When I met him the first time, we were in the lounge of the five star Beverley Hills Hotel in Umhlanga, Phumudzo Makhado was upbeat and looking forward to the upcoming Women of Power summit that his company was organising. Even, I was excited about the prospect of meeting such powerful women under one roof. He climbed out of his sleek looking Mercedes before greeting the valet man and sharing a joke with him.
Dressed in a pair of jeans and a Kaizer Chiefs shirt, he greeted me ever so graciously before sitting down and ordering a beverage. “you don’t mind if I get myself a strong one do you, it’s been a long day.” he says, almost flashing a smile. We had an interesting lunch, basically talking about the plans around the summit, and their plans with the company. What had enticed me to have an interview with him was a conversation we had at the ANC Youth League’s business networking lounge a few months before.
Phumudzo Makhado at thd 2011 Durban July
Most of what we spoke about that day sparked my interest in this rather unique individual. We had a good chat and I really got to know the man and what made him tick, and one of those was how he glowed when he would talk about what he called “the three loves of my life” referring to his girlfriend, Judith Pillay, his Seven-year old daughter, Motheo and two-year old son, Khuthadzo. But he did say his biggest regret is the little time he has with them, in fact he hardly sees them. We parted in good humour and promised to set up another meeting, but I promised I will see him at the summit.
The next call I received was on October the 5th, a few days before the summit was to start, he requested that I find him a reputable Public Relations company because he has a PR disaster in his hands. He wanted to manage the postponement of the summit, but it should be done professionally especially in dealing with the calibre of speakers he had contracted, the travel company appointed and the very few delegates that had registered. He told me the reason is the response is poor, in fact many have shown interest and sent forms but not paid, therefore cannot take the risk. I promised to call him on Monday so we can meet with the company.
That Saturday every electronic media was awash with news of Phumudzo and how he had scammed hundreds of women into parting with their money for a non-existent conference. At first, I thought someone was playing a prank but realised it was serious. I tried calling Phumudzo, but his phone continually went into voice mail. I panicked.
I met Phumudzo again this afternoon, and I only had one question for him, “are you okay?” I asked, almost gasping for air. He is still calm, but you can tell he is someone who has taken a beating. He admits to me that the past nine months have been a test of strength and character but one goes on.
He says after FNB froze all his accounts, he had to start from fresh, and the freezing was for a mere R27000 that a few ‘subsidized’ delegates like Melini Moses, the award winning SABC journalist, had paid. Melini, according to Phumudzo, abused her position and resources of the SABC to settle a personal score on behalf of someone. He went on to say, “all she relied on was unverified facts, hearsay and Google, definitely not actions of an award-winning journalist. She single handedly damaged my life and still maintained a level of arrogance.”
The Daily Sun had a field day with front page news headlined “Find this Fraudster”, with the story detailing the more than 300 cases the Phumudzo was wanted for around South Africa. Like any journalist, I began to frantically call various offices and contacts in the SAPS, and like the SAPS themselves only found one warrant. Eventually, he did go to Polokwane and the case was rejected by the Polokwane Director of Public Prosecutions.
At the time when all this was being published, Phumudzo had been arrested and fighting for bail, with the state opposing bail on the grounds of a fixed address. The case involves Makhado and his girlfriend Judith brought by a business colleague, Tariq Hayat. Phumudzo was introduced to Tariq, by Judith and Tariq requested that he be helped with his struggling hotel. Makhado, according to employees at the hotel came when there literally was no business and turned the place around to constantly being fully booked. According to Makhado, at some time Tariq left the country and he was left in charge, there were computers and hotel amenities to be bought instead they bought essentials. There was also an agreement on profit sharing, and the day the sharing arrived, Tariq came with the police and claimed we stole his money. I attempted to dig further but he said listen I’ve told you public knowledge, not what the Daily Sun says, that I took R30000 for computers, the rest will only come out in court.
I asked myself, how the media could get it so wrong and destroy such a promising life and he was quick to respond.
“Journalists are the biggest threat to journalism, and for as long as profits will roll, facts and lives mean nothing”, he said almost saddened. “My life,” he continued, “will never be the same, I’ve had to start from the beginning, but mostly sad, I don’t there is anyone that takes my calls and that taught me an important lesson, but still, I rise.”
Makhado says everyone finds a story in my interaction with them and for as long as the media will say what they say…everyone will follow, it’s the “false knowledge” President Mbeki was referring to.
Phumudzo can be an inspirational if you engage with him, almost magnetic, he exudes confidence and for a man so battered and bruised, many can draw inspiration that every cloud has a silver lining.
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