Lotteries board rebuts reports about Mandela opera payment

The National Lotteries Board of South Africa (NLB) has denied withholding a grant for a stage play about the life of former president Nelson Mandela.

“On 26 May, an email was sent to the organisers confirming that payment would be made on that very same day. The payment was made within three working days of receiving the signed grant agreement,” lotteries board spokesperson Sershan Naidoo said on Tuesday.

“The NLB is therefore concerned that there are media reports that the opera had to be cancelled because of non-payment of the grant by the NLB.”

The French news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported on Monday that the play titled Madiba: The African Opera premiered on Friday at the State Theatre in Pretoria but was forced to close three days later when it ran out of money to pay performers.

The opera, which tells the early life of the anti-apartheid icon who died last year, was supposed to be moved from Pretoria to Mandela’s childhood village and final resting place in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

It was then expected to tour South Africa before heading overseas.

Unathi Mtirara, who is also Mandela’s grandnephew, told AFP: “We are still waiting for them to pay. We couldn’t continue, pending that deal.” Naidoo said an amount of R2.86-million was paid on Monday.

“When the grant agreement was finalised on May 21, two days before the premiere of the opera, the NLB had to follow its routine compliance and verification processes before transferring the funds,” he said.

The original grant application for the play was R11.8-million, and the NLB awarded R2.86-million.

Naidoo said the board was not in a position to fund the entire amount because of a limited budget.

The budget for funding to welfare, sports, recreation, arts, culture, heritage, and environmental groups was R2-billion per annum, he said.

“In the last call for applications, the NLB received 14 400 applications requesting R40-billion,” he said. – Sapa

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