Close this search box.

No Signs of Sour Grapes, Yet Questions About the SAMAs And RiSA Still Bubble

The South African Music Awards took place without incident despite the rollercoaster ride to get there and there’s hope for good things to come in the future.
November 24, 2023
4:44 pm
Zakes Bantwini, Nomcebo Zikode and Wouter Kellerman - Grammy Award Winners

The controversial prelude to the South African Music Awards (SAMA29) was brushed under the red carpet by the time the expertly-orchestrated, glitzy, high-tech award ceremony happened – as planned – on Saturday 18 November.


Barely a month before the two-day event was scheduled to take place, the KZN provincial government withdrew its R20-million (approximately $1,058,000.00) pledge of support after being rapped over the knuckles for spending money it didn’t have. The argument from the KZN government while opposition parties and national government wrangled over its extravagance, was that the event would create jobs and money generated from tourism would far exceed the outlay.


“They justified it by saying the SAMAs would bring in R350 million (approximately $18,509,000.00) worth of tourism business. That would imply that each person would have to spend R50 000 ($2,644) over a two-day period. The calculations were crazy,” long-time music industry activist, Clive Hardwick says.


Jessica Mbangeni

After a brief interval during which the music industry held its collective breath, the SAMA’s announced a comeback for one day only in a partnership between the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) and Africa Fest. “Stronger together!” RiSA proclaimed, as the music industry and aficionados heaved a sigh of relief.


The event took place at the at the SunBet Arena at Time Square, Menlyn Maine, with performances by Kabza De Small, Makhadzi, DBN Gogo, Samthing Soweto, Kamo Mphela, Pabi Cooper, Nkosazana Daughter, Uncle Waffles, and many more.



It was apt that the South African rapper, record producer, and businessman AKA, whose assassination outside a Durban restaurant in February this year is still under investigation, was posthumously celebrated as the Male Artist of The Year and Best Collaboration for Lemons (Lemonade) featuring Nasty C. His album, Mass Country, scooped the Best Engineered Album for Robin Kohl &Itu.


‘The icon lives long in true Supermega style, the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA) announced. In a moving tribute, AKA’s mother, Lynn Forbes, who accepted the award on her son’s behalf said: “This occasion is so special it is a full circle moment for us. In 2021 Kiernan won Best Male Artist at the SAMA’s and to stand here tonight to accept this award in his absence is just the most incredible honour.”


The full list of winners can be found on the SAMA website.



An atmosphere of bonhomie prevailed during the celebratory occasion, which many saw as a sign of a new era for music and the SAMAs. “Despite everything, the SAMAs are still here, still relevant, still possible,” people said.


RiSA CEO Nhlanhla Sibisi summed it up in his closing address: “SAMA29 was definitely filled with multiple challenges but through the art of collaboration, artists, esteemed industry professionals, guest presenters and hosts we were able to celebrate all our winners. We are so grateful for them and for South Africa as a whole and their love for the country’s music and entertainment industry. We are so proud of all our winners and wish that their careers continue to be as unforgettable as this evening has been. #SAMA30 let’s go!”


Hloni Modise Matau

There were no signs of quibbles or sour grapes at the star-studded event but shortly afterwards, Afro Pop singer Kelly Khumalo launched a virulent social media attack against Ntokozo Mbambo, claiming she was not the justified winner of the Female Artist of the Year. Perhaps in the full knowledge that she was ripping a plaster from a wound that had never quite healed, Khumalo publicly alleged that since she was not the winner, voting must have been rigged.


With rigged votes, excessive budgets, unqualified expenditure, and allegations of kickbacks foremost in public imagination, questions about the history of the SAMAs and RiSA’s lack of transparency bubbled to the surface.



“There have been allegations of vote rigging, of misappropriation of funds, of executives at RiSA being paid huge commissions as part of sponsorship deals,” Hardwick says, adding that he doesn’t have any inside knowledge and is unable to qualify the rumours.


