decades taken pride in its accomplished classical music heritage. Johannesburg is one of the most famous cities in the world, and it's about to lose its renowned philharmonic orchestra. Surely that's more than a little distressing? To say nothing of the death through mismanagement of yet another public institution following the ANC's ascension to power.

 

When will it end?

 

You can call Shadrack Bokaba on 0117892733 and ask him, if you’d like.

 

Further reading: Norman Lebrecht's damning article , as well as the article that follows it, "Musicians Out Of Tune With Orchestra Chiefs".

 

Also, Norman's follow-up article, "Last Chords Tonight...".

 

Showing 19 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • De Etheridge

    musicians speak louder than politicians.......let the music play on........!

    November 14, 2012 at 14:16pm - Comment
  • Irit

    Shocking news. There is another Orch around which manages its financial affairs so well that players get paid. Johnnesburg is poor for yet another cultural lose.

    November 14, 2012 at 16:48pm - Comment
  • Roland

    How did this man become the MD?? Surely those that put him there can remove him again?

    November 14, 2012 at 18:42pm - Comment
  • Doug

    A man variously described as 'abusive', 'racist', 'aggressive' and 'a total autocrat...'


    Interesting, I did not know that blacks could were capable of being 'racist' /sarc

    Either way, Bokaba is getting what he has worked for all along apparently.

    November 14, 2012 at 20:45pm - Comment
  • Tilla Henkins

    A well written article, thank you.
    I certainly hope that all members of the orchestra's management will receive individual , independent audits. It will clear the names of those unfairly suspected of having enriched themselves and bring others to book. I also have reason to suspect that the the loyalty of some orchestra members were 'bought,' which will hopefully be investigated. No turnabout of any institution is possible without serious weeding or even total replacement of existing management.
    May this nightmare turn into a blessing, the start of a new JPO , vibrant and as relevant as it could be.

    November 15, 2012 at 00:38am - Comment
  • Brenda Human

    Thank you for this article about abysmal JPO management, laying the blame for the imminent demise of the JPO squarely where it belongs. I have been associated with many of the JPO orchestra members over the past few years and attended the last? rehearsal of the season, year or forever ..... yesterday. It was rather like attending a funeral with all the musicians (appropriately dressed in black) and bearing in mind all those other unfortunate talented and experienced musicians sitting at home because they were axed unlawfully by the management in the past - and that for daring to ask when they were likely to be paid. To me they represented the mourners for the JPO which some of them repeatedly referred to as "their family". With all the political blunder, wasteful expenditure and the list goes on, that we are exposed to daily in this country of ours - and I know what I am talking about having recently retired from a large parastatal organisation - this imminent closure of a wonderful cultural institution is the final insult to all of us who genuinely respect the loyalty and sacrifice as well as the roles these overworked highly qualified musicians have played in bringing a certain brightness and lightness to our otherwise stressful lives. The comment mentioned in the article that sentiment in this country revolves around classical music being Eurocentric just SUCKS big time ...... what about all the Black musician friends (check the picture shown with this article) as well as all the Academy musicians who have received training to be able, one day to perform with the main orchestra - my question is what are they slaving for if there is not going to be an orchestra for all these young black people to join? Thanks Shadrack and your Board of Directors for what you have put myself (through association) and all my other friends through!!! BRENDA HUMAN

    November 15, 2012 at 11:24am - Comment
  • Brenda Human

    Thank you John Ellis for this article about abysmal JPO management, laying the blame for the imminent demise of the JPO squarely where it belongs. I have been associated with many of the JPO orchestra members over the past few years and attended the last? rehearsal of the season, year or forever ..... yesterday. It was rather like attending a funeral with all the musicians (appropriately dressed in black) and bearing in mind all those other unfortunate talented and experienced musicians sitting at home because they were axed unlawfully by the management in the past - and that for daring to ask when they were likely to be paid. To me they represented the mourners for the JPO which some of them repeatedly referred to as "their family". With all the political blunder, wasteful expenditure and the list goes on, that we are exposed to daily in this country of ours - and I know what I am talking about having recently retired from a large parastatal organisation - this imminent closure of a wonderful cultural institution is the final insult to all of us who genuinely respect the loyalty and sacrifice as well as the roles these overworked highly qualified musicians have played in bringing a certain brightness and lightness to our otherwise stressful lives. The comment mentioned in the article that sentiment in this country revolves around classical music being Eurocentric just SUCKS big time ...... what about all the Black musician friends (check the picture shown with this article) as well as all the Academy musicians who have received training to be able, one day to perform with the main orchestra - my question is what are they slaving for if there is not going to be an orchestra for all these young black people to join? Thanks Shadrack and your Board of Directors for what you have put myself (through association) and all my other friends through!!!

