The Lion Forgives Tonight

Friday, March 24, 2006

An amazing and disturbing story has been unfolding about the author of the famous song now best known as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” This blockbuster song known throughout the world was first made famous by Pete Seeger, the Kingston Trio and others. The song hit escape velocity as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” in the Disney movie The Lion King.

The song was written in 1938 by an illiterate black man in South Africa, Solomon Linda. He signed over the copyright (not knowing what he was doing) for 10 shillings in 1952. His wife, also illiterate, signed it away again in 1982. From that day to the present he and his family received only pittances from royalties for the song. Mr. Linda lived in a hut with a dirt floor in Soweto; his family slaved at menial jobs while Disney raked in profits. Finally a South African author and songwriter named Rian Malan published an article in Rolling Stone exposing this blatant injustice. The article inspired two South African copyright lawyers to take the case. After years of litigation the suit has now been settled.

From a portion of the New York Times article on March 22:

A representative for Disney would not discuss the circumstances behind the lawsuit, but the company said in a statement that Walt Disney Pictures… was pleased that the litigation had been resolved “to everyone’s satisfaction.”

Some injustices cannot be redressed: in 2001, Mr. Linda’s daughter Adelaide died of AIDS at age 38, unable to afford life-saving antiretroviral treatment.

“I was angry before,” said Ms. Nsele, who, as a government nurse, is one of the few of Mr. Linda’s descendants who is employed. “They didn’t ask permission. They just decided to do anything they wanted with my father’s song.”

“But now it seems we must forgive, because they have come to their senses and realized they have made a mistake,” Ms. Nsele said. “The Bible says you must try to forgive.”

“Not ‘try,’ ” her 17-year-old daughter Zandile corrected. “It says ‘forgive.’ “

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