20 July 2024 | 11:53 PM

Aurora link to suspect land deal

Key Takeaways

A controversial property developer in the North West province has links to empowerment company Aurora Empowerment Systems.

Despite Aurora’s dire financial troubles with the liquidated Pamodzi Grootvlei and Orkney mines, the company appears to be interested in a questionable land deal on the Hartbeespoort Dam that has left the local Madibeng municipality divided.

It seems the deal secured by developer Naas Grimbeek traded on political clout. The land was sold for R77-million but is said to be worth much more and the deal was pushed through by the province in the teeth of opposition from the local council.

Aurora’s political credentials are well established. Khulubuse Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s nephew, Michael Hulley, Zuma’s lawyer, and Zondwa Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson, are on the Aurora board.

In July last year Aurora announced with huge fanfare the R78,5-million acquisition of Zambian-based company, Redwood Timber Merchants, from Grimbeek. The asset would be injected into the listed company Cenmag.

In interviews Khulubuse Zuma said: “Aurora owns Cenmag. Cenmag is the vehicle that we are going to use to make a string of acquisitions. This is only one — there are other acquisitions that are coming to the fore. Redwood Timber is the biggest timber company in the southern hemisphere, the largest sawmill in the southern hemisphere.”

Zuma said Grimbeek had already been paid R32-million.

But the deal with Cenmag collapsed and it appears there are other claims over the assets of Redwood.

This week Grimbeek first claimed the Redwood deal had collapsed because Aurora was unable to pay for it — but if financing came through from Aurora’s latest funders, the deal would be on again. He later declined to say anything more about the deal, other than the contract was being renegotiated.

Meanwhile, the M&G has established that the Industrial Development Corporation has obtained a R14,5-million warrant of execution against Grimbeek and his companies for the non-payment of a loan for Redwood Timbers.

Grimbeek would not answer questions about the warrant.

It appears the loan was to cover debts still owing on the company and that attempts have been made by the Zambian government to repossess the property on which the sawmill is located.

Now Grimbeek has emerged as the man behind what has been described as a “murky purchase” of approximately 400ha of prime land, the Oberon resort, on the Hartbeespoort Dam. But he denied that Aurora was involved in the land deal, although he said Zuma had expressed an interest in Oberon.

But contractors working for Grimbeek on the resort, renamed Eagle Waters Wildlife, said Grimbeek had mentioned Aurora as a stakeholder in the project.

There are other smaller links.

The M&G has established that, in December last year, Aurora made a R14 000 payment to Hentiq 2784, a company through which Grimbeek owns the property. Grimbeek says it was repayment of a loan.

Merloni Brand Consultancy, owned by Mandela and Yaseen Theba, the son-in-law of Suliman Bhana, a controversial former adviser to Aurora, were employed by Grimbeek to design the website for Eagle Waters.

Grimbeek said that the relationship between him, Mandela and Zuma was confidential, though he admitted earlier that he spoke regularly to the two Aurora directors.

Eagle Waters is the talk of the town in Hartbeespoort, with local papers, councillors and business people in an uproar about what they see as a land deal sorely lacking in transparency. Oberon, the land where Eagle Waters is being built, was the last piece of public-access land open to the community.

“It’s ridiculous,” says Titus Mlambo, secretary of the local policing forum. “They didn’t even ask our consent. We are surprised that they sold this land because there are informal settlements on it and these people will be evicted. Now, we have no access to the dam.”

Grimbeek bought the Oberon land from the North West department of public works, roads and transport for R77-million, but local estate agents said the property’s value was closer to R450-million. Grimbeek disputes this. He said his valuations showed that the land, without the development of services, was worth between R70-million and R120-million.

A high-level source in the North West department of public works told the M&G that the deal did not go through the usual channels but was treated as a special project by the provincial minister and premier.

Originally the land was under a 99-year lease to the Madibeng local municipality, which still had 86 years left on the lease when it was sold off to Grimbeek in 2009. The M&G understands that the provincial department put significant pressure on the municipality to sign a clearance certificate to allow the land to be sold to Grimbeek.

A number of ward councillors for the area who initially were vehemently opposed the sale, believing it would be detrimental to the community, later changed their minds. A member of the community who asked not to be named said the councillors felt they were “fighting a losing battle”. “There was pressure from the consortium and the provincial government. They said they had already sold the land.”

A councillor also said that a high-level politician had intervened when the “transparency and legitimacy” of the land deal was questioned and told the councillor to back off.

Grimbeek said the purchase was above board and his company acted “ethically and diligently”. He would not say where the funding had come from for it or if the full purchase price had been paid.

The M&G had not received responses from the province, the municipality or Aurora at the time of going to print.

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amaBhungane

Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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