Defend Truth

SCRATCHED RECORD (VOLUME I)

Tribe One Dinokeng – Almost 10 years later, details emerge of South Africa’s disastrous ‘Fyre Festival’

Tribe One Dinokeng – Almost 10 years later, details emerge of South Africa’s disastrous ‘Fyre Festival’
Illustrative image | Sources: Electricity Minister Kgosientsho Ramokgopa. (Photo: GCIS) | Sony Music Entertainment Africa MD Sean Watson. (Photo: Supplied) | Jandre Louw. (Photo: Supplied) | pngtree | Unsplash | Wikimedia

In 2018, American con artist Billy McFarland went to jail for staging a disastrous event called Fyre Festival. It had echoes of a festival attempted in South Africa several years earlier, when a faction of the City of Tshwane under mayor-turned-electricity minister, Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, spent tens of millions of rands in taxpayers’ money on a musical spectacular – helmed by the world’s second-largest record label, Sony Music Entertainment and its partner, Rockstar 4000 – that failed spectacularly. After nearly a decade, some of the details of what went wrong have now emerged.

Standing barefoot outside the bungalow he’d been renting in the mine labour settlement of Rayton in mid-September 2014, Riaan Jacobs took a call from one of his contacts in local government. After hanging up, he phoned a removal company in a panic to come to pack his furniture into storage. 

Jacobs, after being accosted by angry members of the local community for the umpteenth time that week, had been quietly boxing up his home.

He and his then wife, who was still recovering from giving birth to their second daughter two weeks earlier, had paid rent for the next month but hadn’t given notice, for fear that news of their imminent departure would get around. 

The incoming call moved up their timeline: Local politicians and disgruntled residents were looking for him, his contact said, and if they found him, it probably wouldn’t end well.

For just under a year, Jacobs had been employed as the head of technical development and community liaison for the Tribe One Dinokeng music festival, an event pitched to residents of the town of Cullinan and the neighbouring Refilwe informal settlement as a major economic boost for the struggling area.

The event would bring tourism, training, infrastructure and jobs, they were told, in a municipality with a high unemployment rate and a once thriving economic hub that was now slowly dying.

It would also bring Trinidadian-American superstar, Nicki Minaj. Residents got to work refurbishing hotels and B&Bs, investing in food stalls, new rooms, new mattresses and fresh coats of paint. 

But then, with no warning and two weeks to go, the festival was abruptly cancelled. Jacobs says he was blindsided. Ostensibly in charge of the entire event as far as the local community was concerned, he was on the hook for answers, especially as he’d witnessed first-hand how tens of millions of rands were spent on the site by the severely cash-strapped City of Tshwane, under executive mayor Kgosientsho Ramokgopa (who now serves as the celebrity Minister of Electricity).

Jacobs had no answers, only questions. How did a mega music festival, one which promised to be a game changer not only for Tshwane, but for African entertainment at large – which was backed by the world’s second-largest record label and paid for with public funds – get shut down and buried overnight without any consequences? 

Nine years later, leaked internal documents and interviews with over 20 people who shared with Daily Maverick their first-hand knowledge of what transpired, as part of a year-long investigation, convey the costly descent into chaos of an event that forensic investigators later described as risky, ill-conceived and poorly executed by inexperienced music executives who managed to mitigate reputational damage and walk away unscathed and uninvestigated, their jobs intact and their earnings from the debacle unaudited.

Riaan Jacobs stands at the entrance to what would have been the Tribe One Dinokeng festival site, in January 2023, next to a stripped electric fence that cost more than R3.7m to erect, but was never even switched on. (Photo: Diana Neille)

I. Music frontier cowboys

Jacobs hadn’t been nicknamed “Sorted” by his colleagues in the entertainment industry for nothing.  Two-metres-tall and from Pretoria, with giant hands, a potty mouth and a man-bun crowning a wiry wizard’s beard, Jacobs was renowned for improvising on the fly.

He had spent years rigging stages and creatively averting creative disasters all over the world. When stadium plans for Nelson Mandela’s memorial began to look shaky the weekend before the world descended on Soweto, Jacobs claims he was retained to avert a potentially historic PR catastrophe. (He got a fist bump and a box of Hershey’s Kisses from former US President Barack Obama for his efforts.)

Big ideas and 11th-hour saves: Jacobs’ resumé was stacked with them. 

But in September 2014, Riaan “Sorted” Jacobs was out of solutions. No money, no house, no medical aid, two kids – and, as far as he was concerned, one man to thank for it: Tribe One Dinokeng’s mastermind and the local music industry’s wildest impresario, Jandre Louw.

Louw and Jacobs met at an event in Johannesburg in 2005 when Louw, the then-London-based head of marketing – and later of events and production – for MTV Networks, was helping to expand the British pay-TV music channel into Africa.

“I got a call saying ‘please come to Kenya’,” said Jacobs. “After that, for five years, Jandre [Louw] and I did almost every single event in Africa together,” Jacobs said.

“He became my best friend.”

More than 10 industry professionals interviewed by Daily Maverick described Louw as an “ideas man”a nothing’s-too-crazy-to-try thinker and a boundary pusher, with limitless ambition and sometimes genuinely original ideas.

He wanted all his events to be bigger, better and louder than the brief required, and he appeared to love the proximity to fame.

Soft-spoken, calm and convincing, he could sell even the zaniest concept, his colleagues said, and had a seemingly endless pool of freelance specialists on tap, most of whom were talented and hard-working enough to fashion those concepts into a workable reality. 

Tribe One Dinokeng

Jandre Louw (far right) with former South African president Nelson Mandela. (Photo: Facebook)

But there was another side to him. He was chronically disorganised, unrealistic and lacking in empathy,  former colleagues claimed. He expected his teams to save the unsaveable and pull off the unthinkable. 

