The construction of a multimillion-rand Lottery-funded old age home in a rural Limpopo village has been abandoned. Now thieves are stripping the buildings and stealing material from the site.
- R26 million was given to a mystery non-profit organisation by the National Lotteries Commission to construct an old-age home in rural Limpopo.
- The home is half-built and seemingly abandoned, with no visible progress in two years.
- Local residents say a clinic or a recreational centre would have been better than an old-age home.
Since 2017, almost R26 million has been paid to Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda, a dormant and non-compliant Gauteng-based company, by the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) to fund the building of the home.
Maila village locals say they were never consulted and do not believe that an old age home was necessary as families in the area traditionally took in and cared for elderly relatives.
Musandiwa Leonard Sidimela, a director of Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda, admitted to GroundUp that they had not visited the site at Maila village, about 30 kilometres southeast of Louis Trichardt, for at least 20 months. But he blamed their absence on Covid-19.
The Maila village project is one of six old age homes that the Lottery proactively funded in six provinces around South Africa. Each received an initial R20 million grant in 2017 and since then, millions more have been pumped into them. They are mainly located in rural villages.
“The money was chowed”
“The money was chowed,” said a concerned member of the community to local community newspaper Limpopo Mirror when he showed a reporter around the half-built structures at Maila village in December 2019.
A fence around the property served no real purpose as the gates were open. A signboard in front of the buildings, which proclaimed that the home was “National Lotteries Commission Lotto Funded”, was hanging from a rusting frame, held up by a single screw.
A year later, a reporter visited the site again, but found that no progress had been made to finish the home. In fact, the buildings were in an even worse state.
The fence was breached and thieves had helped themselves to building material lying around the abandoned construction site. Lewd graffiti was sprayed on some of the walls.
In April 2020, months after NLC spokesperson Ndivhuho Mafela told GroundUp that engineers were assessing the project, there was still no evidence of activity at the old age home.
And when reporters visited the site in October 2020, after lockdown restrictions were eased, they found that the situation was much worse. The site was clearly abandoned and buildings were being vandalized.
And when a reporter again visited the site last week, the half-finished, roofless buildings were in an even worse state than before. The “Lotto Funded” sign had fallen off its frame and was lying face down in the dirt. Pallets of bricks and timber roof trusses that were previously laying around the site were gone.
“A bakkie comes here to collect materials,” said a resident who asked not to be named as he was concerned about his safety. “There is a big white truck that came to fetch lots of timber not so long ago. It might have been a week or two ago.”
Mystery NPO that got Lottery millions
In October 2017, R20 million was allocated to Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda, a Soshanguve-based non-profit organisation (NPO). In the 2018/19 financial year, another R3 million was paid to this entity and leaked NLC 2019 payments revealed that a further R2.8 million was paid out in May 2019, for a total of almost R26 million.
Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda was first registered as an NPO with the Department of Social Development on 18 May 2004. It has no website and no social media activity.
In October 2011, the entity was registered as a cooperative with nine founding members and three directors, Nomsa Maria Mathebula, Musandiwa Leonard Sidimela and Elizabeth Nenselwa Sono.
Company and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) records show that no activity has taken place since 2011. No statutory annual reports were filed and no changes in directorships were recorded. How the entity managed to submit two years’ annual financial statements to the NLC, which is a prerequisite for receiving such a large grant, is unclear.
Since Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda was first registered as an NPO in 2004, its annual reporting should be publicly available via the Department for Social Development’s NPO Directorate. But the department failed to respond to several requests for details about the entity and its directors.
Community members question the project
A Maila village community member who showed reporters around the site said he believed the waste of public funds needed to be exposed. The man, who asked not to be identified as he feared for his safety, pointed out piles of roof trusses lying next to an incomplete building. It had rained the week before and the untreated timber would not withstand being left outdoors.
“People from around here don’t know what an old-age home is,” he said. In rural villages such as these older people are not put into “homes”, he explained, as it was the responsibility of younger family members to look after them. “Had they built a clinic or a recreational centre, it would have been better.”
People living nearby knew very little about the construction or who was involved. Most of the construction work apparently happened early in 2019, but construction teams arrived in 2018 to prepare the site. Then early in 2019, for a while, the place was a hive of activity, they said. Everything stopped abruptly around March or April that year. A Maila resident told GroundUp that he had heard that the local contractors were not being paid, a common complaint that has dogged big Lottery-funded infrastructure projects.
All quiet from the NLC
Early in January 2020, the NLC’s spokesperson, Ndivhuho Mafela, responded to detailed questions about the Maila village old-age home but did not provide answers about the people and companies involved in the project.
“The delay was caused by contractual matters between the funded NPO and its contractors,” Mafela said. “The NLC-appointed engineers, together with the main contractor, are on site today, 21st January 2020, to discuss the technical issues and resumption date for construction. The NLC engineers will then advise on the revised schedule,” he said.
Mafela ignored all follow-up questions.
The NLC’s 2018 annual report states that almost R285 million was used in the 2017/18 financial year to fund 20 proactively funded projects.
“Most of the funding under the Charities Sector [162 million in 2017/18] was for the construction of Old Age Homes and a Drug Rehabilitation Centre,” the report states, adding that 93%, or R265 million, of all the proactive funding was spent on infrastructure projects.
Proactive funding differs from the NLC’s normal funding process. Instead of waiting for applications from non-profit entities, the NLC, its board or the Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition can identify “worthy” projects to fund. Such projects are supposed to be well-researched, and address a definite need. But this is often not the case.
Once a need is identified, the NLC then appoints a non-profit entity to drive the project.
Our project was “hijacked”
Local headman Joshua Nthabalala, interviewed at the end of last year, said that he and other community members were initially behind the project.
