A text message from the Zimbabwe Music Rights Association (Zimura) sent to all its 2200-plus members last week read:
"Dear Member, "Zimura regrets to advise that there are no royalties on 1 June, 2012 until further notice. ZBC has not paid since 2009."
This notice was written to advise all music composers in this country not to throng Zimura offices as is usually the case on June 1 of each year since there is no money to pay for airplay.
A lot of music composers are not happy about this turn of events.
ZBC, which is short of cash, is accused of being insensitive. I am told members of Mbare Chimurenga Choir, on receiving this news, went straight to the Minister of Media, Information and Publicity, Webster Shamu, who is responsible for ZBC as well as being the patron of Zimbabwean musicians, asking him to intervene.
Pastor Haisa went to Zimura offices pleading with them to do something about it as he is dependent on the royalties he receives each year.
One widow of a deceased popular musician expressed shock when she received the text message. She pleaded with Zimura to do something as she has not paid her children's school fees this term and she also owes rentals to her landlord.
She had promised both the school and the landlord that they will get their money on June 1. But that was not to be. She had high hopes because she was given US$650 last year and assumed she would get the same this year.
Tedious Matsito, who is currently in hospital after his leg was amputated following a car accident, has also pleaded with Zimura to pay his hospital bills.
Hundreds of other musicians are in crisis following the non-payment of royalties. Musician and composer Newman Chipeni complained of inefficiency on Zimura's part and suggested that the Zimura board should resign. But who is to blame here?
The following is a recent one-on-one interview I (FZ) had with Zimura chairperson Albert Nyathi (AN).
FZ: Zimura has not received payment from ZBC since 2009, why have you not made any urgent chamber application to stop ZBC from illegally using your music?
AN: We have hesitated because sometimes ZBC would give us the money in tranches of US$5 000, US$10 000 and US$20 000. Right now ZBC is indebted to us to the tune of US$650 000 if not more, and we feel it is time we took action.
FZ: Zimura board members and officials have this year visited Bulawayo and Mutare to hold workshops and have stayed in expensive hotels. Where has this money come from when you cannot pay your members?
AN: No they are not expensive hotels. We stayed in cheap lodges. The money for these workshops was given to us by Culture Fund and it was specifically designated for workshops only.
FZ: Fair enough, but Zimura also recently bought a second flat which has been converted into offices despite the possibility of non-payment of royalties from ZBC. Was that a wise decision and who made that decision?
AN: The decision was made by the board. We decided that our offices were becoming too congested due to expansion of staff. So we made that move"
FZ: Where did the money for that move come from? Was the Board of Trustees consulted before you decided to buy the flat?
AN: "The Board of Trustees has not met in four years, so we just decided to take the money from the Trust Fund and use it.
FZ: In 2009, some US$10 000 went missing from Zimura funds due to a fraudulent act by one of its administrators in connivance with one board member. The Zimura membership was kept in the dark about these funds and how have you been able to account for this money?
AN: That issue was handled by the last board chaired by the late Tendai Mupfurutsa, so that is not my business.
FZ: So what is the way forward for the members who are still waiting for their royalties? Is ZBC your only source of income?
AN: We are waiting for payment. If not we will stop all music from being played on both radio and television.
Albert Nyathi is the chairman of the Zimura board. The rest of the board members are Dingumuzi Phuti, Emmanuel Thomas, Witness Zhangazha (legal advisor), Bob
Nyabinde, Joyce Simeti and Polisile Ncube. Ncube, who is also the managing director of Zimura, was said to be away on leave and writing examinations. So she could not be disturbed.
There is a clear lack of vision in how Zimura has handled the ZBC issue.
I also managed to speak to Henry Makombe, who heads the licensing department, to find out what went wrong. He informed me that ZBC has not paid Zimura since 2009 and they are using Zimura members' music free of charge.
"This is the only broadcaster in the whole world which does not pay royalties for the music it uses," he said.
Roseline Chirume, who deals with documentation at Zimura, confirmed that despite non-payment to membership, all staff were still receiving their salaries each month. When I proposed a 10 percent cut in salary for one month to help Tedious Matsito, she just looked blank.
I wanted to know how sensitive the Zimura boards have been to the plight of suffering musicians and Henry also confirmed that the Zimura Board of Trustees last met in 2008. There is a Deed of Trust in place, which outlines all the governance issues at Zimura.
In my opinion the Board of Trustees is the most important body in any organisation. This is the board that has the ultimate responsibility for running the association,
its property, finances and the employment of staff.
Property includes buildings, investments cash and assets. It is also its duty to ensure that the association remains solvent and to see that the board of directors and staff are accountable to the association's beneficiaries, in this case, the composers.
So how are policy decisions at Zimura being made if the Board of Trustees has not met for four long years?
In 2008, Zimura staff had been whittled down to four. Today, staffing has ballooned by 300 percent.
There was no Board of Trustees to consult regarding staffing. So, who made that decision? In 2009, one of Zimura staff stole US$10 000 from Zimura funds.
This matter was swept under the carpet and the generality of Zimura membership was kept in the dark about this matter.
Investment and reserve funds have been wiped out. These could have been used to pay royalties to Zimura members this year but instead, a decision was made to buy the ground floor flat at 3 Aspen Flats, Avondale, without consulting the members or the Board of Trustees.
Zimura says it has taken ZBC to court to enforce payment and to stop it playing music for free. However, ZBC is not the only source of funds for Zimura.
If the licensing department was effective, they would raise the funds to distribute this year, but let's face it, the licensing inspectors that were in place have all left Zimura due to a scandal where most of them were stealing funds using fake receipt books.
It looks like Zimura needs a proactive and a more invigorated team of players if it is to survive. Musicians are failing to make ends meet due to both non-payment of royalties as well as piracy.
The music business is one of the trickiest enterprises for anyone to get into as there are no definite rules applicable for each step taken by an individual or group.
In this industry, which changes with technology on almost a weekly basis, one has to play it by ear most of the time. The music industry has been described as a cut-throat business by one musician.
There is need to seek specialist professional legal advice whenever an artiste meets up with a tricky situation.
Zimura has a right to stop ZBC from playing all music, be it international or local because it is the only representative body within Zimbabwe for all the international music rights organisations.
Zimura was formed in 1982 to protect the rights of music composers through negotiations with music broadcasters, publishers as well as all those who administer music through public performances and diffusion services.
This is not the first time that ZBC has failed to pay royalties for the use of music in Zimbabwe. A precedent has already been set.
In March, 1988 the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and Zimura were locked in a legal battle involving the royalties which ZBC ought to pay composers for playing their music on both radio and television.
After a High Court order, ZBC had threatened to stop playing all locally made records but they did not know that Zimura was affiliated to other international composers' organisations such as Performing Rights Society (PRS), Association of Independent Radio Contractors (AIRC), British Academy of Songwriters,
Composers and Authors (BASCA) Music Publishers Association (MPA), British Phonographic Industry (BPI), World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), Confederation of International Songwriters, Authors and Composers (CISAC), American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and the British Music Incorporated (BMI).
The dispute was later solved amicably with ZBC agreeing to pay a percentage of its advertising revenue towards both local and international music composers.
This year's non-payment by ZBC is taking place during a time of conferences such as the National Forum on Intellectual Property Policy and Strategy by the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs in conjunction with WIPO, organisations which insist on the protection of intellectual property. Isn't that irrational?
Despite Zimura's inability to justifiably deal with its governance issues, ZBC is equally at fault by continuing to use musicians' music without paying for it.As a matter of fact, ZBC is breaking the law by doing so. Artistes must be paid for their work.