Theatre: Soweto Theatre Expenditure – Steven Sack Responds

August 26, 2014

Former City of Joburg official Steven Sack was concerned about what he perceived to be inaccuracies in the story below (italics), which appeared recently in The Times. He has submitted his response for consideration (below the original story).


Ninety percent of a R5-million budget to run the Soweto Theatre was wiped out in just 48 hours.

According to City of Johannesburg documents, mayoral committee for community development Chris Vondo is accused of irregular expenditure of R4.5-million.

This left the theatre with only R500000 for the year.

ANC councillors in the city have since used their majority to block attempts to hold Vondo liable for the financial scandal.

The expenditure in question relates to the May 2012 opening of the Soweto Theatre.

About R4581459 was spent on the event in two days.

According to a document from the community development committee, dated 22 July this year, the expenditure was necessary to “accommodate the enormous public interest in the launch”.

The original programme was changed three weeks before the opening and the launch date was brought forward.

The programme “was expanded to include a number of additional items and an additional day of programmes”.

On July 31 this year, ANC councillors trampled on crucial legislation meant to safeguard public financial resources.

DA councillor John Mendelsohn demanded an investigation into the matter, and to establish whether the R4.5-million could be recovered from Vondo in terms of Section 32 [2] of the Municipal Finance Management Act.

ANC councillors disregarded section 170 of the act, which declares that only National Treasury may condone irregular expenditure.

The city’s documents do not show that an application for condonation had been made to Treasury.

Section 32 [2] [b] of the act states that “irregular expenditure may only be written off by the council if, after an investigation by a council committee, the irregular expenditure is certified as irrecoverable”.

“All instances of irregular expenditure must be recovered from the liable official or political office-bearer, unless the expenditure is certified by the municipal council… ,” a note from Treasury says.

Section 171 and 173 of the act allow disciplinary procedures and criminal charges to be instituted against any official or councillor that contravenes its provisions.

Soweto Theatre, which is close to Jabulani Shopping Mall, cost R150-million to develop.

Its opening was graced by Johannesburg mayor Parks Tau and entertainers Gloria Bosman, the Soweto Jazz Orchestra and bassist Concord Nkabinde.

Local Government Minister Pravin Gordhan has expressed concerns about municipal budgets and how state entities are managed.


Steven Sack’s response:

I am writing this response to this article because I was the most senior City Of Joburg (COJ) official responsible for the launch of the Soweto Theatre and I am alarmed at the incorrect information that has been placed in the public domain. I no longer work for the City so as a concerned ex-employee, and without access to the relevant documentation, I wish to direct your attention to the following:

Broadly the real story behind the launch of the Soweto Theatre is as follows:

The Budget Office allocated R10 million to the Department of Community Development in the 2011-2012 financial year for the acquisition of movable assets, appointment of HR and the official launch. R5 million was set aside for Human Resources (theatre staff) and held in the account of the Department of Community Development. R5 million was transferred to the Roodepoort Theatre the institution, entrusted with coordinating the official opening and launch.

When the theatre was completed in early 2012, the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC), transferred the building to the Department of Community Development. What was transferred was a complete building with no movable assets. The extent of the responsibility of the JPC versus the Department of Community Development, as regards the launch and the acquisition of movable assets, was dealt with in various reports submitted to Council by the JPC. This is normal practice in the commissioning of new infrastructure – movable assets are not included, and is the reason why the Roodepoort Theatre received a R5 million allocation.

As mentioned, a significant part of the R5 million was used to obtain all of the movable assets, which included:

* Sound and lighting equipment for the three theatres (this included training for the new staff in the use of the equipment);

* Seating for the three theatres, lobby and bar area;

* Furniture and computers for the administration and ticket office; (some items of office furniture included second -hand tables and chairs, sourced from COJ stores)

* Security and cleaning contractors appointed on short-term contracts;

(The exact costs of the movable assets (and a comprehensive list) should be recorded in the asset register of the theatre).

A portion of the funds was set aside for the launch, which took place in May 25- 27 , 2012.

This money was used to commission the opening production, The Suitcase, directed by James Ngcobo , which was chosen through a public tender; as well as a programme of productions over the weekend including the Salif Keita concert , Mzwake Mbuli and other dance and music performances. It also included the costs of appointing a private management company to facilitate the launch.

Only a very small portion of the R5 million HR funds was used, as the theatre opened with a skeleton staff, appointed by the Department of Community Development, primarily technical and front of house staff, with support from the finance and marketing departments of the Roodepoort Theatre.

In July 2012 there was a comprehensive audit of the expenditure, including the expenditure on the Soweto Theatre launch and the Roodepoort theatre, as custodian of the Soweto Theatre. An unqualified audit was achieved.

The detailed and complete facts, of how funds were allocated and spent, for the official launch and opening of the Soweto Theatre, can be obtained by looking at the financial records which should be archived by the new management structure of the Joburg Theatre Management Company.