A file picture from Chengdu, China. A woman paid Vending Solutions R62 000 for a machine, which proved problematic. She asked for her money back, but has received only 
R20 000. File picture: Reuters
We take many of our modern conveniences for granted. Consider the vending machine: snack dispenser, office punching bag, and a lifeline for many workers.

It’s also a tidy business-in-a-box to get into, provided you have a good location, the right product and foot traffic. But a problematic machine that doesn’t dispense correctly or fails to give the correct change can spell the kiss of death for a business.

Ntombi Matshoba, a single mother, paid a company, Vending Solutions, R62 000 for a machine which was installed at a car dealership in Sandton. But before the first week was out, there were problems and it wouldn’t give change. Vending Solutions dispatched a technician three times, but he wasn’t able to fix it, so the manager asked her to remove the machine from the dealership.

Matshoba said she contacted Vending Solutions about the issue and the owner, Graeme Keshwar, admitted there was something wrong with the machine, and said he’d refund her, less the R2 000 stock inside - her stock.

“I agreed as I didn’t want anything to do with them. I told him I didn’t want any instalments. I wanted all my money, and he promised to pay it. He then gave me a form to fill in my bank details, which I did and sent back,” she explained.

The machine was collected but so far - since 2016 - she’s only received R20 000, which she says was paid only after she approached a lawyer.

“How legal is that? He has both my money and his machine, which he probably sold to someone else.

“Keshwar claimed the form he gave me to fill in with my banking details was in fact an agreement that he will pay me after 90 days when he sells the (broken) machine. That was never discussed, as I explicitly told him I wanted all my money in full and he agreed.”

She’s taking the matter to court, but has been told if she withdraws it, Vending Solutions will refund her. Matshoba’s not interested in promises. “They can’t be trusted: my lawyer responded, as per my instructions, that they pay first and a withdrawal will follow. They did nothing.”

Vending Solutions blames the problems on “operator error” and claims the machine was not being stocked (which the car dealership denied). They also claim Matshoba was acting in “bad faith” and that they could not continue with the agreement as well as defend legal action.

“Mrs Matshoba cannot expect settlement in terms of an agreement she signed and simultaneously seek relief from the courts. This amounts to two courses of action. It would now seem Mrs Matshoba is seeking a third course of action via the media and seeks to muddy our reputation.”

But it seems Vending Solutions’ reputation is already muddied. The Sowetan reported in 2009 about how one of their subsidiaries, PK Trading, was accused of swindling six consumers out of R439 000 for machines they never received and how the Vending Association of South Africa got involved to assist one of their victims. Those matters were eventually resolved, but only after the intervention of Sowetan journalist Thuli Zungu and the Vending Association of South Africa (Vasa).

In November 2009, the association withdrew PK Vending’s membership, Vasa chairman Max Hurwitz explained: “Vending Solutions is not an accredited member of Vasa, but is either a subsidiary of or a name change from PK Vending.”

Vending Solutions says they’ve been trading as A-Z Vending Solutions Pty Ltd since 2010 and that they acquired PK Vending Assets from the liquidators in 2015. “This is the only transaction (in which) A-Z Vending Solutions can be associated with PK. PK Vending/Vendors was liquidated some three years or so ago. We were informed of this by the liquidators; this is (a) matter of public record,” says Vending Solutions.

“Because A-Z Vending acquired the assets of PK, we are often heaped into the same boat, mainly due to the past PK reputation. We are small company and do not have the resources and time to defend ourselves against every incorrect accusation levelled against us.

“We have to trust that the professional service and product we offer to our client base will speak for itself. A-Z Vending Solutions is an entirely different company with completely different shareholders. We employ 21staff, of which four also worked for (the) no-longer-in-business PK Vending mainly technical service staff. Graeme Keshwar is (one) of the four.”

Yet Keshwar describes himself on Facebook as the founder of Italian Coffee SA, PK Vending and the PK Group of Companies - as well as the director of Vending Solutions, which also owns Gourmet Grub - but hold that thought.

PK Vending’s membership was suspended because there were “far too many” complaints about the company, Hurwitz said, which were “not rectified, promises which were not fulfilled and the fact that they did not comply and adhere to Vasa’s constitution, customer charter and code of ethics”. Hurwitz advised anyone interested in vending to deal only with Vasa-accredited members.

Christo van der Walt pulled no punches when describing his experience with Keshwar and Vending Solutions, saying they “crooked him”. His company, Walt Coffee, ordered R367000-worth of stock from Italy through Gourmet Grub but, two years later, it still had not arrived.

“Graeme has given excuse after excuse for why the stock hasn’t been delivered yet as per the agreement of sale,” Van der Walt said in an interview.

Walt Coffee had to go to court to recover the money plus legal costs totalling almost R500000. After a year-long legal battle, Walt Coffee won. “One week after the High Court ruling, (Keshwar) placed Gourmet Grub under voluntary liquidation, but the process is still under way.”

Van der Walt said the common thread between the entities is Keshwar and warned others of doing business with any of them.

* Georgina Crouth is a consumer watchdog with serious bite. Write to her at [email protected] Follow Ask Georgie on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ConsumerAgonyAunt/ and on Twitter @georginacrouth