A string of resignations at the state film body, the National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF), continues unabated, with an estimated 30% of staff having resigned in the past year. by Charl Blignaut
And tension at work has reached new heights after the entire staff – except heads of department and one ordinary employee – sent a collective memorandum of grievances to Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa.
The memorandum from the 30-odd staffers, dated March 2017, which City Press has obtained, paints a bleak picture of life at an allegedly “toxic” workplace at the state body tasked with developing South African film.
While Zama Mkosi, the NFVF’s chief executive officer (CEO), acknowledges the grievances and says interventions are happening to resolve them, she feels the memorandum paints an inaccurate picture of what it is like to work there.
In the memorandum staff blame the resignations on a “work culture [that] has become unduly oppressive”.
They also lay the blame squarely on Mkosi.
In a covering letter and an 18-page memorandum, staff also raise a series of allegations of mismanagement that they ask the minister to investigate, including the following:
NFVF expenditure is not “in line with Treasury regulations”.
Multimillion-rand office renovations were not put out to tender and staff claim the “project manager is alleged to have strong links to the CEO (they are friends)”.
The NFVF retains a consulting firm owned by a personal friend and fellow church congregant of the CEO and of the chief financial officer.
Council (board) members “travel on the NFVF costs for long periods (12 to 15 days sometimes), some of them doing personal business at the expense of state funds”.
The CEO and her favoured staff have spent the lion’s share of the workplace development and training budget on themselves, while regular staff are overlooked.
Private human resource (HR) matters are shared with other staff members as office gossip.
Staff were told there was no money for a proper Christmas party last year and had to hold one in the parking lot – only to learn that select staff members had lunch at the up-market Westcliff Hotel.
Mkosi responded: “We totally reject any suggestions of mismanagement or the abuse of public funds … We totally reject any suggestions of impropriety around the renovation of the NFVF office, or any of your related allegations. The suggestion that Ms Mkosi benefited in any way is totally defamatory, and we demand that evidence be provided to substantiate these and the other allegations you have made. Without evidence, these allegations are nothing but office gossip, and we would urge you to treat them as such.”
Four former and current insiders, who do not wish to be named for fear of jeopardising their work in the industry, agreed with a source who claims that “a cabal of the CEO and three heads of department have their own rules for themselves”.
All sources this week complained of council members and executives not understanding the industry that the NFVF serves. They said Mkosi was constantly travelling and not at work often enough to lead the NFVF properly.
Mkosi suggested some staff were underperforming, but told City Press that several meetings, presentations and workshops were held, task teams put in place, staff votes held and access to HR increased.
“In our view, these are not the actions of a ‘cabal’ or the signs of a ‘toxic’ organisation. We do not regard the turnover of staff within the foundation as being unusual.”
Various independent film bodies are also preparing to take a harder line against the NFVF’s perceived lack of transparency. One industry organiser told City Press: “The NFVF has been giving R1.2 million for production and R200 000 for development to producers for 16 years, despite currency devaluation, inflation and the fact that its own budget has increased from R30 million to more than R140 million.” Another added that of the NFVF’s total budget, only 27.88% was being spent on actual films.
Mkosi responded: “The NFVF is a well run public entity. It is transparent in terms of how it allocates and spends money, and its expenditure is audited by the Auditor-General.”
She highlighted the NFVF’s clean audit for the 2016/17 financial year, saying the film body raised an additional 19% of its funding itself, supported youth and women film makers, had invested R33 million in film development in the past three years, and that “this programme has produced successful local productions such as Happiness Is a Four-letter Word, Mrs Right Guy, Ayanda and Keeping Up With The Kandasamys”.
“Staff travel is at the discretion of both the CEO and line managers. The reasons for all staff travelling are always clearly motivated to meet NFVF’s strategic objectives,” she said.
Questions sent to Mthethwa went unanswered this week.