One person described him as a “deviant character”, and the rest, almost unanimously, as someone they didn’t trust.

Often, he “bulldozed” freelancers and suppliers into accepting future gigs in lieu of pay.

“It always seemed like there was another agenda running parallel with what we were doing,” said a former collaborator, who requested anonymity, “but he used the power of whatever corporate he was working with to pull favours and get things done. We were constantly putting out fires instead of just doing our jobs.” (Sources interviewed for this article spoke to Daily Maverick on condition of anonymity because of concerns over repercussions for their safety and livelihoods in the small South African music industry.)

As he settled in at MTV Base Africa, Jacobs had no inkling of what was to come. Growing rapidly, the music channel was expanding to countries all over the continent. He was sent to places farther flung, often working on the fly. He enjoyed the work immensely but said that, under Louw’s leadership, it became increasingly chaotic, sometimes even dangerous.

After being held hostage twice in Nigeria in two days, he’d had enough.

“I knew the PR lady for MTV Europe,” Jacobs said. “I phoned and I said to her, ‘Look, I can’t do your gigs any more, because, number one, my life is in danger, number two, [your head of events] doesn’t pay your bills, and you don’t pay me enough for this shit’. I did one more gig and that was that. Me and Jandre didn’t see each other for a while.”

In 2009, Louw left MTV to start his own shop, Rockstar 4000 Music Entertainment. Its online profile described it as the first pan-African “music and entertainment production, content and events company… Home to a roster of Africa’s superstars.”

By now, Louw had garnered well over a decade of experience in managing artists and small events and had hundreds of contacts across the continent. But as he built Rockstar over the next few years, he had something even better: An “exclusive, pan-African partnership” with the world’s second-largest record label, Sony Music Entertainment (SME).

Tribe One Dinokeng

Sony Music Entertainment Africa MD, Sean Watson. (Photo: Facebook)

Brothers in psalms

Jandre Louw’s unshakeable friendship with SME Africa managing director Sean Watson is an established feature of the local music industry. By 2009, Watson appeared to be helping to lay a career path in his footsteps for Louw.

As the outgoing head of the South African Music Awards, administered by the Recording Industry of South Africa (RiSA), Watson recommended that Louw replace him as CEO, according to the then RiSA COO, David du Plessis. Watson’s friend got the job.

Watson joined Sony as an executive director. He stepped into the role as the music industry was entering an era of massive disruption. Post the financial crash in 2008, the Great Recession was starting to bite just as physical music – CDs, as well as a dwindling number of vinyl LPs and cassette tapes – was being drowned out by digital. Rampant piracy enabled by CD ripping and MP3-sharing had torn through record labels’ bottom lines, resulting in around $12.5-billion in economic losses a year, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.

For its part, by 2009 SME was staving off the worst of these effects through consolidation. After buying up the remaining 50% stake in German giant Bertelsmann, it acquired Simon Cowell’s share of the Got Talent and X Factor franchise-owner, Syco Entertainment, and music distribution specialist, The Orchard, before taking over the Michael Jackson estate’s stake in Sony/ATV for $750-million, absorbing its massive music catalogue. 

Then, in 2018, Sony paid a further $2.3-billion for EMI Music Publishing to become the largest music publishing company in the world, second overall to the behemoth, Universal Music Group, but way ahead of the third major, Warner Music Group.

In South Africa, the majors’ share of the market and of local repertoire was also growing substantially, to 80% by 2019, as they hoovered up small independent record labels and artists from across the country and the continent.

On Sony’s side, it appears Louw’s Rockstar 4000 was, and remains, at the core of expanding its slate of African artists, acting as a de facto Artist and Repertoire, or A&R, division.

As powerful as Sony International was by 2009, in the decade that followed, it became virtually untouchable. (Neither Sony nor Watson responded to requests for an interview, sent via WhatsApp and email on 9 May 2023, instead referring Daily Maverick to the company’s corporate communications division. A comprehensive list of over 40 questions was subsequently sent upon request, but no response was forthcoming.)

II. Glastonbury overnight

Louw’s tenure as CEO of the SA Music Awards didn’t last long.

Within two months of his second event in 2011, the 17th annual award ceremony at Montecasino – for which the main sponsor, MTN, was forced to issue an apology – Louw was fired for overseeing an awards ceremony described in the press as a “disaster of monumental proportions”.

If this outcome was prescient, it didn’t seem to bother Watson. Despite the ensuing flurry of half-gleeful, half-furious publicity and allegations of non-payment to service providers – even though the event reportedly went more than R2-million over budget – Watson was seemingly unfazed by the reputational damage inflicted on and by his friend. On the contrary. Now promoted to Sony’s managing director for Africa, in 2013 Watson very publicly joined forces with Louw to pitch the biggest music festival ever attempted on the continent.

Glastonbury in Africa,” is how Riaan Jacobs later described their plans. 

“That was Jandre’s vision. I said at the time, ‘Dude, why don’t we just do one international [artist] on the site? You know, settle in and work on a five-year plan.’ Because Glastonbury didn’t become Glastonbury overnight. It took 30 fucking years.”

Jacobs claims to have been the one who first suggested Cullinan as the perfect destination for a music festival, with its proximity to Tshwane and Johannesburg, its decent road access and its preponderance of B&Bs.

Louw liked the idea.

He later told the press he’d been dreaming about producing a mega festival for 15 years. There would be no slow build-up. He wanted to launch with a bang.

