Security breaches blight music industry

Soundtrack Plot Mhako

SECURITY at a live concert is one area in showbiz that often times gets overlooked and always comes in as an extra, yet it plays a very critical part in event planning and execution in the industry as a whole.

The eyes of every organiser, artiste, host or promoter are usually fixed on the numbers and what happens on stage, but the entire business falls apart if the entry points are porous, corrupt and poorly administered.

In the corridors of showbiz there have always been whispers as people skirt around the issue, but what happened at the Madirirano event at Takashinga Cricket
Grounds in Highfield, Harare on Saturday night amplified the conversation and challenged the industry to act.

Madirirano concert is the brainchild of Simbarashe Malvern Chakare, popularly known as Bodyslam, one of the local leading music promoters who got inspired by a
sharing culture by women from his neighbourhood of Highfield who take turns to buy each other groceries and other wares.

The brilliant concept saw him and his team setting up a very ambitious, but soon to be very successful and one of the most sought-after event in the country
that always attracts a huge attendance and a top notch line-up of artistes.
While the event has outgrown the Takashinga Cricket Grounds, posing a strain on crowd control and security management, the organising team on Saturday was very
alert to the growing demands and beefed up security.

Sadly, the security personnel known as “Mamonya” got compromised, leading to the promoter opening the gates for people to enter freely, prejudicing the event
of thousands of dollars in investment and potential revenue.

The next morning, we woke up to a social media Facebook message from a disturbed Bodyslam signalling that as a result of the fiasco, there could be no more
Madirirano.

“This is our last Madirirano show. We are stopping, the main reason being the venue can’t contain the numbers and traffic; it’s now too small. Security wise we
can’t hold the pressure, we are vulnerable,” he said.

“This was the best event in the making, but the security bouncers ruined it. No one to protect the industry, I give up. We invested big money and I am hurt and saddened, so we retire. We also blame the fans who come to the event with the mind-set to rob the promoter by promoting bouncers who rip us off. Thank you all
for the love and support. No more Madirirano!”

The message sent the entire arts industry into alarm and panic. It was a wake-up call that opened a Pandora’s box on shenanigans made by security personnel
manning events.

Is this truly the end of Madirirano? How many other great events and projects went under due to the same reasons?

Some promoters have vanished off the radar and never got a chance to speak out, some fell at a time when there was no social media and their stories remain
untold.

For the benefit of those not in the know and possibly have participated in the robbery unknowingly, public events such as arts concerts and festivals are
required by law to get police clearance and enlist the services of security details to ensure safety, order and security for the venue, artistes, patrons and property.

In the past, most promoters would hire the police to provide security and this comes at a fee depending on the number of officers, dogs or any other
requirements. Slowly some promoters started opting for private security companies and bouncers to secure their events and help with the ticketing process.

Sadly, some of the hired private security details have seen this as an opportunity to milk the promoter or the artiste. They develop well-thought schemes to
resell tickets, admit people who pay them less than the advertised fee, manipulate the security and at times go home with much more than the promoter.

The bouncers often work in syndicates with a group of con artists who collaborate in the sale of fake tickets, resell or illicit admission fees.

At a recent album launch in the capital, it was alleged that bouncers would make it difficult for even patrons with tickets to enter the venue, a situation
that gave room for thieves to rob patrons.

Well, a look back into 2009 reminds many showbiz followers of the biggest show to be ever staged in Zimbabwe in the new millennium. This was the Akon and Sean
Paul concert that was held on September 4 at the giant National Sports Stadium courtesy of the late Prince Tendai Mupfurutsa.

Sadly, the highly ambitious project later allegedly claimed the life of the artiste-cum-promoter. The highly subscribed event left him counting huge losses
following a security breach at the venue.

Afterwards, Mupfurutsa fell sick and never recovered from the loss.

I personally experienced this when I entered showbiz in 2007 after hosting a fully packed Jibilika Festival at 7 Arts Theatre in Avondale, Harare only to later
realise that the coffers were empty.

The security team had harvested where they did not sow. Two years later it was the ticket-printing company that ripped us as they printed extra tickets and
sold on the black market. We made a police report, but never recovered the money.