“We had plans to fence off the place and seek funding from some provincial and national departments, so that we could build a chicken coop and buy chicken food and medicine,” he said. They had also planned to purchase some cattle.
But then “some people from Gauteng”, who identified themselves as part of Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda, arrived and offered to build a state-of-the-art old-age home that would benefit the local aged, Nthabalala said. “We had no idea or plan for an old-age home, but we listened to them and thought that they had something new and that it was worth trying, so long as it benefited our people.”
But now they would like to turn it into “something else … not an old-age home, because we have got no plan in place for that,” he said.
But in a phone call this week, Nthabalala told GroundUp a different story.
Nthabalala said that the media should not concern itself with the vandalism and looting at the project because the people of Maila were “doing it themselves.”
“Who knows? Maybe this project would have provided jobs for over 200 people once it is finished. There will be no jobs for them because they are crazy,” he said. “Let them destroy the building and continue to loot. After that, when there is nothing left to steal, they will start entering one another’s houses and steal mugayo [mealie meal].”
Finding the people behind Mushumo
CIPC records helped identify the directors of Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda. One of them, Musandiwa Leonard Sidimela, is a director of nine companies, including what appears to be a mining company as well as an aviation company.
Sidimela is also a director of a fairly new non-profit company, Atlas Social Development Projects. Atlas SDP has no involvement in the Limpopo old-age home project.
Speaking to GroundUp, Atlas SDP spokesperson Mixalis Taxylas said, “Due to Covid, (the) last time we had dealings with Mr Sidimela face to face, was in January 2020.”
In a follow-up email, Taxylas said that during a discussion in 2019 with one of Atlas SDP’s directors, Sidimela had explained that “his NPO” (Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda) had been “hijacked”. Sidimela claimed that he had reported the matter to the NLC and the police, Taxylas added.
Atlas SDP had scheduled a meeting to discuss the situation, he said. “We will be taking appropriate steps to ensure our unblemished record as a not-for-profit organisation remains intact,” he said. A proposal would be tabled to provisionally suspend Sidimela as a director while clarity is sought on the Maila village project.
When contacted by email, Sidimela responded: “The project is still under (the) NLC. Any public pronouncements or media statements are managed by the NLC,” he replied, referring inquiries to NLC media spokesperson Ndivhuho Mafela. He copied Mafela, Tsietsi Maselwa, the NLC’s acting chief operating officer, and Marubini Ramatsekisa, who oversees proactive funding for the NLC, in his response.
Sidimela eventually emailed a further response, which was mostly an attack on the Limpopo Mirror. “I understand you want to write a juicy front-page story about that project. It is ok but don’t lie or use information from third parties,” he wrote.
Sidimela denied that consultation had not taken place with the local community prior to the project’s starting. “We have the CLO (community liaison officer) from the community, all general labour comes from the community, the security comes from the community, the material comes from the community business, you see … if there is something untoward the community will have long revolted,” he said.
Hawks have no record of a complaint
Hawks spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Philani S. Nkwalase said that they were not aware of any criminal complaint that had been laid in connection with the Maila village old age home. The Hawks head office and their Gauteng and Limpopo offices could not find any record of a complaint, he said.
“They even went on to search on the system with the name of the complainant provided [but] still could not find the case,” he said. If is not in the system then the assumption must be that the matter has not been reported to the police, Nkwalase said.
Detailed questions about the Maila village project were sent to NLC spokesperson Ndivhuho Mafela. He ignored these questions, as well as follow-up questions about the alleged hijacking of Mushumo Ushavha Zwanda.
Who did the work?
In 2020, bank statements for Upbrand Properties, a company linked to suspended NLC COO Phillemon Letwaba, were leaked to GroundUp. The statements reveal a link between Upbrand and several of the unfinished old-age homes, including the one at Maila village.
In the period between December 2017 and November 2018, several references are made to “Maila”, “Mushumo” and “Lim old age” in the leaked Upbrand Properties bank statements. The descriptions refer to salaries and wages, building material, rental of machinery and the purchase of safety equipment.
More than R510,000 was paid out of the Upbrand account for what appears to be expenditure related to the old-age home at Maila village. In the same period, more than R300,000 was deposited into the Upbrand account using “Mushumo – Lim old age” as a reference.
Sidimela denied any link to Upbrand. He said: “The company that we have appointed is MT Civils, the one you are talking about we know nothing about.”
But during a visit to the construction site in October last year, GroundUp found discarded building plans and notes lying on the floor of a shed. These plans identify PKT Consulting Engineering as the engineers for the Maila village project.
Previous GroundUp reports have established links between PKT Consulting Engineering and suspended NLC COO, Phillemon Letwaba. Letwaba and several members of his family, including his first wife Daisy and his late father, are former members of PKT. They all resigned as directors in March 2017 and Themba Mabundza, who has links to Letwaba and his second wife Rebotile, took over as the sole director.
Letwaba’s cousin Kenneth Sithole resigned as the sole director of Upbrand in July 2017 and Sthembiso Jim Skosana was appointed as the sole director. Letwaba’s brother and Sithole’s wife are both former directors of Upbrand.
“Relax … we will call you”
Sidimela blamed Mushuvo Ushavha Zwanda’s absence from the old-age home site over the past 20 months on Covid-19. “We are trying to go back this year using skeleton staff. For instance, only staff that will be involved in roof installation will be allowed on-site; paving staff only will be allowed on site,” he said.
“Relax, we will call you and the people of Limpopo once we have completed and celebrate together,” said Sidimela.
The people from Maila village will have to wait for the promised old-age home, while questions about the R26-million in Lottery funding remain unanswered.
CORRECTION: Mushuvo Ushavha Zwanda is registered with the CIPC as a cooperative not a non-profit company as originally stated in the article.