Creditors search for missing producer

Artists and guest house claim they were ripped off in Mandela opera scam A MANHUNT for Mandela The African Opera mastermind and producer Unathi Mtirara has been launched by several individuals, a government department and a legal firm over the missing money paid to him and which he did not pay to artists who featured in the opera. Mtirara has been missing for more than a month, and yesterday former colleagues voiced the suspicion that he had skipped the country and used the Madiba name to pave a new life abroad. Mtirara has been accused of failing to pay artists featured in his Opera South Africa (OSA) productions, in a trend dating back to 2010. In his most recent scandal, the director is alleged to have used the services of over 100 cast and crew for his five-day production of the musical on Nelson Mandela last year. The Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) gave him a R1 million grant, which was to have matched a similar amount generated by his own fundraising activities. “But he disappeared with the money and left us in the lurch,” a production member said. “All his and his wife’s numbers are off; his social media pages no longer exist.” Mtirara also came under fire from the DAC, which said they had entrusted him with money and expected him to use it accordingly. They, too, had unsuccessfully tried to get hold of him and had launched an investigation into possible breach of contract. The matter would be handled by their legal department. Coenraad Kukkuk Attorneys are also looking for Mtirara in efforts to recover money owed to their Pretoria client, Casta Diva Guest House, accumulated during 2014. Mtirara borrowed R15 000 cash from the guest house owner, and they say in a letter: “The second instruction is for the recovery of the amount of approximately R440 000 for goods and services rendered, on account.” When Mtirara initially launched his production and brought it to the Pretoria State Theatre in 2014, he used the guest house to accommodate soloists and other important people, and in their month-long stay they also had their meals there and provided with other services. They have been trying to track him down, and attorneys spoke to his wife, who told them to “catch her if they could”. Late last year, they served letters of demand on the other six directors listed on the company database. “The shock of being linked with OSA hit us squarely in the chest, because we walked away from that company in 2010,” renowned choirmaster Sidwell Mhlongo said yesterday. There had been many fights between Mtirara and the colleagues he had established OSA with during their yearlong tenure as directors in 2010. “He refused us access to funders, assured us of money and then failed to pay when productions were done.” Several performances were held that year. “And then we were left to apologise and wipe egg off our faces,” Mhlongo said. OSA was launched during a massive gala concert on Mandela Day, July 18, 2010, where OSA went all out to produce a performance to break them into the arts scene. “We had the country’s best choristers, soloists, orchestra. “Unathi secured massive funding, and when it was done we had to run around to recover costs, to find ways to pay for what we could and to apologise to those we simply could not pay,” Mhlongo said. Tensions mounted as they continued to perform and as Mtirara failed to pay. “We soon realised he was cheating us and ruining our reputations as masters in the arts, so we all quit,” Mhlongo said. When they discovered their names were still on the list of directors last year, they called Mtirara and demanded to be removed. “He never turned up at a meeting scheduled for that,” he said. He then disappeared. Attempts to contact Mtirara yesterday proved futile. By Ntando Makhubu The Star 03/03/16 Early Edition