National

How to catch a Venda porn flick thief

Verashni Pillay

New Film and Publication Board boss Themba Wakashe cracks the whip on errant employees who abuse resources.

Themba Wakashe, chief executive of the Film and Publication Board. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

Most people would envy a Film and Publication Board (FPB) employee. They get to watch movies all day and get paid for it. Or so the story goes.

One employee pushed his luck and tried to make off with a Venda pornographic production.

“It was a locally produced [pornographic] movie from Venda, and it was in the process of classification,” FPB chief executive Themba Wakashe told the Mail & Guardian this week. “One of our employees was allegedly caught pinching that.”

Unfortunately for the employee involved, his attempt could not have happened at a worst time. Wakashe has been on a clean-up mission since he was appointed to the sometimes messy FPB in December. Now the alleged thief is the sixth employee since Wakashe’s arrival to face disciplinary action. Four have been suspended or expelled on various charges and the would-be Venda porn thief may well be the fifth.

Wakashe would not release the employee’s name, but told the M&G that disciplinary hearings began on Tuesday and was concluded two days later. A decision on his future at the company would then be made.

Classification
The FPB is tasked in part with classifying certain media intended for distribution in South Africa, including local and international films and even video games. This includes pornographic films, which are then distributed or shown by the likes of Adult World sex shops and some television stations.

The FPB’s classifiers, about 40 in all, take it in turns to watch pornographic films to assign it the necessary rating and ensure it does not transgress any laws. But watching porn for a living isn’t the lark some may imagine.

“Most of the time people are curious about watching porn,” Wakashe said. “But it is actually the most challenging aspect of our professional lives because you cannot watch and classify porn without it affecting you. People have to get debriefing sessions – a form of therapy.”

The FPB has security measures in place to prevent films and other media from being stolen and illegally distributed, said Wakashe.

The employee who allegedly tried to steal the Venda porn flick “tried his best to manipulate the system”, said Wakashe, but was caught out.

“And now we had to act because the process of classification must have integrity,” he said, pointing out that producers trusted the FPB to protect their material and prevent copyright infringements.

Abuse of state resources
It would be particularly ironic as the FPB is also tasked with policing the distribution of illegally reproduced movies. Wakashe says one of the problems he faced when he started the job were monitors who were assigned to the job making off with the board’s cars.

“They were going all over Southern Africa, going everywhere else except where they were supposed to be,” he said. There were other indiscretions, which resulted in disciplinary hearings and suspensions. “It’s people doing silly things like claiming qualifications they don’t have and allegations of people colluding here and there, and just mismanagement and abuse of the organisation’s assets.”

The idea is anathema to him. “People must know abuse of state resources will never be tolerated.”

Of the other five disciplined employees, one was dismissed after being found guilty for misrepresenting their qualifications. This was detected through a credential verification process that Wakashe introduced. Another employee was suspended after abusing organisational assets and “failing to relocate to where he was assigned”.

Two employees were suspended pending an investigation for collusion with a service provider and conflict with supply chain management procedures, and contravention of the FPB fraud prevention plan.

A fifth employee faced disciplinary hearings for failing to comply with the requirements of classification at an external viewing venue, where there was a breach of the policy of disallowing external influences. She was found to be not guilty and is still employed.


‘Clean’ Mr Fixit is not your traditional censor

The Film and Publication Board is haunted by its legacy as the apartheid-era censor board. “They were quite upfront about what it was called – they didn’t play around,” Themba Wakashe, the board’s chief executive, said.

In February, the chairperson of the board’s council, Thoko Mpumlwana, remarked drily about the pall the past has cast over the organisation. “When we make correct decisions, we are seen as the FPB. When people don’t agree with our decisions, we are the censor board,” she said.

Like the uproar in 2013 over the board’s initial decision not to classify the movie Of Good Report, as it featured an underage character having a sexual relationship with an adult, which classifiers deemed child pornography.

The incident reached a neat conclusion when Wakashe had to deliver the award for best feature film at this year’s South African Film and Television Awards. “And guess what it was?” asked a gleeful Wakashe. “Of Good Report! And I had to present this and it was one of those ironic and wonderful moments in life.”

The brouhaha took place before Wakashe’s time, so it’s easy for him to laugh now. But he’s serious about artistic freedom and it clearly pains him to be seen otherwise.

“Some of the guys involved in the movie I had known when I was at the department of arts and culture,” he said. “They knew me; they weren’t looking at some censor.”

Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos criticised the board’s classifiers at the time. Like other critics, he noted that the artistic context of the movie had been ignored.

Wakashe said: “I’m very much pro the contextual thing and, as a matter of fact, we are now going for amendments to the Act and I’m sure that debate is going to come out.”

He said his classifiers came from various backgrounds, including the arts and academia.

Wakashe, who will be 54 in November, studied drama at the University of the Witwatersrand and did his master’s in theatre at New York University. His CV includes a stint as band manager for legendary musician Abdullah Ibrahim.

When he returned to South Africa, he was assigned to the cultural desk of the ANC, undertaking detailed policy preparations of its “ready to govern” campaign.

He joined the department of arts and culture in 1996 as a chief director and worked his way up to director general, a post he held from 2007 to 2010.

During his time at the helm, he earned a reputation as Mr Fixit, steering the department towards unqualified audits. He admits he made mistakes, and some artists took him to task for being too aloof. But his personal obsession seems to be integrity.

“I worked in the department of arts and culture for almost 15 years. I still pride myself that I went there clean and I left the department clean.”


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