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A couple of young boys play around on the badly neglected soccer field. Photo: Thembi Siaga.

Mukondeni's field of dreams has turned into a nightmare

Date: 17 February 2024 By: 

By Raymond Joseph, Thembi Siaga and Anton van Zyl

The dust around a Lottery-funded sports stadium in a rural Limpopo village refuses to settle, and the project looks set to claim the scalps of some high-profile people. 

In the latest development, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is now considering whether it will go ahead with prosecuting a former police brigadier and a former senior official of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) for their alleged involvement in the project.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (commonly known as the Hawks) confirmed last week that they have completed an investigation into a multimillion-rand Lottery-funded sports facility at Mukondeni village in the Vhembe District. The R3 million grant from the NLC was to develop a sports facility that included a soccer field, a netball court, change rooms, and a borehole.

The grant was paid to the Hangwani Mulaudzi Foundation, which was established in 2017 by former Hawks national spokesperson Mulaudzi and his wife, Rudzani. Mulaudzi is from the Mukondeni area but now lives in Pretoria.

The NLC’s former Head of Risk, Marubini Ramatsekisa, was also investigated by the Hawks for his alleged role in this project, as well as several other NLC-funded projects, many of them in Limpopo.

Ramatsekisa, who comes from Mukondeni village, is alleged to have played a key role in the looting of the lottery. He resigned late last year before he could face an internal disciplinary inquiry on charges that included alleged fraud and corruption.

Ramatsekisa was originally charged in December 2022, and additional charges were added in July 2023. After his resignation, the SIU successfully applied to the Special Tribunal for an order freezing his R1.7-m pension before he could withdraw it. 

After the order was granted, SIU spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago said in a statement that Ramatsekisa’s pension funds would “remain interdicted, pending finalisation of an application to be brought against him by the SIU.”

“The SIU’s investigation into the affairs of NLC found that Ramatsekisa was a key player and a willing facilitator of an elaborate scheme to defraud the commission through pro-active funding,” he said. “The SIU intends to institute civil proceedings against Mr Ramatsekisa to recover damages suffered by the NLC because of his conduct.”

 A controversial grant

Details about the grant awarded to the foundation established by the former national spokesperson of the Hawks were leaked to GroundUp and Limpopo Mirror in early 2020. At the time, the NLC refused to make information available about projects it had funded and failed to publish a list of beneficiaries as it had previously always done. 

The leaked list of grants revealed that R3 million was paid into the foundation’s account in July 2019. 

At the time, Police Minister Bheki Cele defended Mulaudzi when he responded to written questions in Parliament asking whether a senior Hawks official’s receiving lottery funding when his unit (the Hawks) was investigating corruption involving the NLC was acceptable. Cele said that the grant had not been paid to Mulaudzi in his personal capacity, and he did not need permission to set up a foundation.

When a reporter from Limpopo Mirror called Mulaudzi in June 2020, inquiring about the grant, he said that the project had been delayed because they first had to engage the village’s leadership and members of the community to obtain land where the facility could be built. Construction was also significantly affected by the COVID-19 lockdown period, Mulaudzi added. The foundation subsequently changed its name to the Bono Foundation.

Traditional leaders in the area later denied that they had been consulted about the sports facility. The facility was also erected on an existing soccer field, which had been in use for several years, historical Google Earth satellite photos show.

A standard requirement for NLC funding is that a site needs to be identified and secured before funding is approved. Soon after Limpopo Mirror’s enquiry, work began at the site. Graders levelled the soccer pitch, and grass was planted. A netball court, a storeroom and ablution facilities were also erected. The centre was also fenced off and a borehole, equipped with four tanks holding a combined 20,000 litres of water, was sunk. 

The storm that broke around Mulaudzi’s head soon took its toll, and two months after the grant to Mulaudzi’s foundation was exposed, he resigned. At the time, he attributed his resignation to “pressure” and fear for the safety of himself and his family.

In June 2019, a special function was held at the field where construction work had started a few weeks earlier. COVID relief packages were handed over to 150 local households.

