Judgment reserved in case over rights for Brenda Fassie movie

Chicco Twala at the Pretoria High Court were he is opposing Bongani Fassie from going ahead with a movie about the life of the late Brenda Fassie.
Chicco Twala at the Pretoria High Court were he is opposing Bongani Fassie from going ahead with a movie about the life of the late Brenda Fassie.
Image: Masi Losi

Judgment was reserved on Wednesday in the court case over the rights for a movie about South African icon Brenda Fassie.

Several adjournments throughout the day - as well as a seemingly nervous advocate representing music veteran Sello “Chicco” Twala - had Judge Nomonde Mngqibisa-Thusi sighing as she presided over the matter in the North Gauteng High Court.

The court heard arguments from Twala’s lawyer‚ Advocate Mashudu Tshivhase‚ who argued that his client was entitled to the rights of the much-anticipated biopic about Fassie’s life because he owned the intellectual property to her music.

The case comes after‚ in January this year‚ UK production company Showbizbee announced it was working with the Brenda Fassie estate‚ Legaci Nova Entertainment and Bongani Fassie to produce the film‚ ‘Brenda’.

South Africans hopeful of a starring role in the film were asked to submit their audition videos for the role of MaBrrr in the biopic‚ which would be written by Bongani‚ who was also said to be the executive producer.

Bongani is Fassie’s son.

Thwala‚ Fassie’s former producer was “shocked” to learn from media reports earlier this year that a biopic was in production‚ that casting calls had been made and that writer and director were on board.

Twala claimed that Bongani came to him for financial assistance with the documentary as early as 2010.

An agreement between Fassie‚ Twala and Fassie Records was reportedly signed. That agreement was later amended to include the executor of the Brenda Fassie estate. In December‚ Fassie’s manager‚ Vaughn Eaton‚ terminated that agreement on his client’s behalf - and this year Twala found out a film was being made without his involvement.

Twala‚ according to Bongani’s lawyers‚ “prematurely” approached the court to interdict the production and advertisement of the film.

Judge Mngqibisa-Thusi said it appeared that Twala and Fassie had promised what they did not have because neither owned the rights at the time when they entered into the first agreement.

Tshivhase conceded that at the time of the first agreement‚ neither Twala nor Fassie had the legal rights to make the film.

“You keep on including the third respondent [Bongani] in your demand that the other respondents should not have the rights to make the film…bearing in mind that at the time he was the sole heir and a major‚ the decision the estate takes needs to consult the sole heir‚” Mngqibisa-Thusi said.

Bongani‚ who claims to be the owner of the rights in his personal capacity‚ has denied entering into any binding agreements with Twala or the production company.

Advocate Earl Abrahams‚ representing Bongani and Eaton‚ said neither was aware of the existence of any contract.

“The applicant [Twala] claims to have the only right to make the Brenda Fassie film. Should the agreement be legal‚ the applicants were granted a non-exclusive agreement. Contrary to what the applicant believes‚ Bongani Fassie is within his full right to contract with whoever he wants to for the film‚” Abrahams said.

The lawyers went back and forth objecting to each other‚ presenting the court with new documents‚ including a letter from the executor of the estate. According to this letter‚ obtained by Tshivhase‚ the executor stated that the rights still rested with the executor even though the estate had been wound up.

While Bongani believes he has the rights as the son and sole heir of the estate‚ Twala believes he owns the rights as the music producer.

Fassie was not in court‚ but Eaton said this was a fight about principle.

Twala‚ who was in court‚ said the process was “stupid” because a film could not‚ in any event‚ be made without his input.

“We are fighting for nothing. Bongani has the rights to his mother and I have the rights to the music. Why don’t we work together?” Twala said.

Judgment in the matter was reserved.

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