File photo: Reuters
Johannesburg - The Gauteng Department of Social Development has been ordered to pay nearly R1million it owed to a West Rand non-profit organisation that cares for victims of domestic abuse.

The department initially froze the non-profit’s funding in January after the group blew the whistle on alleged money laundering at the department.

Three days after hearing oral arguments, Judge Brian Spilg of the South Gauteng High Court in Joburg granted A re Ageng’s urgent application, and invoked the tragedy of the over 100 psychiatric patients who died after being moved from Life Esidimeni to ill-equipped facilities.

Judge Spilg compelled the department to pay A re Ageng R979981 due for four service level agreements by April 7.

A re Ageng, which offers shelter and aid to victims of domestic abuse, has been embroiled in a battle with the department since October, when about R10m was mysteriously deposited in the NPO’s bank account.

The department said it was the source and asked A re Ageng to transfer the money to a treatment centre linked to Life Esidimeni.

Later, R5m disappeared from A re Ageng’s account, after an alleged hacking, and inexplicably turned up in a petroleum wholesaler in Pretoria as payment for a diesel purchase headed to Zambia.

The money was transferred via EFT, a method of transfer that records show A re Ageng staff do not use, and Judge Spilg noted that R5m seemed to be the highest amount allowable in a single EFT.

Departmental spokesperson Mbangwa Xaba said the department “welcomes the judgment” and “will abide by the order fully”.

“We will also meet A re Ageng to finalise the implementation of the rest of the order in terms of which we must determine the cost the organisation has incurred as well as determine our relationship going forward,” he said.

In its January decision to temporarily suspend A re Ageng’s service level agreements, the department used what the NPO’s attorney called “circular reasoning” by both freezing funding as well as arguing the NPO could not provide services because it lacked available funds.

The department also informed the NPO that its staff would be sent to other organisations which would take on its work.

However, A re Ageng staff continued providing services, as they saw no evidence of other organisations attempting to care for their beneficiaries.

In response to these allegations during Monday’s oral arguments, Judge Spilg noted the department’s legal responsibility to ensure beneficiaries would not lose adequate services if transferred out of A re Ageng’s care, as happened with Life Esidimeni patients.

“This is a relationship that owes its origins to a constitutional imperative,” Judge Spilg said.

“Ultimately these beneficiaries are at stake.”

Both Judge Spilg as well as A re Ageng staff remain concerned with the future of the services A re Ageng provides, as the organisation’s service level agreements expire today.

The case resumes in court on April 13 when Judge Spilg has invited National Treasury to investigate the payments and present its findings.

The department previously asked at least two other NPOs to act as conduits in a similar manner as A re Ageng to transfer millions of rand to third parties.

“There seems to be something deeper to this,” the judge said.

Saturday Star