According to a forensic report undertaken by KPMG that was finalised in August 2017 and recently leaked to Daily Maverick, it appears from internal emails that Watson approached the then City of Tshwane Group Head of Communications, Marketing and Events, Nomasonto Ndlovu, with a proposal for the Tribe One Dinokeng concept.

Ndlovu said she met Watson in 2011 while working at South African Tourism, and in early 2013 brought him and Louw in to pitch the festival to the city’s mayoral committee, which included mayor Ramokgopa, city manager Jason Ngobeni, and his deputy for strategy development and implementation, Lindiwe Kwele.

The proposal was opportune: Ramokgopa and Kwele had taken the Tshwane brand on the international roadshow circuit just a few months earlier, promoting it as a global destination of choice for economic investment and development.

They were looking for big branding opportunities and appeared to have an appetite for flashy events with big budgets.

In 2008, when Ramokgopa, Kwele and Ngobeni were all working for the City of Johannesburg, Kwele signed a R45-million contract to host the Miss World Pageant on behalf of the city-owned Johannesburg Tourism Company.

Costs allegedly ballooned to more than twice the budgeted amount and had to be settled by the cash-strapped city, but Kwele told Daily Maverick the expenditure was above board and in line with the size and scope of the three-year, multi-city project.

The pitch by Watson and Louw was significantly more grandiose. 

According to the leaked minutes of a report Ndlovu presented to Tshwane city council on 24 October 2014,  Louw and Watson told the mayoral committee they would present a three-day, three-stage mega event for 100,000 people in Dinokeng, near Cullinan, with the City of Tshwane as host and main sponsor.

They would hire over 300 artists from around the world to perform, from international superstars to local drumming groups.

Accommodation would include everything from stage-side “Rockstar Pods” manned by personal butlers, to B&Bs in Cullinan, Rayton and Refilwe, to camping facilities for 30,000 on-site.

The festival would be marketed across 15 countries. The plan was for it to become an annual City of Tshwane-branded event, with a smorgasbord of promotional opportunities and spin-offs, including international tour operator packages and global ambassadors.

More importantly, Watson and Louw’s concept encompassed a sprawling, full-time skills and socioeconomic development component – the Rockstar Academy, Pan-African Rockstar Hall of Fame, Rockstar Café and a number of other community development, youth training and employment incentives thrown in.

These promised to transform the “depressed” and “decaying” district and turn Dinokeng into a permanent musical Mecca for the whole continent.

Most importantly, the festival would be underwritten by the global power of Sony Music Entertainment, which Watson – who led the presentation – went to great lengths to emphasise, said Kwele.

“Watson is a very smooth talker – he could sell ice to a polar bear,” said Kwele. “He said [they had] the same concept in Ghana and Nigeria – that’s what they presented to us… a cut-and-paste replication of a winning formula,” she said.

“We associated ourselves with the Sony-led event organisers due to the credibility of the Sony brand,” Ndlovu told the Tshwane city council at the 24 October meeting. The proposal came from a global corporation with the necessary “skills, expertise, capacity and financial backing to deliver an event of this magnitude”.

“According to the event organisers, initial estimates indicated that the festival, if leveraged correctly, would realise around R8-billion in marketing and PR exposure (global and local), as well as revenues of around R235-million,” Ndlovu told the council.

Brand development, tourism and social cohesion appeared to be the city’s primary interests, though. According to the forensic report, it did not stipulate a stake in any direct earnings from the event, other than a small cut of merchandise sales. 

It took seven months to hash out the deal, and the subsequent agreement prompted an internal outcry from councillors on the opposition benches, several members of the Democratic Alliance at the time told Daily Maverick.

Ramokgopa and his mayoral committee had approved the deal and committed public funds to build the festival site infrastructure, supposedly capped at R20-million. He also announced an additional R25-million cash grant to be paid to the “Sony Joint Venture”, as leaked documents referred to it, for the first year of a three-year, three-festival contract. 

An additional R22-million was committed for year two, and R18-million for year three, although the city was subsequently spared from disbursing those amounts.

Ndlovu later claimed it was clear to all that the city “did not have the burden [alone] to carry the entire project financially and otherwise”, noting that Louw and Watson had initially presented a significantly higher budget of R70-million.

But she neglected to tell the council that the contract subsequently signed between the parties contained “no specific financial obligations” for the music executives, according to the forensic report’s findings. 

“The only financial obligations stipulated in the contract related to the financial contribution to be paid by [City of Tshwane].” 

Good faith would have to do. And from public statements, it seemed clear Sony was prepared to invest in ensuring the festival’s success, Jacobs said. Kwele confirmed this was the city’s understanding, too. 

The then-director of finance and operations of SME Africa, Craig Brown, confirmed that Sony International was supporting the event, and the then-executive vice president of SME International, Adam Granite, flew in specially to attend the subsequent launch event and reaffirm HQ’s support. (Jacobs gave him a fake Cullinan diamond as a gag gift).

But as part of the contract, Watson and Louw did commit to seeking corporate sponsorships to cover costs, eventually hiring a global agency to help find additional partners with deep pockets.

The “Sony JV” or “Management Company JV” the city referred to repeatedly in leaked internal documents appears to be a company registered by Louw in 2012 called Rockstar Money, renamed in January 2014 to Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd, along with the appointment of Watson as co-director. Louw’s second-in-command at Rockstar, Nomsisi Zukiswa Khuzwayo, was also appointed, as was SMEs Craig Brown.

According to the forensic report, in the contract signed between the entities, the city agreed to pay the R25-million “cash grant” (excluding VAT) in three tranches for such “vague” line items as “the securing of naming rights and international artists”; “event build-up” and a “global campaign roll-out”.

It also committed to paying for the development of “certain infrastructure at the site where the festival would take place”.