In April last year, there was another incident at the Davido concert at Harare International Conference Centre where six unassigned bouncers attacked security
personnel who were in charge of the gates to gain free access. In the process, they left one badly injured and paved the way for hundreds of revellers to enter
for free, fleecing the promoter.

What could be the problem and how can we fix it?

Zimdancehall awards founder and promoter Phinias Mushayi believes the biggest challenge is allowing security staff to do the accounting work.

“The moment we allow security to touch event tickets, we then create a loophole. What would be more prudent will be to have crowd control measures that allow
for at least double checks before someone enters the show,” he said.

“It is always disheartening to see someone’s investment go to waste and I feel for Simba. It was out of genuine love to uplift artistes and provide much-needed entertainment for the Highfield community and beyond.”
Filmmaker and artiste manager Elton Mjanana believes there is need to move away from entrusting bouncers “Mamonya” with ticketing duties in these tough times.

“Zimbabwe has a version of South African Computicket and this can be deterrent if implemented well. Imagine selling only advance tickets at a cheaper rate and
the tickets on the day at a slightly higher rate or even saying no tickets sold on the day of the show as is done in other places,” he suggested.

A Mutare promoter John “Baba Andile” Mujamba, however, thinks otherwise.

“It would be easy to have advance tickets if the economy was stable. Imagine advertising a show for August in January charging $10, yet you can’t invest that
money in any reasonable venture to retain its value till the day of the show,” he said.

“The system is forcing us to be money launderers. In soccer they have the same challenges. At the end of the day, despite the economy, the blame lies squarely
on the policymakers in the relevant departments to help protect promoters, artistes, revellers and entertainment entrepreneurs.”

This whole fiasco brings into focus the lack of infrastructure that is designed for concerts.

There has not been much development of new venues with some of the few available traditional venues becoming more expensive and less viable for promoters, artistes and failing to transform to the changing entertainment culture, forcing event hosts to resort to porous venues that expose them to risk the security
of the audience, technical services providers and the proprietor.

Gospel music promoter and events specialist Tapfuma Chikosha said promoters should be ready to invest in modern technologies that help plug leakages in the
system.

“I think there is need for introduction of a new and safer way of ticketing for most events. So we could start with doing three-point security checks and then
increasing perimeter barricading and also get a professional company to handle security,” he said.

“Also these venues need to be spruced up to be able to host these types of events. You will notice that in Zimbabwe we don’t have any venues that are tailor-made for events and this creates a huge problem for event organisers.”

South Africa-based researcher and avid arts commentator Norman Mafuratidze said sentiments by Chakare are evidence of a common industry-wide undercurrent
which may have been undertowing the sector for some time.

“With an efficient advance ticketing system, a rethink on pricing and tightening of regulation, this porosity can be plugged. For future accountability, there
is need for regulation and training of bouncers along security industry guidelines,” he said.

“In other countries, such programmes have been deployed to confer bouncers with more patron-centered skills to perform their roles. This endows them with
content around customer service values, de-escalation of conflict techniques, appropriate searching methods, drug and alcohol awareness, basic civil and
criminal law, health and safety at events, and emergency evacuation management.”

Mafuratidze believes there is need for multi-stakeholder platforms to capture the voices, perceptions and experiences of players where discussions around reforms on current practices can be tabled.

Veteran dancehall wheelspinner and club promoter Regoman Magama believes that promoters are applying shortcuts and cost-cutting measures, being unprofessional and under-paying people, a development which has compromised events.

“Artistes and promoters should pay people and work with registered security companies, the police rather than trying to cut costs. A lot of handlers during events never get paid and some will find ways to unfortunately reap from the event,” he said.

“The industry players must do proper signed contracts so that it is easy to seek legal recourse and also blacklist those who have malpractices.”
In view of the above sentiments, one thing that sticks out is, we need dialogue as industry players, to create systems that will sustain the business and promote the arts industry. My hope and prayer is Madirirano continues and grows to be our great home-grown festival. Until next time, the plot thickens.

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