This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.
I know that this line — from TS Elliot’s The Hollow Men — is overused. But in this situation it seems fitting.
On 16 September 2020, the high court in Johannesburg placed Regiments Capital into final liquidation, ending the company’s 16-year run, first as a black empowerment success story and then as a state capture pariah.
AmaBhungane’s first article about the rising financial services firm appeared in 2012, dealing with Regiments’ role in the politically-connected Capitec BEE deal.
Three more stories followed in quick succession, focusing on Regiments’ lucrative contract to manage the City of Johannesburg’s Sinking Fund.
We didn’t have the full picture. Not yet. That would take years to unravel and would show, amongst other things, that Regiments had been paying millions to current mayor Geoff Makhubo’s company to “maintain strategic relationships” with the city.
But the story that really infuriated directors Litha Nyhonyha, Niven Pillay and Eric Wood, was our first investigation into Regiments’ inflated consulting contracts at Transnet.
Describing itself as “Patriotic Advisors with Humility”, Regiments responded to our questions with a monologue:
“We believe that [our success is difficult to fathom for people because in our country, sadly, black-owned businesses are not associated with success. There’s a general perception that if a black company is successful, it must have engaged in illicit acts … Our adversaries have repeatedly tried to besmirch our name over the years, making numerous fanciful allegations, but none have stuck, because they have all been false.”
[Read Regiments’ full response.]
Nyhonyha would continue to use Regiments’ black-owned status as a shield. When I asked Regiments why it was paying up to 60% of its Transnet consulting fees to Salim Essa, Nyhonyha responded: “It is clear to us that your selective reporting indicates that you despise black excellence.”
I often wonder whether Nyhonyha knew that this was a cynical ploy to deflect attention from Regiments’ role in state capture or whether he genuinely felt singled-out and angry that his competitors did not face the same scrutiny.
There was just cause for amaBhungane’s unrelenting attention though: In the late 2000s, Regiments used its proximity to the ANC to capture the City of Johannesburg. Then, when the Guptas came to town, Regiments hitched its wagon to the state capture train.
It took over R1-billion in fees from Transnet, and its successor, Trillian, would have taken even more from Eskom if a handful of whistleblowers hadn’t stepped in.
In the end, one of its own questionable projects took it down: In 2013, Regiments took a R150-million loan from Vantage Capital, to fund the ambitious Kgoro development, situated above the Sandton Gautrain. Despite Regiments’ connections, it could not find other investors. Last week, Vantage — assisted by the high court — finally pulled the plug.
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Regiments relentlessly put profit above ethics, its own greed above its self-proclaimed patriotism. In the end, it really was a company of hollow men.