Crucially, the contract did not contain “any clauses that would provide the city of Tshwane (CoT) with oversight regarding the application of funds”, including reviewing or requesting audits, milestone requirements for payments, the submission of supporting documents or proof of any payments. 

With the formalities settled, the gig was on.

The festival date was set exactly one year from the signing of the agreement: 26 September 2014. It was that hard deadline, along with a keyword often left out of the flurry of subsequent press releases, announcements and launch events – “greenfield” – that set the terms for Tribe One’s inevitable and abject failure.

Tribe One Dinokeng

A map of one of the early iterations of the Tribe One Dinokeng festival site, showing its size and proximity to Refilwe. (Image: Supplied)

A greenfield festival meant that the land on which 100,000 people would descend 52 weeks hence was virgin. No roads, no electricity, no plumbed water – and certainly no dance floors, warm showers or VIP beer tents. Just a lot of rocks and long grass growing on a massive chunk of highveld scrubland.

Louw appointed Jacobs as the person to tame this site into musical viability. He moved to nearby Rayton in December with his pregnant wife and their toddler and set up an office in Cullinan.

By then, Jacobs had received his first two paychecks from Sony Music Entertainment Africa, with an employee code and Pay As You Earn tax deducted. It had struck him as strange that Sony was paying him directly, given that he’d previously freelanced for Rockstar, and understood that Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd was the entity administering the event. But he dismissed the thought, he said – given his previous experiences with Louw, he was just happy to be getting paid at all.

Besides, he was dealing with a somewhat bigger surprise. Jacobs had already helped plan a major launch event on the site for 250 people on 7 November, but learnt days later that they’d all been trespassing. 

Louw had been informed as the launch event was under way that the land beneath his guests’ feet did not belong to the City of Tshwane, as they had all thought.

III. ‘If You Build it, They Will Come’

In the course of 2013, the city had begun extending the informal settlement of Refilwe, which bordered the festival site to the east. While building out new bulk infrastructure – water, sanitation, roads and electricity – the city’s sub-contractors, DLV Engineers, had inadvertently begun to encroach on non-city land: a large farm partly owned by the mine called Louwsbaken 476 JR. The tract had been registered to the Premier Transvaal Diamond Mining Company Ltd in 1907 and later shared with the state in a JV, on condition that the mine would retain all the rights to use the land in perpetuity. 

All the sudden activity on the scrubby plain had drawn the mine’s attention, and several months of confusion and contractual wrangling ensued. Negotiations to secure a lease agreement only commenced late the following April, according to the forensic report. They were never concluded. Time slipped by.

Petra Diamonds’ then-head of legal and property management, Etienne Coetzee, told Daily Maverick that, after pushing for months to secure the lease agreement, the mine resorted to cutting an elaborate deal with the city that forensic investigators later found the city had “done outside normal procurement process”.

Left out of the money talk, Jacobs and his team on the ground simply viewed it as a lucky break: As part of the ersatz deal, the mine offered to erect a 14km, R4-million electric fence around the entire plot, and bill the city for it later, said Coetzee. DLV Engineers also agreed to incorporate Tribe One’s bulk infrastructure needs into the Refilwe extension at the last minute.

Leaked paperwork shows that DLV signed a “new vendor” form – again, with Sony – on 26 June, with the festival only three months away. The deal with DLV was complicated. According to a senior contractor, who asked not to be named for reputational reasons, the city would pay for DLV’s infrastructure and labour costs, while Sony would pay its consulting fees.

Finally, the bones of the site would be installed. But before they had even gone into the ground, several contraventions of the city’s supply chain management processes and the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) had already been racked up.

According to local government legislation, all these deals and agreements were subject to council approval. Given the rush and the sound of clocks ticking, none of them surfaced in the council until later. According to those familiar with the deal, some never surfaced at all. 

Also conspicuous by their absence were the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and Heritage Assessment, required to be carried out before construction began by Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd as part of its contract with the city and in terms of the National Environmental Management Act (Nema).

There was both a sensitive wetland and a cemetery on the festival site, but no assessments were ever completed.

When Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd failed to deliver them, the city turned to the mine instead, asking it to appoint consultants and promising to reimburse it later, according to the forensic report. This process, the investigators wrote, also “constituted a contravention of supply chain management processes within the CoT” and resulted in possible irregular expenditure.

When the size and scope of the festival were later revised, Ndlovu told the council it “became apparent the EIA was no longer necessary, as the proposed activities were now below the thresholds for the listed activities that require EIA authorisations in terms of the Nema EIA Regulations”. By the time that decision was made, though, major earthworks had already been completed on the site, rendering this a red herring. 

Compounding matters, there was neither an economic impact study nor a feasibility study carried out. None of the expenditure agreed to by Ramokgopa’s team appears to have been included in the capital budget for 2014/2015, either.

“This simply means that monies appropriated from other [public] projects were utilised for the provision of infrastructure for this event,” DA councillors wrote in a subsequent letter to the then-Auditor-General, Thembekile Kimi Makwetu. 

“Furthermore, the shifting of funds was not approved in accordance with an adjustments budget.”

In other words, by July 2014, the festival grounds themselves had become an example of the perils of public-private partnerships, even those based on allegedly honourable intentions.

A group of politicians led by then-mayor Ramokgopa, operating outside of the council’s purview, appeared to be collaborating across multiple departments – each with its own objectives and sign-off protocols – with a multinational that was unaccountable to local or national government.

They were building privately managed public infrastructure on land that didn’t fully belong to the city, under both extreme time pressure and a contract that stipulated zero financial oversight.

Together, they were spending funds on an unknown and unquantifiable scale, appropriated from a spectrum of public works, and making opaque, impromptu deals with a second multinational, Petra Diamonds.

