Anita Baker, the American singer, made it to South Africa, gracing her world-wide fan base with one unique concert. South Africans love music and the 6 000 or so tickets sold quickly, even though prices were high, ranging from 300 to 500 rand.
The promoter announced a state-of-the-art concert hall, a newly furnished hall at the Nasrec convention centre, south of Johannesburg. I was a bit sceptical when I read this because Nasrec is rather infamous for dull political meetings in airplane hangars and not top notch concert venues.
The concert was set to begin at 7pm on a sunday evening. As we walked into the hall at 6pm, and began looking for our seats, our spirits were a bit dented. Ordinary plastic chairs, hastily arranged in rows, were a far cry from the promised state-of-the-art concert venue. A young woman informed us that our seats were not available because stage equipment took our spot, apparently they did not know about this in advance, and they would add seats on the side for us. We insisted on centre seasts for this is what I bought, not side seats. So we were seated closer to the stage, a bit on the side. Not bad, we thought - we had a good front seats and could not complain.
Many more people streamed in and they could not find seats either. More seats were brought in yet never enough to satisfy all the people with no seats or seats behind pillars from which they could not see much. I mean, who would buy seats behind a pillar for R300?
Tempers flared up as angry fans who had tickets for which there were no seats engaged listless ushers in shouting matches. People scrambled for seats and fist fights broke out.
A clueless Masechaba Moshoeshoe, a normally swift and accurate radio host from Kaya FM, one of the sponsors, besides the Sowetan newspaper, took the microphone by 8pm and appealed to civility and promised seats for everyone. Her admonishment that we show our best side, friendly and non-violent in the face of adversity, did not do much to accomodate disgruntled fans. The mayhem continued as more people streamed in.
Clearly, many more tickets were sold than seats were available.
A stand-up comedian was rolled out to divert attention away from the disaster and placate the fans before Anita Baker eventualy would come on stage.
8.45 and the concert began. Ouf, what a relief. Nevertheless, fans walked around with chairs, looking for better spots and blocking all the aisles and making movement impossible. It was better not to think about safety hazards.
As the diva belt out her beautiful songs of love and passion, she used the time in-between to instruct the technicians to adjust the sound. She had to do so for a full 45 minutes and finally gave up. One could not hear the horns, and her voice was submerged by the crackling of an inadequate sound system.
Realising that people had no seats, she expressed her compassion and encouraged her fans to complain with the promoter. We needed to know that it was not her making!
So went the concert of an international top act, for the first time in South Africa (and probably for the last time) - a greedy and contemptuous promoter cheated the artist and her fans out of a unique experience.
How was that possible? How come Kaya FM and Sowetan, to established media organsiations, teamed up with a shoddy, thuggish promoter with no respect for the artist and the fans?
Was the concert not an example of what goes often wrong in South Africa? People in positions are only interested in making a quick buck, no concern for fairness and delivering service enters their mind. In other words, thuggery is an accepted and tolerated way of doing business. As long as no one takes exception to this state of affairs, and makes their voices heard, Sout Africa will remain mediocre.