“There was an issue that hasn’t been fully explained but three people lost their jobs. Nobody is saying whether it was justified or not or what the story was, but it had to do with a particular winner who perhaps should never have been nominated in the first place,” says Hardwick.



He continues, “The people who lost their jobs had all been there for a number of years and some of them had been there for 10 years. I don’t know the details but what has been disclosed is that it had to do with somebody that won an award that shouldn’t have got it.”


Leslie Mofokeng

RiSA spokesperson, Leslie Mofokeng, who joined the SAMA in 2020 says the SAMAS have never been a conduit for stealing money or for robbing the artists or anything of the sort. “The SAMAs have a clean legacy and history in terms of managing its finances,” he asserts.


Complaints about extravagant and wasteful expenditure on the SAMAs were coming in thick and fast long before the debacle with the KZN provincial government.


RISA CEO Nhlanhla Sibisi

Jazz writer Gwen Ansell says: “…The awards were an embarrassment long before 2023: pretentious, overdressed, booze n’schmooze consumption parades with so little to do with actual music and the “personalities” engaged to MC were often clearly unfamiliar with (and unrehearsed for) even the performers’ names they had to read. In one cringeworthy year, they tried to call a deceased winner up on stage,” she says on her regular blog.


Mofokeng explains that South Africans don’t know about the challenges of raising funds for the SAMAs and the costs involved. “We get support from provincial government and from corporate sponsors to pull off this mammoth event with about 4,000 people. To give you an idea, for a comfortable SAMAs, which covers everything, you need about R30million (approximately $1,6 million). That’s to accommodate all the people, have a great production, and provide transportation and accommodation for guests and judges from all over South Africa.”



It is frustrating when people who have no idea of what is involved in putting together an event like this suggest it is possible to spend R8 000 or R10000 ($423 or $529) for the whole things. “They have no idea,” he says.


Regarding rigged votes, Mofokeng says the system doesn’t allow for it. The industry, which includes representatives from big and small labels, selects judges for each category. The judges never get to meet. They are provided with possibly up to 30 links, depending on the entries for a particular category and on an electronic platform they score every entry, every album (with a minimum of four songs on an album).


Young Stuna


The system requires that they listen to each song for at least one minute and then score it and justify the reason for their score. The information goes into a computer and then to the auditors who tally the scores and present the top five in each category. These then become the nominees for each category. “We are surprised when people criticise how winners are chosen,” Mofokeng says. “Music is a very emotive subject and that’s why there is a lot of noise from someone who expected to win,” Mofokeng adds.


There are bound to be disappointments. Nevertheless, Hardwick says that Sony got 41 nominations this year. “It’s bizarre. How can one record company possibly have so many nominations?” he asks.


Nobody is questioning whether the SAMAs are worthwhile.


“I think the awards serve a very good purpose in recognising excellence in the music industry,” Hardwick says. “The problem is that they have lost credibility,” he adds. He recommends some rigorous soul searching and a complete overhaul are required, and questions whether RiSA is the most appropriate body to manage the SAMAs.


“There may be a fresh start …with the SAMAs being revisioned as an event anchored to a real music festival,” Ansel says, referring to the link to the AfricaFest. “Perhaps such an extensive sonic reminder of what the awards should be about, and where they started, will lead to more revisioning in 2024, she speculates.


Zamo Dlamini

For the musicians, the SAMAs remain significant. As long as there are entries, the SAMAs are here to stay, Mofokeng says. “When you go to the bios of winners on social media, you will see that they all say they are a SAMA winner. Whether you are a winner or a nominee, it is still considered a prestigious acknowledgment…The SAMAs have been a great platform and launching pad for a lot of people…some of whom have gone on to become big stars on the international stage,” he says.


Lifetime Achievement Awards this year went to the late Kwaito star Mandoza, alongside Pops Mohamed, Ihhashi Elimhlophe, and the late Gloria Bosman and ZakesBantwini, Wouter Kellerman, and NomceboZikode scooped the Best Performance in the Global Music Category at the 65th annual Grammy Awards.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: TNR Content is protected !!









Alerts & Newsletters

© Rhythm Media Group LLC 2022