In true South African fashion, all this was unfolding directly beside a shanty town in one of the poorest parts of the region, according to Kwele, where most of the residents had no work and were unlikely to be able to afford a ticket to the festival.

A 2.4m-high electric fence was about to cut the community off from one of their burial grounds, a key road to the settlement and a tract of land local farmers had been using to grow maize.

There was simply no time – and no will – to stop and think about the consequences of what was unfolding.

Siloed by their workload, Jacobs, his team and the city’s contractors set a target of 15 September to hand over the site – and got digging.

“Sometimes you have to believe in stuff to make it happen. So we believed. I believed we could pull it off,” Jacobs later said.

“There’s this movie called Field of Dreams, with Kevin Costner. ‘If you build it, they will come.’ And I used to say that.

“Everybody was saying, ‘Well, if Sony is backing it, it can happen’.”

Tribe One Dinokeng

Early promotional artwork for the Tribe One Dinokeng festival grounds. (Image: Supplied)

IV. Rockstars all round

In all of Jacobs’ years of experience coordinating big infrastructure for big entertainment, there were many tasks he had never overseen before, like building out entire sewage, electricity and sanitation systems from scratch. And that was just the fundamentals. 

Louw wanted three stages and several satellite drumming towers. The main stage was to be 126m wide – so heavy, its foundations would need to be reinforced with rock – and far enough removed from the other stages that performances could happen simultaneously.

Initially, three sets of facilities were proposed – a total of 400 toilet blocks, 383 showers, 20 wet bars and 18.5 hectares of lush Kikuyu lawn. 

Then there were the hospitality structures; vendor stalls; backstage structures complete with walls, gates and green rooms comfortable enough for high-profile artists; bus and taxi stops; a recycling plant (Louw frequently emphasised how “green” the event was going to be); security structures, signage and access points.

As part of their deal, Louw and Watson also agreed to grass Refilwe’s soccer pitch and a number of sports fields and schools selected by the City of Tshwane.

The pièce de résistance, as far as the city was concerned, appeared to be the Rockstar Academy, which Louw and Watson proposed would be housed in the historic Cullinan Hotel. It would train the local community in all forms of music production and events management, employing graduates at the festival every year.

Eventually, the academy would be expanded to include the “Pan-African Rockstar Hall of Fame”, a new artist discovery campaign (called “Diamonds in the Rough”) and a merch store called the “Rockstar Café”. (Once Cullinan Diamond Mine came on board, Louw and Watson tried to get them to pay for all of this, in exchange for hospitality and brand sponsorship. The mine said, no.) 

In short, Jacobs and the growing team around him weren’t building a festival. They were building a town, complete with complex social programmes and services for the local community.

Their bosses, Watson and Louw, were ill-equipped to make good on any of their manifold promises for an event of this scale, let alone ongoing community initiatives.

As investigators wrote in their forensic report, “We understand that both Sony Music and Rockstar [4000] are record labels… Their primary business is not to arrange music festivals. We could not establish any prior experience in this regard by either of these entities. (Louw had of course overseen many events during his career, but nothing close to the scale proposed for Tribe One Dinokeng, and nothing involving ongoing socioeconomic programmes, even in partnership with a government entity.)

“[The city’s own regulations known as] the Event Evaluation Framework was not considered… and no due diligence was performed on Sony Music and Rockstar [sic].” Ndlovu took it one step further: “No formal due diligence process is followed by the City of Tshwane in any aspect of its business,” she told the investigators.

Various documents leaked to Daily Maverick that give insight into some of the planning for the Tribe One Dinokeng festival: 

 

Tribe Zero

As the site took shape, Louw and Watson began hiring staff and contractors to oversee the events-related requirements. Two of the line items they needed were media-related: Promotional materials and live broadcast services. 

Louw and Watson hired a long-term collaborator, veteran broadcast specialist Eugene Naidoo and his wife Thresini, to provide both. They had just invested their life savings into starting their own business, Settlers Media, and were excited by the prospect of an early cash injection.

Because Naidoo had worked with both Louw and Watson on many occasions, he thought nothing of going into Sony’s offices in Johannesburg in May 2014 to sign a service-level agreement.

The Naidoos hired subcontractors to provide all the promotional assets, while they began sourcing the gear that would be required to broadcast Tribe One Dinokeng live. They signed the agreement with Sony, received a deposit and got to work.

“[Tribe One Dinokeng] was going to build what I thought would be the basis for the future of music and entertainment in South Africa,” said Eugene Naidoo. “It was going to put us on the map.”

Naidoo admitted that he probably would’ve thought twice about the project had Louw been running it by himself. “Because Sony was involved, I thought, okay, it’s credible,” he said.

By early September, the festival grounds had been flattened, grassed, fenced and electrified. There was even working WiFi (courtesy of Alan Knott-Craig Junior’s Project Isizwe, at a cost of R3.4-million, according to the forensic report).

The development team was meeting the majority of its targets, although neither the water nor the sewage lines had yet been connected. But the site had reinforced roads for the 300-ton trucks that were already being packed with scaffolding, sets and gear in Johannesburg, and everything looked neat, if sparse.

Despite the millions in public money already invested, from a distance the site resembled, well, a site.

Phil Prinsloo, the owner of event logistics, safety and security management company, Eyethu Events, told Daily Maverick that the site was ready, and that once a site’s bones are built, the rest of the infrastructure goes up quickly when the right people with the right expertise are involved.

His company was brought in early by Louw, a long-time collaborator, and Prinsloo and Jacobs were preparing to pull out all the stops to turn the site into a festival ground by the deadline.

