THE DEATH OF THE JPO
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...".