Paid?: Human Settlements DG Thabane Zulu. Picture: The Witness

GCWALISILE KHANYILE and PIET RAMPEDI

Soon before director-general Thabane Zulu took part in the awarding of a R10 billion contract, a mysterious R1.4 million was deposited into his personal account.

The Sunday Independent traced the amount from a black economic empowerment company that stands to benefit from the multibillion contract awarded in January by the SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) – a unit of the Social Development Department – to Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) to dispense social grants.

The BEE company is known to The Sunday Independent.

The Sunday Independent followed the money trail after the awarding of the contract.

According to documents in our possession, an intermediary deposited R2m into the business account of African Access Information and Communication Technology, on behalf of the BEE company. The deposit was done at the beginning of October last year.

A few days later, on October 10, 2011, African Access transferred R1.4m into Zulu’s account.

The transactions between African Access and Zulu took place a few weeks before the process to adjudicate the contract and three months before the successful bidder was announced.

Zulu is a former director of African Access. A month after the money reached Zulu, he and three other adjudication committee members awarded the tender to CPS.

According to a Sassa memorandum, dated November 25, 2011, the four-member committee signed a letter in which they “individually and collectively accepted the bid evaluation committee” recommendation that CPS be awarded the contract.

Zulu has denied any wrongdoing.

In a terse SMS, Zulu dismissed the allegations as “preposterous” and challenged critics to report him to law enforcement agencies if they had proof of wrongdoing on his part “to avoid speculative innuendos, whose motives are unknown (sic)”.

His lawyer, Naren Sangham, also emphasised that “there is absolutely no basis for these allegations”.

“My client treats these allegations with the contempt that they deserve and invites any person or group of persons or any organisation or organisations, who claim to be in possession of any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of my client to conduct whatever investigation that they may so desire. My client maintains his innocence and further stands by his impeccable reputation and honesty,” Sangham said.

He twice refused to respond directly on whether Zulu received the money or not.

On the third occasion, he finally said: “My client categorically denies receiving the money.”

CPS is wholly owned by Net1 UEPS Technologies.

The Sunday Independent has established that Zulu was appointed as a director of African Access on August 19, 2008.

He was appointed director-general of the Human Settlements Department in April 2010.

Monwabisi Ludonga, one of African Access’s directors, denied that the company transferred R1.4m into Zulu’s account.

He insisted that no such payment was made to Zulu, since he left in 2010 and he was no longer a director and did not render any services to the company.

“I am a signatory of everything that goes out of my account at African Access and have never paid Zulu that money. I do not even know about it. If there was something that was paid (out), I would have known about it.

“Even if you can come to my company and check our books, we do not have that kind of transaction,” said Ludonga.

Net1 UEPS Technologies CEO Serge Belamant dismissed as baseless claims that her company’s partners paid Zulu.

“I must say that the unsubstantiated attacks on our company are getting a little tiresome as invariably the accusations made never seem to have any foundation or substance.

“I assure you, however, that if you provide me with the proof of ‘reliable source’, I will commence a full investigation into this matter,” Belamant said.

“I will also consult with my attorneys as I believe that it is in the public interest that you disclose your ‘credible source’ so that all can determine if there is any truth to these allegations or if these are simply made up in order to attempt to derail the tender’s implementation.”

Some key players in the awarding of the contract could also be linked to the companies that benefited from the contract. Some directors were influential in the evaluation of the contract.

The Sunday Independent has also learnt that R600 000 was paid towards a mortgage bond of one of the committee members soon after the contract was awarded.

The contract has led to a tug-of-war between CPS and the losing bidders, led by Absa subsidiary AllPay. Senior politicians have been dragged into the controversy.

AllPay and Empilweni were contracted to dispense the grants for the past decade, but the deal expired yesterday.

Some of the losing bidders have since taken the department to court demanding a review of the CPS contract, alleging irregularities and conflict of interests.

Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale has been sucked into the saga.

The Mail & Guardian linked Sexwale to the contract through Mvelaphanda Resources’ former director and employee, Brian Mosehla.

The businessman’s company, Mosomo Investment Holding, has apparently acquired a 20 percent stake in CPS.

CPS announced two weeks after winning the tender that it had brought in Mosomo as one of its BEE partners. However, The Sunday Independent can reveal that the two had sealed a deal in October last year already.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s spokeswoman, Lumka Oliphant, has refused to say whether she was aware of any payment to Zulu by the beneficiaries of the tender.

“It may well be that Mr Zulu sits on different directorship positions and/or is a shareholder of different companies which may have been declared to Sassa, but you have not given us anything to work on in order to verify the information at your disposal,” Oliphant said.

Last week we reported that Absa allegedly ripped off the social grants beneficiaries as the battles for the billions gets uglier, and political and business heavyweights get dragged into the fracas. Absa has denied the allegations.