WATCH: From Sandton to Secunda, scammed women speak on boyfriends’ prayer rooms, and being left destitute

Police in Gauteng confirmed to IOL that cases of fraud were opened, and requested the men seen in the pictures, believed by victims to be from Uganda, to come forward and assist in the ongoing investigations. Pictures: Supplied

Police in Gauteng confirmed to IOL that cases of fraud were opened, and requested the men seen in the pictures, believed by victims to be from Uganda, to come forward and assist in the ongoing investigations. Pictures: Supplied

Published Jul 11, 2024


Several women across South Africa have in recent years fallen victim to elaborate romantic scams where they are hoodwinked into love relationships by strangers, and end up investing in fictitious schemes where they lose everything in the end.

The scammers vanish after stealing the women’s money, leaving the women who are often breadwinners in their families, out of employment, in huge financial debts, psychologically traumatised and unwilling to continue with life.

IOL is running the #Scammed series, where dozens of South African women have frantically been knocking on several doors, after being knocked in romantic relationships by men who are not easily traceable.

In a desperate bid to speak out, the scammed women from different parts of South Africa have regrouped, holding hands in their bid to raise awareness on the rampant romantic scams.

South African women who were scammed in romantic relationships have joined in pursuing their scammers, and demanding justice from the government. File Picture

There are reports of other women quietly taking their own lives after it became apparent that what they had believed to be a promising love relationship was a scam from the onset, and the man they thought was their loving boyfriend was a thief and a fraudster.

In IOL’s extensive investigation in provinces including Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga – what is common in the romance scams, is a phase where the love-struck, unsuspecting woman is taken into a certain dark room, specially referred to adoringly by the boyfriend and his “family” as a dedicated prayer room.

In this room, the scamming process is sealed with Hollywood-winning performances of fake miracles, voices being heard from phony ancestors, leaving the women paralysed in fear, shock, awe, disbelief and confusion.

VIDEO: Scammed women speak on boyfriends’ prayer rooms, and being left destitute.

Seasoned forensic investigator Calvin Rafadi told IOL that not enough awareness has been raised on the romance scams which have become prevalent in all areas of South Africa – including rural areas.

Forensic and crime expert, Calvin Rafadi spoke to IOL on the rampant romantic scams which have left hundreds of women destitute. File Picture

Unlike popular belief, the targets of scammers are not only rich women, but also middle-income earning women. With the facilitation of the scammers, the women are induced to take out unsustainable bank loans and hand over the cash. The instruction to bring money happens in the dark prayer rooms where items like Bibles are a common feature.

The voice which speaks in the prayer room is of one of the criminals who will be hiding in a compartment specially prepared in the dark room.

“These prayer rooms are always set up at the boyfriend’s residence. They do not often come to the woman’s place. The women are invited to the boyfriend’s place. This is part of their scam. Immediately after they lure their victims to come to their house, she is invited to go into this prayer room.

“In that room, there is no ancestor but it is a person hiding in one area and listening to the prayers. This act is done to fool the woman into believing that the boyfriend’s ancestors were talking. These ancestors often speak in English which is very strange. I have asked many people how the ancestors would be communicating in English,” Rafadi said.

He said the boyfriends usually claim that the house is their property, but it will be empty as soon as the scam project is done and the woman is left with huge financial debts.

IOL interviewed several women who were scammed in romantic relationships, lost millions of rand, and in many circumstances were without work after resigning on the prospects of a better life with the new boyfriend.

The victimised women share their own experiences, giving readers an exclusive peep into the dark world of the prayer room where the “ancestors” converse with the women, and promise them millions of rands in cash.

Numerous women based in different parts of South Africa have spoken to IOL after losing millions of rand to boyfriends in romantic scams. File Picture

Joburg woman Jabu Nxumalo, who lost 500,000 in a romantic relationship with a Ugandan man Joseph Ssekasi told IOL that the “prayer room” is the epicentre of the scam.

She revealed that the boyfriend is usually responsible for leading the woman into the dark room at his place, lights candles, and assures that unsuspecting victim that he needs to marry her, and in his culture, so he must introduce her to his “ancestors”.

Joburg woman Jabu Nxumalo met Ugandan national Joseph Ssekasi on dating app Tinder last year, and at the time, Ssekasi claimed to be Deron Mundari and insisted he was from South Sudan. Picture: Supplied

The ritual involves or is preluded with drinking beverages which many of the women believe were spiked with drugs. While still in that state, the “ancestors” take over, sweeping the woman off her feet.

“The prayer room plays a vital role in this kind of a scam. They normally burn something before we enter the room and he will light candles. It felt like something was watching over me, I can't even explain the feeling,” she told IOL.

“With these scammers, when you visit their houses, they insist on giving you something to drink or to eat. Most women say after that meal or drink, they would not think rationally as they normally would. While in that state, the woman is taken into the prayer room, shown a load of money (often counterfeit bank notes mixed with a few legitimate rands). The women are then persuaded to take loans or resign from their jobs and bring their pensions.”

She said another scenario for scammers to lure unsuspecting victims is the widespread adverts and boards titled “bring back lost lover” or “fix marriage or financial problems”.

“I believe men are also scammed through this, especially those who are in business and those desperately wanting their women to come back. In the process, they are also taken into these prayer rooms and things happen there,” she said.

A Gauteng woman, Sbongile Dlamini was persuaded to take loans of almost R1 million and the boyfriend vanished with it. File Picture: Patrick Louw / Independent Newspapers

Another Gauteng-based woman, Sbongile Dlamini (not her real name) lost almost R1 million after she hooked up with another Ugandan man, who did not waste time in popping out a ring, requesting her hand in marriage, and inviting her to his home at Sandton.

