The Mdabula stadium, which was apparently "rebuilt" with a R11,375 million Lotto grant.
By Anton van Zyl and Raymond Joseph
The mystery surrounding a R11,37 million Lottery grant that was made to a non-profit organisation (NPO) to build a sports facility in Vhembe in Limpopo is beginning to unravel.
A GroundUp/Limpopo Mirror investigation has found that the grant was used to do only minor refurbishments to an existing stadium, leaving close to R11 million unaccounted for.
The National Lotteries Commission (NLC) has, however, remained tight-lipped about the grant made in 2018 to I Am Made 4 God’s Glory (IAM4GG), an NPO with a rather ironic name, considering what has transpired. This NPO is linked to Lottopreneur lawyer Lesley Ramulifho.
Four projects related to Ramulifho and involving almost R55 million in Lottery funding are being probed by a team of independent investigators appointed by Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel. These include IAM4GG and Denzhe Primary Care, a Lottery-funded drug rehabilitation where more than R20 million of a R27.5 million Lotto grant is unaccounted for.
Last week, the director-general of the Department of Trade Industry and Competition (DTIC), Mr Lionel October, announced that details of this project had been handed over to the police for further investigations and possible prosecution.
For more than two years, the NLC has failed to respond in detail to reports of irregularities in projects where Ramulifho and his associates are involved. In fact, even after complaints were lodged with the NLC about Ramulifho in early January 2018, the NLC proceeded to award tens of millions more to companies where he was involved.
Many of these projects have links to Phillemon Letwaba, the NLC’s chief operating officer (COO).
In February this year, the NLC announced that it had appointed audit firm SekelaXabiso “to institute an independent investigation into allegations of improper use of funds intended for good causes”. But the DTIC, seemingly not convinced that this investigation would be independent, commissioned a separate investigation into four projects where Ramulifho was involved. One of the grants investigated is the R11,375 million paid to IAM4GG.
Letwaba was suspended earlier this year after Patel, in November last year, “requested that any implicated staff member be placed on immediate leave of absence during the investigation”.
A mysterious project in rural Limpopo
In December 2017, the NLC received the application from IAM4GG for an infrastructure project in “one of the smallest municipalities that does not have vast opportunities for development”. The NPO asked for R15,4 million for a project to assist athletes from “disadvantaged (areas) … especially rural communities”.
When the application of IAM4GG was received by the NLC on 7 December 2017, the NLC dealt with it as so-called proactive funding. This allows the NLC, its board or the minister to identify a project and then appoint an operator to manage it. How NPOs or non-profit companies are chosen remains unclear.
The NLC appointed IAM4GG to oversee the project, despite the fact that it did not comply with the terms of the NPO Act, as it had failed to comply with statutory reporting obligations to the Department of Social Development. It also submitted a grant funding application with the names of three new directors that did not match the office bearers on record at the Department of Social Development’s NPO Directorate.
The application form submitted by IAM4GG was very vague about what exactly was planned and made no reference to the research the NLC is required to do before any decision involving proactively funded projects. According to the funding application, the project would create 60 full-time and 40 part-time jobs and benefit more than 16 000 people.
On 16 April 2018, Letwaba signed the R11,375 grant agreement with IAM4GG’s representatives, on behalf of the NLC. This document indicated that the chairperson of the NPO was Lesley Ramulifho, Liesl Joy Moses, an employee of Ramulifho’s, was treasurer, and Karabo Sithole, Letwaba’s first cousin, the secretary. The address provided for the NPO was the same as Ramulifho’s legal practice in Garsfontein, Pretoria.
A Nedbank letter confirming the details of IAM4GG’s bank account states that Ramulifho was chairperson of the NPO, Moses the treasurer and Joseph Tshabalala, another Ramulifho employee, the secretary. On 26 April 2018, the first tranche of R9,1 million was paid into this bank account.
Our investigation suggests that IAM4GG was either hijacked or that at least two of the office bearers registered with DSD may have been party to the application for Lottery funding.
Lebogang Mokubela, one of the founders of IAM4GG who is still listed as an office bearer, confirmed that he had been approached by the DTIC investigators a few weeks ago.
“They showed me papers about a Lottery-funded project in Limpopo. I was surprised ... I know nothing about any application for Lottery funding or any stadium,” he said. “I have cooperated fully with Patel’s (DTIC) investigators.”
Mokubela confirmed that IAM4GG had been set up in Soshanguve in 2012. “We set up the NPO to support a youth programme. We only did two projects; both were self-funded. I have not seen any of these guys (the other office bearers of IAM4GG) for years,” he said.
The other office bearers listed with DSD are Thomas Nkuna, Lehlohonolo Khotse, Mpho Maphanga, and Nthabiseng Sathekge. Nkuna and Maphanga did not respond to questions sent to them. We were unable to track down Sathekge and Khotse, but Nkuna and Maphanga were asked to forward our questions to the two of them.
Where is the project?
When details of the dodgy Denzhe Primary Care project first came to light in early 2018, reporters began investigating other projects where Ramulifho and his associates were involved.
At the time, the NLC defended Ramulifho, saying that projects he was involved in were all above board. The NLC, however, refused to make any specific information available about these funded projects and refused to say what was built, where it was built and how Lottery funds were used.
On 15 November 2018, Ndivhuho Mafela, the NLC’s spokesperson, issued a statement in which he said: “With regard to the I am made 4 God’s Glory (IM4GG) project, work is complete and a progress report has been submitted to the NLC. The Commission is not aware of any challenges on this project and it has been handed over to the local municipality.”
But this set alarm bells ringing as barely six months had elapsed between the first tranche’s being paid and the NLC’s claim that the funded sports facility had been completed. The second tranche of R2,275 million was paid on 6 July 2018.
