Gautrain literacy project derailed

Money matters: #GautrainReads campaign promoter Kgauhelo Dube and the Gautrain Management Agency have fallen out. Photo: Oupa Nkosi

Money matters: #GautrainReads campaign promoter Kgauhelo Dube and the Gautrain Management Agency have fallen out. Photo: Oupa Nkosi

When the literacy campaign #GautrainReads was launched in September last year, its creator Kgauhelo Dube, a public relations specialist working with literary events, was barred from attending the event after a fall-out with her client, the Gautrain Management Agency (GMA).

Dube says the agency tried to treat her as a supplier and appropriate her intellectual property. She claims she is owed about R400 000 for the conceptualisation of the year-long campaign, and millions for what she says is the actual value of the campaign.

“I think an important link in all this is that I designed a blueprint for this campaign and was told by the junior ladies at Gautrain is that I would have to make sure my overall budget would need to be under R500 000, otherwise they would have to put the idea to tender as per PFMA [Public Finance Management] Act stipulations,” she says.

“As a security measure, I bent over backwards to ensure that I would be the implementing party for my intellectual property by having it approved for a lesser budget.

“What this means is procurement processes have no regard for intellectual property. You could easily lose your project because you have costed it over R500 000. That means someone with no intricate knowledge and expertise in literacy campaigning could have run #GautrainReads should I have agreed on risking it and opening it up to a tendering process.”

The agency, for whom the campaign was conceived, claims it has been running literacy campaigns and book launches since 2013 and therefore consider Dube a supplier, who would have to prove her claim to intellectual property theft.

Central to the fall-out is Dube’s refusal to sign a memorandum of understanding in the days leading up to the event, claiming that she had received two versions of the memorandum in quick succession and needed more time to consult her legal representatives about their content.

“They took long with legal to give me a contract so I couldn’t walk into the launch without covering my ass,” she says from her flat in Pretoria. “I thought it was just semantics but they had decided to be bullies to me. Through the process they amended parts of the contract without any feedback from me.”

According to Dube, #Gautrain-Reads was designed not only to have an effect on literacy rates but also to change the perception that the Gautrain as a brand was cold and impersonal. The campaign’s monthly cycles would include the introduction of a virtual Gautrain book club, a book of the month and story sharing by commuters. The rollout plan also included readings at venues close to the routes, flash fiction tips from writers and weekly flash fiction competitions.

The buy-in from writers, who were to be called upon for readings and to help to promote the events was obvious, perhaps more so when the fall-out with the agency reach such a level that the campaign was scuppered.

A letter sent to the agency’s communication executive, Ingrid Jensen, and chief executive Jack van der Merwe, is signed by several members of the literary community. These include the late poet laureate Keoraptse Kgositsile, publisher Thabiso Mahlape, authors Zakes Mda, Bankole Omotoso and Elinor Sisulu and Exclusive Books general manager of marketing Ben Williams, who signed in his own capacity.

They raise concerns about the campaign falling by the wayside and the treatment allegedly meted out to Dube. “We are concerned that a campaign of such promise should apparently be abandoned with such haste and are especially worried of the example this sets, in the context of poor corporate support for literacy and the arts in South Africa generally,” the letter states.

“We urge the Gautrain/GMA to make just amends to with Ms Dube as soon as possible, including financial compensation for her idea. That she is already out of pocket for the campaign, having paid a supplier herself [after the supplier pulled out after hearing about Dube’s ejection by the GMA from any central role], attests to her deep commitment to literacy, letters and the arts.”

Dube says that in the lead-up to the launch, Mda advised her to seek therapy after he saw the state she was in because of the debacle.

“It was also around the time #MeToo was reaching fever pitch, and I was feeling the pinch of imposter syndrome. I was feeling like maybe it didn’t happen but I know it did,” she says. “I felt like it’s in my place to go away and for people to take shit from me.”

Dube says she has yet to pay most of the people who worked with her. “The look and feel, for instance, was designed by my intern but they [the agency] took the credit and started patting themselves on the back for it.”

In WhatsApp messages between Dube and Tlago Ramalepa, who works at the agency, Ramalepa explains aspects of the memorandum, saying, “because this is a Gautrain campaign, only the spokesperson of the Gautrain can speak to the media about this … It is in our media and spokesperson policy and, as such, we as brand custodians cannot go against the policy.”.

In communication with Dube’s lawyers, the agency has stated they view payment of the purchase order (priced at under R500 000) to constitute a handover of intellectual property. They say this was mutually agreed on by all parties.

But, to date, nothing has been paid to Dube, probably because of the termination of the campaign. In November last year, Snail Attorneys sent the agency a letter of demand for compensation of R5.78-million.

When asked why Dube, as a representative of the Orenda Arts Collective (OAC) was not paid, the agency said she had not submitted a correct invoice and the amount exceeded the amount on the GMA’s purchase order. It said the invoice was for R621 930 but the agreed amount was R379 620.

“Despite expressing its [OAC’s] willingness to pay an invoice that conforms to the PO ... the GMA is yet to receive the correct invoice”.

The agency said that payment could not happen before the implementation of a concept or project and that it had held events similar to the #GautrainReads campaign before Dube’s proposal. “Moreover, Ms Dube is on record as being agreeable to OAC not being paid a separate conceptualisation fee.”

The agency said it terminated the #GautrainReads campaign because the brand objectives and what was agreed on was not delivered. The GMA added that Dube had not given her input to the memorandum of understanding (MoU) and “instead chose to make disparaging remarks about the GMA to third parties, thus a continued relationship with OAC became untenable”.

The agency said the campaign went no further than the launch, despite trying “to reach out to Ms Dube to find an amicable solution” but “she chose to go the legal route”.

An MoU instead of a memorandum of association (MoA) was submitted to Dube in error, the agency said, but this was corrected.

Dube said changes were made to the memorandums without her approval but the agency said she had been given time to review the MoA and that she had promised to provide input to it.

The GMA said it applies the same rules and procedures to all its suppliers, regardless of the amount involved.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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