Africa: the sleeping lion rises

Theft comes in many forms. The Minority World’s efforts to frustrate the Majority World’s control of its natural resources are well known. But cultural resources have been plundered as well.

Take the case of Solomon Linda, a Zulu herder who died in 1962 with $25 in his bank account. He recorded a melody called ‘Mbube’ in 1939. His tune became ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ which, according to journalist Rian Malan, has generated at least $15 million dollars in royalties. Incorporated into the Disney film ‘The Lion King’, the song has been recorded many times by various artists. Now Owen Dean – South Africa’s foremost copyright attorney – is seeking to restore to Africa what is Africa’s, suing the Disney Corporation on behalf of Mr Linda’s estate. Linda had three daughters: a nurse in an HIV clinic, a domestic servant in Soweto, and an unemployed mother of two. They live in shacks. Disney, always wholesome on the surface, has responded with a series of highly technical and bloodless legal parries, but the family has succeeded in securing a small trickle of money from Abilene Music, which administers the copyright. The suit continues, and has generated support from Afrophiles worldwide.

The lion, it would seem, is waking up.

New Internationalist issue 382 magazine cover This article is from the September 2005 issue of New Internationalist.
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