The NLC is always quick to brag about projects, but in this instance no media reports of a project of that scale being handed over to a Limpopo municipality could be found, and the NLC made no mention of it on their website or social-media platforms.
Because the project was funded under the proactive funding model, access to details of the project on the NLC’s grants system - as is the case with all proactive funding - is limited to only a select few senior NLC officials.
Tracking down the project, which was at first believed to be in the Mulima area in the Vhembe District, took more than 18 months.
Some clues, such as a letter from the Makhado Municipality supporting the project, came to light. Local sport bodies also confirmed that they had supplied letters of support intended for the NLC to encourage it to grant funds to build a sport facility. Those who wrote letters of support included the Makhado Football Association and the Vhembe Netball Association. The netball body’s letter placed the stadium in Mukondeni village.
Representatives of several sporting bodies told GroundUp/Limpopo Mirror that they believed that the project never got off the ground. One leaked document revealed that a cricket pitch would be built at an estimated cost of R6,18 million. Despite this, Limpopo Impala Cricket (LIC), Limpopo’s cricket controlling body, and several of its board members, said they knew nothing about such a facility,
Leaked IAM4GG bank statements also show that very little of the Lottery grant money was used to build infrastructure. They also provided a clue to the location of the stadium.
On 30 May 2018, the statements show a R2 000 payment with a reference to “Thundavhula Sport Complex”. No such facility could be found - but not far from Mukondeni is Mdavhula village, which boasts a fairly new stadium, called Mdabula Stadium.
But it was already built!
A visit to the stadium last month confirmed that this was where the R11,375 million project was based. In 2018, contractors claiming to be working on an NLC project did some work at the stadium.
However, the contractors only did minor refurbishments, including replacing some damaged doors, painting some of the buildings and erecting a few ineffective lamp posts. A source with knowledge of the project and the cost of building, says the work amounted to “no more than R100,000, if that much”.
The Mdabula Stadium was constructed by the Thulamela Municipality several years ago. Construction began on 5 July 2006 after a R4,386 million tender, funded by a Municipal Infrastructure Grant, was awarded to Ben Construction, according to a spokesperson for the municipality.
The project suffered some delays, which the municipality says was the result of a “misunderstanding between the contractor and the municipality”. The final, official handover took place on 23 September 2014. In 2016, when municipal boundaries changed after a demarcation process, the stadium was transferred to the Collins Chabane Municipality.
A visit to the stadium revealed no sign of a cricket field. The tennis courts are in a terrible state, with their surfaces badly eroded. A large swimming pool, which has clearly not seen water for years, is also part of the stadium complex.
Questions about the project were once again sent to the NLC last week. The NLC’s spokesperson, Ndivhuho Mafela, was requested to respond before Tuesday, this week. No response was received.
Connecting the dots
Lesley Ramulifho’s relationship with the NLC dates back to 2015 (and perhaps even before that), when he started doing legal work for the institution. But Ramulifho is not the only one who has connections to the inner circles of the NLC.
Themba Mabundza, another of the IAM4GG office bearers, is connected to Phillemon Letwaba via at least four companies. In the period between 2017 and 2020, Mabundza and Letwaba served as directors of Andzani Investments, The Prestige Hospitality Group, Torrex Mining and PKT Consulting Engineers. Both resigned as directors of some of these companies, but their terms overlapped.
GroundUp also revealed how PKT was a service provider to a library/museum and an old-age home in Kuruman. Sources inside the NLC have claimed that PKT Consulting Engineers was also used for other NLC projects.
Mabundza and Rebotile Malomane (Letwaba’s second wife and the mother of three of his children) are both directors of a newly-purchased shelf company, Zibsimanzi NPC, which received R4,8 million in Lottery funds within months of them being appointed as directors. He is also the director of another shelf NPC, Life for Impact in the 21st Century, that received a R10,1 million grant within months of Mabundza’s being appointed as a director.
Another office bearer of IAM4GG, Karabo Sithole, is a first cousin of Phillemon Letwaba’s. He was listed as an office bearer of Denzhe Primary Care, alongside Ramulifho. He also became a director of a Letwaba-linked company, PKT Consulting Engineers, on 1 March 2017 but resigned just 14 days later. He is an active member of the Letwaba-linked Kaone Wethu, which did construction work on several NLC projects. He previously served as director of Ironbridge Travelling Agency and Events and Redtaq. Phillemon Letwaba’s brother, Thabo, his cousin Karabo Sithole and his wife Keneilwe Constance Maboa, are former directors of Redtaq and Ironbridge.
IAM4GG, Life for Impact and Zibsimanzi are all the subject of an investigation ordered by Minister Ebrahim Patel. A dossier on Denzhe Primary Care, a hijacked NPO also involving Ramulifho and Moses, has been handed to the police.
Lesley Ramulifho failed to respond to detailed emailed questions.
Contacted by phone, Themba Mabundza said: “Where did you get my number?” He refused to provide an email address for questions to be sent to him and asked what the call was about. After being told that it was in connection with IAM4GG and the Limpopo stadium, he said: “Why are you asking me?” After being told that his name was included on the application to the NLC for funding, he said: “I have nothing to say.” On Wednesday morning, he responded to questions sent via WhatsApp, saying: “I do not have any comments for you at this point, especially about a matter which you say is under forensic investigation. I feel like any statement I make to you will be misquoted and misrepresented.”
Ndivhuho Mafela, the NLC’s spokesman, failed to respond to detailed questions sent to him. NLC commissioner Thabang Mampane, who was also a recipient of the email, also failed to respond.
Date:11 September 2020 - By: Anton van Zyl
Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror since 1990. He graduated from the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.