EXCLUSIVE: Myeni and co's R16m Prasa 'freebie'

Johannesburg - SAA chair Dudu Myeni's son Thalente and other politically-connected stakeholders in Prasa's R51bn contract for new passenger carriages have cashed in on their shares in the huge tender before a single new train has been built in South Africa.

Thalente Myeni lists President Jacob Zuma’s Johannesburg house as his home address. His mother is a close friend of Zuma and chairperson of the Jacob Zuma Foundation.

News24 can reveal that JSE-listed tech giant EOH earlier this year paid R16.5m for 100% of the shares in New Africa Rail (NAR), French manufacturing giant Alstom's BEE partner in the contract.

Thalente Myeni, “ANC tycoon” Monde Africa and Sesinyi Seopela, the late former ANC Youth League leader Peter Mokaba's bodyguard, were NAR's local shareholders when the Alstom-led Gibela consortium won Prasa's R51bn contract for the supply of 3 600 new passenger carriages in 2012.

The Sowetan, reporting on then public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba's 40th birthday bash in 2011, referred to Africa, who attended the party, as an “ANC-linked businessman”.

Rapport revealed last year that Thalente listed Zuma's Forest Town, Johannesburg, residence as his address on the share register of Dimadox, the company through which he became a shareholder in NAR. 

News24 has since established that Thalente appears to share the Forest Town house with Zuma’s son Nhlakanipho Vusi Zuma, the younger brother of Gupta associate Duduzane Zuma. Their mother is Kate Zuma, Zuma's deceased former wife.

The house that Thalente and Vusi Zuma appear to share was raided by the Scorpions in 2005 in connection with Zuma's alleged role in the arms deal. It was also where Zuma had sex with a woman who later accused him of rape. Zuma was acquitted.  

The Sunday Times recently reported on a letter written by former Prasa CEO Lucky Montana that appeared to show how Montana had resisted efforts by the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma to benefit from the huge train tender.

But Thalente’s inclusion as a partner to Alstom casts doubt over the success of Montana's apparent opposition to politically-connected individuals benefiting from the deal.

This latest development is also not the only example of individuals with links to the president benefiting from Prasa contracts. Rapport revealed in January that Maria Gomes, a self-confessed friend of Zuma, had been paid about R40m by Swifambo Rail Leasing, the supplier of Prasa's controversial Afro 4000 locomotives. 

None of the NAR shareholders had any discernible experience or footprint in the rail industry. According to company records, NAR's physical address is a property in Pretoria owned by Tiespro 221, a shelf company whose sole director is Christo Stockenström, NAR's lawyer. 

Stockenström is the lawyer for and a business partner of arms deal “middle man” Fana Hlongwane.
Stockenström told News24 that NAR's former shareholders had merely decided it was an opportune time to sell their shares in the company. He declined to provide further comment.

The Prasa contract, which is supposed to see the construction of a massive rail assembly facility in Ekhurhuleni, Gauteng, has been severely delayed due to the ongoing turmoil at the troubled state-owned rail company. Prasa initially said the factory would be fully operational by June 2016. According to Gibela's latest projections, the first trains will only start being assembled at the end of 2017.

For this reason none of the local empowerment partners have to date done more than attend a handful of meetings. This means Thalente and his fellow-directors have scored a cool R16.5m “freebie”, as one stakeholder in the Gibela consortium described the development.

Dimadox, the company in which Thalente is a 100% shareholder, owned 19 of the 100 shares issued by NAR. If EOH's R16.5m buy-out of NAR had been carved up according to the previous shareholding structure, Myeni would have pocketed just over R3m from the transaction.

The owner of an established black-owned company that operates in the rail industry told News24 his company and other rail firms, were “surprised” when they saw Alstom had chosen the unknown NAR as its empowerment partner.

“There are many established, black-owned rail companies that could have been included in the contract, but Alstom and Prasa for some reason preferred new entrants,” said the businessman. He asked to remain anonymous. 

On the Gibela consortium's website, NAR is described as a “new and dynamic rail entrant created to drive the process of rebuilding Africa through rail”.

But Thalente and his former fellow NAR directors will no longer play any role in the project.

Pam Radebe, Gibela's spokesperson, confirmed in an email that “EOH became the new shareholder of NAR effective from February 2016”.

She added that NAR would maintain its 9% share in Gibela.

Radebe, though, did not respond to questions about what value Thalente, Africa, and Seopela had brought to the consortium before selling their shares in NAR.

“As this transaction was between New Africa Rail and EOH, I would invite you to pose the rest of the questions to the two entities,” said Radebe.

Zunaid Mayet, CEO of EOH's industrial technologies division, confirmed in an email that EOH had paid R16.5m to acquire NAR's shares.

In an earlier text message, Mayet elaborated on the strategy behind EOH's acquisition of NAR.

“We have a set of offerings specifically for the rail industry including rail signaling, communication and automation. We view our participation in (the) Gibela project as an opportunity to leverage our rail offerings as well as a variety of other services, assisting Gibela to successfully deliver on its project commitments,” wrote Mayet.

Neither Thalente, Seopela, nor Africa, responded to requests for comment.

When News24 reached Africa on his phone on Tuesday, he asked to be called back later. He did not answer his phone again.

Thalente also did not answer his phone. He appeared to have read a WhatsApp message but did not respond.

News24 contacted Seopela on his cellphone, but the phone went dead after he was asked for comment.

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