Stories from Port Elizabeth's pirates, consumers and the law enforcers

BY AFIKILE LUGUNYA - APRIL 20, 2017
Stories from Port Elizabeth's pirates, consumers and the law enforcers

After finding the economic and political situation in his country of birth untenable, and joining thousands, who make the desperate journey south daily, Milto’s* dreams were soon dashed when it became apparent that South Africa was not the land of economic opportunity he thought it would be.

The 19-year-old, who now resides in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth, had not even finished studying when he decided to gamble on the trek south to try and improve his circumstances. Thus, with no skills to offer, he soon found it hard to secure any kind of job.

Again finding himself desperate in a foreign country, he says he had no option but to join the local piracy scene – given the huge demand for counterfeit CDs and DVDs by local residents.

“I saw that many people from my country were making money out of this thing – so, I thought why don’t I just make and sell my own CDs and DVDs as well because I had a computer in my room that I could use,” Milto tells RNEWS.

Despite concerted efforts by authorities to rid Port Elizabeth’s streets of hawkers of pirated music, TV shows, movies and sometimes games and software, the problem is not going away partly due to consumers failing to access these at legal outlets at affordable prices.

For example, while original low-budget movie DVDs cost R30 at their lowest, on the streets, counterfeited DVDs of big budget productions cost only R10. There is also usually nowhere else to access some popular TV shows or music except online – and once again the somewhat prohibitive costs of legal downloads, which can only be bought using credit cards, send many to the dark corners of the net. Names like Kim Dotcom, Mega Upload, Pirate Bay and thousands other illegal downloads sites come to mind.

For the ordinary man on the street, it is usually easier to just pay R10, and for the pirates, it’s usually as easy as getting a desktop or laptop and a printer that can label DVDs then access to content from a network of sources and one is in business.

On a good day – weather permitting and without being chased by authorities, Milto says he can pocket up to R800.

He still insists that at least he is not robbing or stealing from his neighbours, but is “hustling” so that he can put bread on the table.

“I don’t rob or hurt anyone to get money, but I am hustling in the best way I know to get money, so that I can also have food to eat and be able to wake up in the morning and hustle again,” he says.

However, his hustle means he has to constantly dodge local law enforcement, who are determined to clean up the streets of all forms of vice – including counterfeiting.

“Sometimes the police take the CDs that we sell, so we have to go back home to make more so that we can sell somewhere else where there aren’t police around,” Milto describes.

“You will find that because we are always trying to avoid the police, it becomes hard to run the business and we lose money.”

He says he is fully aware that he is no Robinhood, who takes stuff from high up and distributes to the masses. He knows each time he presses 'burn', he is stealing someone else’s work and selling it as your own, which is a crime, but it is a risk he is willing to take to survive.

“I know that what I’m doing is a crime, but what must I do, because there are no jobs in South Africa.”

The coonsumers

Bathini Dube, Milto’s friend and customer, says he prefers to buy the fake products that his friend makes, because he doesn’t have money for the expensive DVDs that he will watch once and forget about.

“I wouldn’t buy an expensive CD, when I can get that same thing for just R20 on the street. If the musicians want us to buy their CDs then, there must be an affordable prize attached to the CD so that we can buy,” he says.

“The cost of living is too high for most people to waste money on expensive music and movies that’s why we buy the cheaper stuff, they must understand.”

It's killing artists

But Siyavuya Klaas, a local upcoming Hip Hop musician, says pirates are harming their industry.

“People, who pirate and sell our music cheap on the streets are killing and wasting our talents.

“That is why I choose not to have my music on a CD. Most of my songs are found online to be downloaded, so that I can monitor the number of downloads and how much money I will receive,” he describes.

Klaas says when he releases new music, he sends links to his fans via social media, and so far, that distribution model is working for him.

One thing is apparent though, when artists cannot benefit from their talent, it means more people joing the unemployment queue and another chunk of potential income that the taxman could have collected to fund future public projects. 

The law enforcers

RNEWS happened to be present on a day that the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality’s Metro Cops raided counterfeiters selling their wares at the Main Taxi Rank in Govan Mbeki.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the CBD’s Town Ranger, said that they have been conducting these raids in the townships and the inner city areas of Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth on a daily basis.

Confiscated CDs and DVDs are taken to the nearest police station from where they will be destroyed or recycled.

“The seized counterfeited CDs and DVDs are sometimes changed into something that benefits the city to be beautiful, for example plastic chairs,” he described.

“We mostly work with Humewood police, who help by confiscating the counterfeited products and in chasing the sellers away.”

He agreed that their efforts would not bear fruits overnight, because after they chase away the hawkers and seize their wares, they are often back on the same spot that same day with new stock.

*Not his real name.