    November 15, 2012 at 12:47pm - Comment
  • kevin collins

    Agree completely with the sentiments expressed in the article. How a patron like Cyril Ramaphosa could let this management continue under his watch is also a bit of a shock

    November 15, 2012 at 13:34pm - Comment
  • Diana

    Where are your facts, sir? Your blog amounts to slander, with no proof or sources mentioned. Heresay and rumours are, I'm afraid, not fact. I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with you. Except for the fact that I think it is disgusting that the orchestra is in the position it is in, I remain objective. But base your character-ruining statements on something concrete, please.

    November 15, 2012 at 16:46pm - Comment
    • Arthur Pollock

      Also having been associated with and my wife having played for the JPO for many years, my wife and I were treated shamefully when we went to discuss monies outstanding to her and had to resort to legal means to get her payment. We have no desire to see the world class musicians of the JPO out of work because of third world management.
      How can you keep on hiring extra musicians when you have no money to pay them and running up the orchestra debt but more importantly the debts incurred by the musicians on your promises of payment, then blacklist them when they ask for their rightful dues! This is not financial management just mismanagement. On a monthly basis an income and expenditure sheet should have been made available to the board and orchestra members from the finance person as the very basic of accounting.

      November 16, 2012 at 09:12am - Comment
  • Wessel

    Thanks for the great article. JPO's first, then the SA Music Education Trust (SAMET).
    The SAMET staff have not been paid for 4 months. Tick tock...

    November 15, 2012 at 19:40pm - Comment
  • ANDRE STRYDOM

    This is one of the most heartbreaking things I have read in a long time.

    As a South African musician and conductor who has now lived and worked in the United States for 20 years, I am devastated to know that the JPO is no more. My heart goes out to dear friends and colleagues, people like Susie Mouton, Peta Ann Holdcroft, Peter Griffiths, and all the musicians in the orchestra who now face an uncertain future.

    God bless you all.

    November 16, 2012 at 07:28am - Comment
  • Koena

    Very touch indeed. Should they get financial assistance, they shoul suspend this MD for a period of a year.

    November 16, 2012 at 07:30am - Comment
  • ichali

    Ms Madonsela should do us a favour and have a good hard look at this waster.

    November 16, 2012 at 15:06pm - Comment
  • Thandiwe Ngema

    This is very sad. A city is neither global or world class without an orchestra. Look at all the aspiring Brazilian and Chinese cities with Orchestras!

    November 16, 2012 at 16:54pm - Comment
    • Nandi

      Aspiring???! brazilian and chinese cities!!! Which planet do u live on - Mars?

      December 09, 2012 at 21:00pm - Comment
  • Christo Cilliers

    Well written piece! Hear about this on Fine Music Radio this morning. Jawbreaker. Once again mismanagement. It is sickening that this evil cancer has crept into the Arts. Yet once again NO ACCOUNTABILITY! When funds are mismanaged the culprit(s) needs to be found and brought to justice. Whatever happened to democracy? Alas I DOUBT anything will be done.... As much as I hate saying this, I am disgusted in concluding: The day when Art dies is the beginning of the end of civilization...

    November 18, 2012 at 09:42am - Comment
  • LOUISE pALLET

    tHIS WOULD BE A VERY SAD DAY INDEED IF THE jPO CLOSED DOWN How can this happen? Don't you have an insider to lead instead of someone who just comes in to bleed it to death

    November 29, 2012 at 08:16am - Comment
  • debt Management

    WOw , thats the end of the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra ? South Africa has lost alot due to poor management of debt , the entire Nation seems to be a credit society, I know I work at Debtbusters as a debt counsellor and I see 100's of cases like these.

    February 15, 2013 at 11:21am - Comment