Tribe One Dinokeng

Infrastructure on The Tribe One Dinokeng festival site, weeks before the ‘mega event’ was set to take place. (Photo: Riaan Jacobs)

Tribe One Dinokeng

The Tribe One Dinokeng festival site, weeks before the ‘mega event’ was set to take place. (Photo: Riaan Jacobs)

Tribe One Dinokeng

A portion of the wetlands on the Tribe One Dinokeng festival site. (Photo: Riaan Jacobs)

Tribe One Dinokeng

A cemetery that was fenced into the Tribe One Dinokeng festival site. (Photo: Riaan Jacobs)

Tribe One Dinokeng

A portion of road to the Tribe One Dinokeng festival site, levelled, treated and lit by the City of Tshwane. (Photo: Riaan Jacobs)

Tribe One Dinokeng

Riaan Jacobs visits the erstwhile Tribe One Dinokeng festival site in January 2023. (Photo: Diana Neille)

But behind the scenes, it was decided in August that only a “phase-one delivery” would be feasible. In mid-June, Ndlovu had written to Louw expressing dissatisfaction with his project management and alarm that the project appeared to be in total disarray.

There were no further sponsorships forthcoming (although a minor one was signed later, with Power Horse Energy Drinks), no international marketing events as promised, or even a social media manager in place.

Ticket prices hadn’t even been set (they would end up going on sale only on 12 August).

Food and drink vendors were a month away from even being identified, and promised broadcast partnerships had yet to be secured. In fact, a project plan hadn’t even been submitted to the city for consideration.

On site, dreams of a three-stage spectacle had, by August, been buried along with the reticulation pipelines. 

Everything that hadn’t been built already would need to be procured as temporary infrastructure, and only one stage would be erected. In other words, everything that made a festival a festival, from the porta-potties to the green room couches and beer tent bar stools, would need to be acquired in a month, and at Tribeone Festival Pty Ltd and/or Sony’s expense – their separate roles remain unclear.

In true Rockstar fashion, the now-lone main stage was innovatively (and expensively) redesigned to incorporate three separate pieces, so that two bands could load in while another was performing, said Jacobs.

This was presumably done to accommodate all 350+ artists and DJs that had been announced in July – including D’banj, Wizkid, Khuli Chana, AKA, Karen Zoid, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, KID INK, J-Cole and the festival’s headliner, Nicki Minaj – but essentially meant that each act would get a rolling slot of fewer than 15 minutes to perform, and the show would have to run for 72 hours straight for everyone to get stage time.

Louw and Watson’s solutions to the growing list of problems were becoming rather hard to envision, Jacobs said. Louw, who hadn’t accompanied his team to any of their weekly planning meetings with the city, wasn’t around to provide any clear answers.   

Nonetheless, a growing staff contingent had been working for months to coordinate the massive line-up, while the residents of Cullinan, Rayton and Refilwe rushed to get their towns ready.

Despite their stated commitment to utilise local businesses, Louw and Watson instead picked the Sheraton Hotel in Pretoria to accommodate artists during the event and paid the Marriott International-owned chain a deposit of R1-million.

Media reported that Minaj had been paid a non-refundable $1-million booking fee, although it was never confirmed by her team or the organisers that she actually received the funds, and the forensic report disputes the figure.

In an informal reconciliation emailed to Ndlovu outlining the expenditure of the city’s grant to date, Louw wrote on 22 July that Minaj had been paid R5.48-million; Macklemore & Ryan Lewis R3.45-million; J-Cole R939,000 and KID INK R527,340 in appearance fees.

None of those artists’ representatives could be reached to confirm receipt, and no proof of payments were ever submitted to the city, which, again, had neglected to stipulate that requirement in the original contract.

In the forensic report, investigators wrote that “emails from a number of booking agents… [indicated] that artists were booked, but that the deposit was still outstanding or that the artist has not received the balance of the amount due… 

“We note that some of the emails were sent by the booking agents during September 2014, in close proximity to the cancellation of the Dinokeng festival.”

The report also noted that one of Rockstar 4000’s own booking agents working on the event was not privy to any information about cancellations, changes to performances or even the approved budgets, payment schedules or contracts she was supposed to be negotiating and administering.

By now, the city had blown through its infrastructure contribution, capped at R20-million, and seemed to be estimating an expenditure of around R40-million to salvage this rapidly unravelling scenario (over and above the R25-million paid to Sony in tranches).

The accounting had become impossible to follow. The expenditure – crisscrossing various departments, internal budgets and external contractors – was completely opaque in its complexity. 

Ndlovu told the council that only R18-million was spent, but later told the forensic investigators the figure was actually R23-million. The forensic report could only physically account for around R13-million, but it noted that that figure didn’t include various internal expenditure; invoices that “could not be provided”; “supporting documentation [that was] not loaded onto the [central finance system]” and a number of departments that “did not have readily available explanations” for why figures were different on the central system compared to their departmental files.

Despite this chaos, as late as September, the city was not aware of any matters that would “jeopardise the hosting of the Dinokeng festival”, Ndlovu later told the council. She failed to mention her worried correspondence to Louw as early as mid-June, demanding a plan of action. (Ndlovu was also sent a comprehensive list of questions at her request, but did not respond to them by the 24 June deadline.)

Indeed, on 3 September, Ramokgopa’s team and Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd jointly presented a state of readiness report to the mayoral committee, followed by a site inspection.

While Jacobs says the site was a hive of activity that day, the visit appears to have finally set alarm bells ringing within the mayoral committee. The downscaled site came as a shock. There was no sign of the tents or the Rockstar Pods; the single stage hadn’t even been fully built yet, and the Kikuyu lawn was only just beginning to cover the dusty red earth.