“When I was invited to their purported home, a mansion at Sandton, I was introduced to a woman, purported to be my boyfriend’s sister. She posed as a very spiritual woman, deeply rooted in faith. She then asked that I join her and the boyfriend in their prayer room for a few minutes so that I can be introduced to their ancestors during a prayer session.

“I did not see anything wrong in praying and being mentioned to their ancestors. I actually believe it added my trust in them, thinking that they fear God and are closely attached to who came before them.

“I was instructed to pour water on my face continuously until when I was made to stop, then I realised that the water had turned blood red which to them indicated that I needed to be cleansed/purified first. That, they said, would be done by continuously drinking the water which they provided to me in five litre bottles every time I went to visit,” she recounted.

The unwary woman was told that this was “special water” which had been brought from a certain river, where the family conducts its rituals.

“The room was covered in traditional cloths and had ornaments of wooden and metal sculptures, both biblical and traditional. I was made to visit the prayer room once every week, but the purported sister, only identified as Maria, would keep in contact with me every day via the phone.

“In all the praying sessions, they would switch off the lights and leave the burning candles on but this one time, during the prayer, they switched off the candles as well, leaving the room completely dark. Suddenly there were voices coming from the darkness. It sounded like a frail old grandmother and a cheerful grandfather.

Sbongile said lights were turned off during the prayer sessions, leaving only candles burning in the prayer room. File Picture

Sbongile said she was startled and paralysed with fear, and the voices calmed her down, telling her that she was one of only few people who have been privileged to be in their presence.

“The voices welcomed me into their family and said they wanted to bless me and the boyfriend with much money so we can start a family. However, for that money to be released, I was instructed that I needed to also play my part in the family's investment to prove my commitment.

“The lights were then switched on and suddenly there was a trunk in front of us filled with a large amount of money. The voices said this money was for me and the boyfriend. It was said the money in the trunk was R3 million,” said Sbongile.

During the prayer, Sbongile was shown a trunk loaded with money. File Picture

She was told to pick some of the bank notes and go use in shops to prove to her that the money was real.

In her next visit to the Sandton house, while in the prayer room, the hooked Sbongile was instructed to go and do all she can to raise money which will be her own investment, to add to the R3 million.

“Since I did not have any investments, I was instructed to approach banks, take out cash loans of R1 million which would be combined with the R3 million. Still in that state of confusion, fear and paralysis, I was escorted by their people into different banks at Woodmead mall in Sandton where I was led into different banks, and got the cash loans of almost R1 million in a single day. It’s like the banks consultants were even waiting for me to arrive,” she said.

The escort would enter the banking hall with Sibongile and strictly direct her on which consultant to go to, in the bank.

Sibongile said after she realised that she was scammed, she tried to open cases at different police stations and the police officers would at times laugh at her. The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (also known as the Hawks), finally took over her case.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, also known as the Hawks, opened a case of fraud after a Gauteng-based woman lost almost R1 million in a romantic relationship. File Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

In another pertinent case, Nokwazi Mthimkhulu, a Mpumalanga mother in her 50s, said that while in her Ugandan “boyfriend’s” prayer room, she was instructed to resign from her government job and bring her pension lump sum. She quit her job, took her pension of R800,000 to the prayer room at the boyfriend’s rented home in Secunda.

“I met this Ugandan guy and we were in love. After a week, he told me that he wanted to introduce me to his ancestors as it is how it is done in his culture. He told me that he wanted to marry me so I should be introduced to the ancestors. He came on a Saturday and took me to his place to show me where he prays daily.

“I was told that I cannot enter the prayer room with my shoes. Afterwards, I entered the room and it was very dark. The boyfriend lit some candles. We started praying and suddenly there comes the voice of an old man greeting us and asking us how our day was. The boyfriend responded and the voice then addressed me, telling me that their son has been looking for a wife, and now he had found me,” said Nokwazi (her real name also withheld to protect her identity).

She said the voices spoke in isiZulu and English.

Out of fear, Nokwazi said she screamed and her boyfriend was told to take her out and calm her down, before returning to the room.

“I was crying and scared because it was my first time ever hearing and talking to so-called ancestors like that. I asked the boyfriend how come their ancestors talk directly, and he said if you seriously pray and believe, the ancestors can talk to you directly,” she recounted in an interview with IOL.

“He gave me water to drink. We continued praying and the voice said I was now welcomed into their house. The voice said they need to bless us and instructed the boyfriend to buy a kist. During another prayer session, I was shown the open kist, and the boyfriend was told to spit his saliva into the kist three times, then open it. This time I was shocked, it was loaded with money,” she said.

In the prayer room, Nokwazi saw a kist loaded with money. File Picture

The voice told Nokwazi that the money in the kist was R15 million. She was told to take R500 from the load of money and she used it at a filling station.

She was then advised to resign from her government job to focus on the upcoming business and being a wife.

Months later, in December last year, Nokwazi then realised that she had been scammed out of her R800,000.

In December, Nokwazi said she realised that her Ugandan boyfriend had vanished with her R800,000 pension. File Picture

“I went to the police station and report to them what had happened, requesting them to go to that house to fetch my stuff. The other police officer laughed, and told me that I have been knocked,” said Nokwazi.

When she finally went to the locked house with police, they discovered that the house was empty.

“What was left in the house were some boxes from packing their stuff. I was speechless and didn't believe the guy was gone just like that, with all my money. In that state, I immediately started bleeding from my nose and mouth.

“I started frantically sending the boyfriend messages, and he did not respond,” said Nokwazi.

On December 8, the boyfriend sent Nokwazi a WhatsApp message, telling her that he was in Uganda.

A police case was opened at Secunda police station in December.