Mr Tender's bad debt

2013-07-21 14:00

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Mzobe gets big bucks from the state, but still can’t pay his bills

The man entrusted to run a R900 million food-security project on behalf of government is not paying his bills.

City Press can reveal that Deebo Mzobe, President Jacob Zuma’s cousin who manages the Masibambisane rural-development initiative NGO that Zuma chairs, has six default judgments against him for the nonpayment of school fees, loans and personal debt.

This raises fresh questions about Mzobe’s fitness to manage a multimillion-rand government project and about his own financial wellbeing.

Mzobe has, to date, refused to publish Masibambisane’s financial statements, claiming he pays for his own travel and accommodation at the five-star Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton.

Mzobe appeared alongside Zuma at a Masibambisane harvesting function in Dutywa on Wednesday, where the president criticised the media.

City Press can further reveal that:

» Mzobe scores big from government construction tenders in Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal;

» The public works department has made available a government office in Eshowe, close to Zuma’s hometown of Nkandla, for the NGO. Masibambisane conducts its business from here; and

» Mzobe, who previously said his father was Zuma’s cousin, is a business partner of Zuma’s brother Michael and Phumlani Mfeka, the founder of the anti-Indian Mazibuye African Forum.

Credit records show that Mzobe owes his son’s Durban school more than R60 000 in unpaid school fees. He has also been defaulting on a R38 366 loan from Absa and owes Shoprite Checkers R1 460.

In August 2011, bad debt worth R31 640 was handed over to Bentley Credit Company to be recovered from Mzobe for a year’s unpaid school fees for his son’s tuition at the affluent state-run Northwood School in Durban North.

In January 2012, the school obtained a judgment against him in the Pinetown Magistrates’ Court for R30 487 in unpaid fees.

Northwood confirmed that Mzobe owed them about R62 000 in unpaid school fees, excluding legal fees, and said the matter was with their attorneys.

Absa did not respond to a request for further details, while Shoprite said it was unable to respond to the query without more details.

Asked about his bad debt and business interests, Mzobe said the questions “don’t make any sense” and he didn’t want to talk about himself.

He again claimed there was no government money coming to Masibambisane, despite this week’s revelations by the Daily Dispatch that the Eastern Cape alone had channelled more than R250 million to the president’s NGO. An agitated Mzobe said this week: “It is not a government project. I put my own money into it.” He added: “Government asked me. They approached me.”

Mzobe was recently forced to cough up R7 million after his company, Deebo Holdings, was almost liquidated by a construction company he subcontracted to build RDP houses in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga.

City Press established that Masibambisane coordinated its work in a small two-desk office in the old Public Works building in Eshowe.

Public Works spokesperson Sabelo Mali said the offices were made available to Masibambisane by his department “so that it can implement a poverty-alleviation programme for the benefit of the impoverished communities”.

He said the department “is in the process of formalising this arrangement”.

Asked if the building was being provided to the NGO rent-free, Mali said he would only be able to get a response on this from the department’s regional office next week.

City Press visited the Masibambisane office this week.

The unbranded office was on the same floor as offices used by ANC councillors.

An intern working on a computer said it was her first week at the organisation.

She didn’t know how many staff members were based at the office as most of the staff worked outside of the office.

Zuma this week affirmed his support for Masibambisane at the function in Dutywa.

Flanked by various Cabinet ministers and provincial leaders, Zuma thanked his ministers for their support of Masibambisane, which he chairs, and lamented the criticism the project received in the media.

Zuma, dressed in green overalls branded with the Masibambisane and agriculture department logos, said the media “will not write anything positive”.

This, he said, was a bad habit that needed to be “cured”. The media, according to him, was “sick”.

At the function:

» Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa pledged millions towards Masibambisane, including R2 million to hire “technical people”;

» Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson pledged that government would buy produce from farmers involved in Masibambisane’s projects; and

» Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti said the “crop veld” was “a revival of what used to happen in the past, where people would eat from the food they plant in their gardens. We are here to support that initiative.”

Mzobe’s businesses link him to Michael Zuma, the president’s brother, former corruption-accused businessman Thoshan Panday and Mfeka – who openly campaigns against Indian people and previously said he was a nephew of Zuma.

Zuma and Panday attended Mzobe’s wedding in May.

– Additional reporting by Sphumelele Mngoma

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