More shocking was Louw and Watson’s news that four thousand tickets had been sold – around 4% of the target, with fewer than three weeks to go. The bells became a four-alarm siren later that day when Louw and Watson approached the city to underwrite a further R20-million.

In text messages from 3 September shared with forensic investigators, Louw told Ndlovu, “If ticket sales don’t increase dramatically to the 30,000 tickets sold mark we discussed, then we are exposed by R35 mil [sic] in cashflow shortfall this year… If Sony underwrites R15 million will CoT be able to underwrite the balance R20 mil?”

Watson turned up the pressure on Kwele, writing in a text: “We have less than an hour to retain the international artists. Let me know if you need anything else from us.”

Incredulous, Kwele wrote back, “But u don’t expect us to just hand over R25m without any authorisation also [sic]. Fact: our justification for breaching MFMA by paying u guys all d R25m was to ensure that artists are secured so I don’t think EM will accept this excuse.”

Neither Watson nor Louw appears to have told their city counterparts that the number of tickets bought in the two weeks Computicket had been selling them was not 4,000. The figure was, at the last and final count, 318 – for a tally of R183,910.

Nine days later, on 12 September, Louw and Watson cancelled the contract and walked away from the festival.

Ironically, in making the announcement, Sony’s lawyers blamed the city for a “lack of site preparedness” – the only aspect of the event that appeared to be mostly ready.

According to the city, Watson and Louw also refused to negotiate a postponement; a change in location to any one of several other fully-resourced venues made available; or later, to any other of the city’s settlement proposals.

The City of Tshwane brought an urgent interdict in the high court to compel the staging of the festival, but learnt too late that Watson and Louw had already cancelled the entire lineup. The city withdrew its application. 

Four days before the Tribe One Dinokeng festival was due to open its doors to the world, it was dead.

Fyre-d

Jacobs, his team, the artist managers and the events coordinators said they were called into Sony’s offices in Johannesburg, where they said the then-director for commercial and business development informed them of the cancellation and the immediate termination of their contracts.

They were reportedly not informed that they would not be paid their September salaries, but by the 26th of the month, it was clear that no more money would be forthcoming.

The Naidoos, DLV Engineers, Eyethu Events, the Sheraton Hotel, the corporate sponsorship agency and many other individuals and small and medium service providers were left with invoices unpaid.

Those who queried the status of their outstanding fees – some ranging in the millions – said they were told that Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd was bankrupt and could not fulfil its financial obligations.

They were also told that Sony had simply been facilitating payments on Tribeone Festival Pty Ltd’s behalf, despite the fact that only SME’s name was on their contracts and payslips. SME is also named in the forensic report as the direct beneficiary of the R25-million (excluding VAT) from the city.

According to Brown, SME International “pulled the plug on their support to the joint venture… and the JV was essentially liquidated”. But the Companies and Intellectual Properties Commission confirmed to Daily Maverick that Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd never filed for voluntary liquidation and was active as late as 2018.

Watson and Louw are still listed as active directors.

Power Horse Energy Drinks tried to claim its €170,000 sponsorship back from Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd and attempted to have the company liquidated in the Johannesburg High Court in 2016 (the case was set aside in 2018).

The Naidoos were sued by their subcontractor and, out of a sense of integrity, agreed to pay a R375,000 settlement in monthly R10,000 instalments, even through Covid, when their income was zero. 

DLV Engineers was left with an outstanding bill of around R1.5-million, its contractor said; the agency reportedly lost closer to R2-million.

Eyethu Events wrote off at least R600,000 and the Sheraton Hotel kept its R1-million deposit, but could not recoup the R2-million it was still owed. Many more local SMEs lost out.

Etienne Coetzee said Cullinan Mine only recouped just over half of the money it was owed by the city in the deal it had struck over the land.

Residents of Refilwe and Cullinan, many of whom had paid from their own pockets to start small businesses or buy vendor licences, food supplies and new mattresses that met the strict specs provided by Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd, said they were left carrying more debt than they’d had before.

It is unclear how much of the R25-million paid to Sony by the City of Tshwane was ultimately spent on the festival.

“They got away with a heist,” Kwele told Daily Maverick.

“Sony is a multinational company that is supposed to have its own governance protocols. Is what they did acceptable by any accounting standards and in terms of good corporate governance?

“It looks like the CEO and his peers were using Sony as a money-making scheme.”

If Louw, Watson and SME had committed any unlawful acts, their victims said none of them wanted to go up against a New York-based multinational or its legal team.

Sony tied up its Johannesburg staff in non-disclosure agreements, reportedly forbidding them to speak of or ask questions about the festival, and Jacobs never heard from his best friend again.

“The thing that hurt me the most,” Jacobs later said “was making people believe that their salvation had arrived. You make promises to people who are indigent, that don’t work. They believed me. And then it was all gone.”

Jacobs hurriedly packed up his digs in impoverished Rayton and moved on.

Tribe One Dinokeng

Despite a 14km, 2.4m-high electric fence having been installed by Cullinan Diamond Mine, the abrupt cancellation of the Tribe One Dinokeng music festival left the site vulnerable to vandalism and theft. (Photo: Riaan Jacobs)

Because it never signed a lease agreement with Cullinan Diamond Mine, the city could not capitalise its assets on the festival site. 

Within six months, the infrastructure had been vandalised beyond repair or stripped and stolen.

The only hardware salvaged was the WiFi equipment, which Project Isizwe said was “redeployed in other parts of the city”.

The City of Tshwane took Watson, Louw, Sony and Tribeone Festivals Pty Ltd to court to try to recoup some of its costs. The case is still pending. 