When Hangwani Mulaudzi spoke to members of the press, he tried to justify how the R3-million grant was utilised. “This is a rural area, and carrying out a project in an area like this is quite expensive,” Mulaudzi said. “So far, it seems we have under-calculated the project cost because we are now using monies from our own pockets to complete it, and that might come to anything between R300 000 and R500 000,” he said. “Even the food parcels, sanitisers, and masks that we are handing out today are all from our own pockets because we are now left with nothing from the fund.”

What later transpired was that the foundation had received another R100,000 from the NLC that was meant to be used for COVID relief parcels.

Where did the money go?

The Hawks' investigation revealed that part of the grant funding did not find its way to the project. A source with knowledge of the investigation told GroundUp that Mulaudzi had allegedly used the lottery funds to buy two expensive vehicles and pay school fees for his children. Almost R2 million was also paid to an unidentified consultant, allegedly to help launder the money. The consultant allegedly “took a cut” and then paid a large sum to Mulaudzi, according to the source.

Hawks national spokesperson Brigadier Thandi Mbambo told GroundUp that the investigation into the grant for the sports facility was guided by prosecutors and “required the allocated prosecutor to peruse the docket continuously and provide any further instructions to the investigating officer”.

“Currently, the docket is with the DPP (Directorate of Public Prosecutions) to make a determination on whether the docket is ready for prosecution,” she said.

Lumka Mahanjana, the National Prosecuting Authority’s Gauteng spokesperson, confirmed that the Hawks docket had been submitted to the NPA. “...however, the matter is still under consideration by our prosecutors, who are working closely with the DPCI (Hawks) investigators,” she added.

Responding to questions via WhatsApp, Hangwani Mulaudzi said he “must respectfully refrain from commenting due to legal implications and to maintain the integrity of the ongoing legal process”. He said he was “fully committed to responding appropriately with evidence in the court setting, ensuring a comprehensive and lawful resolution”.

It was “reassuring … to learn that the wheels of justice are in motion to bring this long matter to its conclusion,” he said.

No longer a field of dreams

 A reporter who visited the sports field in Mukondeni two weeks ago found it had been vandalised and is in a state of disrepair. Equipment, including a pump and water tanks paid for with lottery funds, were also missing. The soccer field was overgrown, cattle were grazing on it, and the goalposts were lying on the ground. The netball hoops were also uprooted, and the court surface was cracking, with weeds growing around the concrete fringes of the court. Windows of the ablution block were either broken or missing, and some doors were also missing.

A pump to draw water from a well on the property has disappeared, as have several large water tanks, which was still there when a reporter visited the site in January 2022. The fence around the field was still there but has openings that allow cattle to enter.

At Mukondeni, the residents have little expectation that the facilities will be developed further or maintained. The owner of the Mukondeni Young Chiefs soccer team, Mr Dakalo Ramuthega, said that after the contractor had left the project, the gates had been locked, but they had had no choice but to open them, so that they could start using the facility. 

Ramuthega complained that using the incomplete sports facility was expensive as the barbed wire fence damaged their balls. “This year alone we have counted around 15 new balls which we damaged. What makes the matter worse is the goalposts are also damaged, and we had to hire some welders to come and fix it,” he said. He also complained that the ablution blocks were still unfinished and no water was available.

The local ward councillor, Cllr Enoch Sithi, denied that the project was incomplete. “How can it be considered incomplete without understanding the scope of work?” he said. “I am saying this because the scope of the work included the ablution block, drilling of a borehole, setting a pitch ground, putting the poles for the ground, and the tennis court,” he said. (He may be referring to the netball court.)

When Sithi was asked about the incomplete ablution block, the missing toilets and the lack of water, he blamed residents for these issues. “It is finished. It's just that residents vandalised it. It was handed over to the community three years ago, so it’s an old matter. It even made it to the news. Phase one is completed, and there were issues with phase two. Problems arose, and we decided not to pursue it any further,” he said.

When asked when phase two of the project would start, he responded, “That question can be answered correctly by the director of the Hangwani Mulaudzi Foundation, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi.”

 

 
 
 

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