In February last year, a truck rolled up to a site in the Eastern Cape’s Makana region and started unloading protective clothing: 1 146 orange overalls, 200 dust masks and 1 155 pairs of safety boots.
The clothing was destined for the Community Work Programme (CWP), a national part-time employment scheme which the department of co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) funds at about R4-billion a year.
Cogta outsources the day-to-day management of the CWP to “implementing agents”, which also procure the necessary tools, materials, training and protective clothing.
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This, they are supposed to do in a way that is “fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective”.
In Makana and many other parts of the Eastern Cape, the implementing agent is a non-profit company, Southern African Youth Movement (SAYM).
A delivery note shows that the clothing in Makana came from Tumelo U Thabile Sentle Transport and Freight, a small transport company registered in Rammulotsi, a township alongside Viljoenskroon in the Free State.
When SAYM called for bids for protective clothing in November 2018, the deadline for submission was short – just one week – and initially, only bids that were “hand delivered” to SAYM’s office in Pretoria would be considered. Later, this was amended to include SAYM’s office in East London.
Despite the onerous conditions six companies submitted bids in the Eastern Cape, amaBhungane has established.
SAYM would not confirm if the entire contract was awarded to Tumelo U Thabile but records obtained from Cogta show that three contracts for protective clothing were awarded to variations of this name: Tumelo (R4 651 198), Tumelo Freight and Transport (R600 866) and Tumelo Uthabile (R491 238). (You can explore our new database of CWP contracts here.)
After a process of elimination, it appears likely that all three contracts, valued at R5.7-million, went to the same company, Tumelo U Thabile Sentle Transport and Freight, which not only delivered the clothing but sourced it too.
“They’re robbing the Eastern Cape,” one of the unsuccessful bidders said. “We don’t go [to] do jobs in Joburg, but the Eastern Cape jobs are given to guys in Joburg. And this is not a specialist job, it’s an easy thing to do.”
The ethos of the CWP is to provide opportunities to small, local businesses, although this is not codified in its rules. SAYM’s tender process awards extra points to companies based in the Eastern Cape, but this seems to have made little impact.
A source at an Eastern Cape garment factory told amaBhungane that since SAYM took over as the implementing agent in 2018, they had seen few orders for protective clothing.
But there was something else unusual about Tumelo U Thabile: It is undeniably connected to SAYM.
Company registration records show that several current and former SAYM employees were directors of the company or involved in its administration.
Since 2015, the company has had just one director, Zandile Vilakazi. She shares a number of business interests with other SAYM employees.
Two sources with knowledge of SAYM’s inner workings alleged that Vilakazi also has a personal relationship with SAYM’s executive director Muzwakhe Sigudhla (see At Community Work Programme, family and staff eat first for more on him).
We tried to confirm this and other details with Vilakazi, but she put our call on hold indefinitely as soon as we introduced ourselves as journalists. We followed up with a WhatsApp and then a formal letter, but by that point she had blocked us.
In a last-ditch attempt, we tried track down the company’s office. Tumelo U Thabile’s registered address in Rammulotsi led us to an RDP house while the occupant at its postal address – a flat in Pretoria – told us they had never heard of the company and Vilakazi had moved out more than 10 years earlier.
At the CWP site in Makana, we found another possible connection to SAYM: The person who delivered the protective clothing claimed to be employed not by Tumelo U Thabile, but by Smart Safety, a factory in Pretoria that manufactures CWP-branded t-shirts, overalls and hats.
Registration documents show that the company – registered as Smarty Safety PPE Manufacturing and Supplies – was set up in September 2018 and that its first director was SAYM’s boss, Sigudhla.
After the protective clothing tender (issued by SAYM itself) closed, Sigudhla resigned as the sole director and, on paper at least, placed the company into the hands of one Sammy Mathibe.
We cannot be sure that the protective clothing in Makana came from Smart Safety, but CWP-branded t-shirts bearing the distinctive “SS” of the Smart Safety logo turned up at another CWP project in the Intsika Yethu local municipality.
The company that delivered these t-shirts, King of Knights, received two CWP contracts from SAYM collectively valued at R1.4-million.
King of Knights’ director, Kenny Setshedi, confirmed that he sourced all his protective clothing from Smart Safety but said he was unaware that the company had any connection to SAYM.
“I only dealt with Sammy Mathibe,” Setshedi told us.
The Pretoria factory
When we first contacted Mathibe he was cagey about his involvement in Smart Safety and asked us to send him written questions. Two days later he responded on WhatsApp, this time more confidently:
“[W]hen i Took over the Company there was no Contract or future contract directed to Smart Safety.”
In a second WhatsApp he told us: “[Muzwakhe Sigudhla] is no longer part of the business and when i took over the Company it was still a new company with no business I have build my own client tell… i have every right to do Legal business with Anyone in South Africa unless if u say It iswrong to sell CWP specification suit from my Factory.”
So, was it merely coincidence that SAYM issued contracts to companies that in turn placed orders with a factory that SAYM’s executive director had set up and supposedly sold within two months?
Photos on Smart Safety’s Facebook page, posted while Sigudhla was still in charge, shows workers making what look like orange CWP overalls. Whether these were destined for the CWP or another client is not clear.
AmaBhungane has seen minutes of a board meeting held in July 2018 where Mathibe was introduced as a new board member of SAYM. Although Mathibe was never officially registered as a director, there were other clues that suggest Mathibe was not as independent as he claimed.
“My business partners and mentors”
Records provided by Cogta show that SAYM also awarded a contract to another Mathibe company called Prepaid Investment to provide tools and materials to the CWP project for R309 000.
Mathibe told us the company was focused on “Business Development, Community mining and Commodity Trading”, and that the only CWP project it did was “an agricultural consulting project”.
Until February 2019, the company had a second director, one Ntando Sigudhla.
The exact nature of the relationship between Ntando Sigudhla and Muzwakhe Sigudla, the SAYM executive director, is not clear. But there are numerous photos of them together over several years including on holiday in Durban and at several weddings.
When Mathibe celebrated his birthday at Smart Safety’s Pretoria factory, Ntando Sigudhla was there. In a gushing New Year’s Eve post on Facebook, Ntando Sigudhla referred to both Mathibe and Muzwakhe Sigudhla as “[M]y business partners & mentores”.
Ntando Sigudhla did not respond to questions sent over WhatsApp.
The contracts awarded to Tumelo U Thabile and King of Knights make up almost half of the R14.8-million that SAYM spent on protective clothing in the Eastern Cape last year.
Yet when Daily Dispatch visited sites run by SAYM they found many instances of poor-quality clothes, unsuited for the kind of work CWP participants undertake.
Questions were sent to SAYM by both amaBhungane and the Daily Dispatch. SAYM chose not to respond.