In the music industry, Tribe One is often bitterly referred to as South Africa’s Fyre Festival – a reference to the 2017 event in the Bahamas so disastrous that it became the subject of two separate documentaries and led to a multi-year jail sentence for its founder, Billy McFarland, after he was convicted of fraud for scamming investors and ticket holders out of a collective $26-million.

Fyre Festival was ruled an out-and-out scam, while forensic investigators believe Tribe One “was treated as a bona fide event by the Management Company JV”. But, it concluded, due process was not followed, credentials were not considered, critical information was excluded and costs potentially constituted fruitless and wasteful expenditure.

A fiasco it may have been, but at least the Fyre Festival happened. Tribe One Dinokeng didn’t erect a single stage. 

“To me, it will always just be called Tribe Zero,” said Jacobs.

In February 2023, tickets went on sale for a new African music festival – Oasis One – to be hosted in Namibia in early May by Jandre Louw’s Rockstar Television.

It was announced with a familiar-looking video advert, with footage that belonged to Eugene Naidoo. He’d paid for it as part of the settlement with his subcontractor who had filmed it eight years earlier in Cullinan.

Louw didn’t respond to repeated requests for an interview with Daily Maverick for this story. But within two hours of the first request being sent, on 8 May, the Oasis One site was taken down.

Like its predecessor, the Oasis One festival never happened. DM

This story is part of an ongoing series on the perilous state of the South African music industry. Send tips or information confidentially to [email protected] 

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Frank Thurman Thurman says:

    Did anyone read the whole article?
    I got bored after 5 pages.
    Far too much detail imo.

    • Richard Baker says:

      Rather compliment DM and Dianne Neille on such a detailed and credible exposé. Wherever one turns there is fraud and incompetence with strong and valid whiffs of corruption.
      And yet another nail in the reputation and integrity of a senior politician-this one parachuted in to save the wobbling backside of the majority party. Is there no one in the ANC with an ounce of morality and conscience?!

    • Steven Burnett says:

      I did. Excellent read, this comment says way more about you than the incredible research and presentation gone into it.

      Would love to hear from one of the 318 ticket holders.

  • Alley Cat says:

    “More importantly, Watson and Louw’s concept encompassed a sprawling, full-time skills and socioeconomic development component”.
    As soon as any government outfit hears “socioeconomic development”, they will pour millions into any scheme. The city of Tshwane’s legal department should be held accountable for the poor contracts and Ramakhopa as Mayor should be investigated as the ultimately responsible person. A bunch of amateurs dealing with what could at best be described as a bunch of idiots. And yet again, the poor people suffer! Follow the (missing) money!

  • Chris VZ says:

    Kgosientsho Ramokgopa, our new “Minister of Electricity” seems to have a penchant for spending money without conducting appropriate due diligence or even basic common sense. One can only wonder how many billions of Rands of taxpayer money he is secretly spending on diesel to “keep the lights on” with Eskom now implementing stage 6 load shedding.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    Those smooth operators seemingly the criminal minds behind preparing a totally out of sorts politician for more “Stage” failures to come. How ironic.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Nothing has changed. Ramakhopa is still an illusionist. He brags that ESKOM is under control. Yet we are back at stage 6 loadshedding and could go up to 8 if there is another cold spell. He is just ase useless/incopetent as the rest of his comrades.

    • johanw773 says:

      Indeed. Now that De Ruyter and Oberholzer are gone all prudence would have gone out the window and the lunatics are back running the asylum. That, in addition to a massive increase in cable theft and vandalizing of electrical infrastructure threatens to be the final straw that will break the camel’s back.

  • Ian McGill says:

    I was working on the mine at the time. ( It’s Rayton BTW) One of the quirky facts about the properties in the diamond pipe’s area is the property is co-owned by The Premier (Transvaal) Diamond Mining Co. and the Government in the ratio 40/60 due to a Transvaal law giving a (free) 60% of any proclaimed diamond mine in the Transvaal to the government. Alluvial diggings were not included. It is true that when this fact when was pointed out to the folks from Tshwane and the promoters it was an “oh fuck!” moment. Excuse the French!

  • Colleen Dardagan says:

    A brilliant piece of investigative journalism and I think its fair to say that there are ‘dead’ sites like this lying all over South Africa – huge promises, no delivery.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Well done DM for not letting the case go unsolved or reported. It’s been a long game, but the more of these idiots that are exposed, the better.

  • Francoise Armour says:

    I’ve seen one of the Fyre documentaries … be thankful that the South African version didn’t even get to that stage, pardon the pun.

  • Hilary Morris says:

    This reads like bad fiction – almost impossible to believe until we remember who was conning whom. And this man is now going to save the country by fixing electricity problems and Eskom. What, in God’s name, was Ramaphosa thinking?
    Oh, sorry I forgot, he wasn’t – it was a committee of incompetents leading the idiots ru(i)ning our country.

  • Michael Smith says:

    I realise that the name Ramakhopa is a bit of a hook in this story, not without justification, which is why most comments are thus focussed. But the words at the end of this article are equally important. “This story is part of an ongoing series on the perilous state of the South African music industry”. The serial culprits here are the con artists (namely Jandre Louw) and Sony Music themselves. Much like many of our government agency plunderers, they lay low for a while and then pop up again when they find a lucrative opportunity – and the story usually repeats itself. Let us not forget though, that there are also many heroes in the SA music industry.
    As usual, great investigative journalism at work. Fantastic job, Daily Maverick.

  • owen steyn says:

    And now this clown is the minister of electricity!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sekhohliwe Lamola says:

    It seems an ordinary localised community-based mogodisano (Stokvel) moneys are relatively better organised and managed than what happened to public funds without pretences of accountability and expectations of public accountability. What a shameless state of public governance and finances.

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