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Sunday, 14 December 2008

SA president trashes rented home


Motlanthe accused of abandoning mansion in a shocking state

From the Sunday Times:

Dodgy ANC backer linked to bungled sale that has left owner in ‘financial crisis’

President Kgalema Motlanthe stands accused of abandoning a plush Johannesburg home under cover of darkness and leaving behind damages estimated at R500,000.

Central to the scandal, which has left the owners of the R6-million Saxonwold house stunned and broke, is controversial ANC benefactor Sandi Majali, who has been linked to a string of scandals involving top politicians.

The businessman was implicated in the Oilgate saga when his company used R11-million of taxpayers’ money from state oil company PetroSA to fund the ANC’s election campaign.

The Sunday Times has established that:

  • Majali found the house for Motlanthe in May this year, when the president was still the ANC’s deputy president;
  • The person who signed the sale agreement is a consultant to Majali’s companies;
  • The agreement was signed on May 20 2008, the same day Motlanthe was appointed to the cabinet as an ordinary minister; and
  • Occupational rent was paid with cheques from Majali’s companies.

Motlanthe moved into the four- bedroom house on July 1, two months after he first viewed the property with agent Bev Malan from Wendy Machanik Properties. Two weeks ago, just hours after irate homeowner Mark Burnett demanded to know why he had received no money from the sale of his house, Motlanthe, his belongings and furniture were removed from the property.

A shocked Burnett said he returned to his abandoned home to discover damage he estimated at R500,000. The property’s koi pond, filter system, electric fencing, main gate and surveillance camera system had been damaged and several built-in cupboards, cherry-wood wall units and fitted carpets had been removed.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “If you can’t have faith in the president of the country, who can you have faith in?”

The saga has plunged Burnett and his wife, Joy, into a financial crisis. The sale of the house was supposed to pay for their new home in Southbroom on the KwaZulu- Natal South Coast.

“My reputation is in tatters. I risk judgments against me because I’m struggling to pay my bills. I now have two houses to pay for and my wife and I have six children between us,” said the 47-year-old who left Johannesburg after two heart attacks in two years.

The purchase agreement, signed by Molotsi Sifora of ML Sifora Consultancy, gave him until October 20 to provide guarantees of a loan for the outstanding R5.5-million. A R500,000 deposit was lodged with Wendy Machanik Properties.

Occupational rent of R30000 a month was set, with the condition that no alterations be made to the property before its transfer without Burnett’s prior written consent.

Burnett said he was told by the estate agent that the occupational rent cheques were collected at Majali’s offices every month. Deposit slips in the possession of the Sunday Times reflect that these cheques belonged to companies owned by Majali.

On October 30, after Sifora experienced difficulty in securing a bond, Burnett agreed to a request for an extension.

In an urgent letter addressed to Motlanthe on November 19, Wendy Machanik offered to help him get a bond in 10 days to ensure the sale was not jeopardised.

But five days later, Sifora’s attorney, Siyabonga Mahlangu, sent a letter to transfer attorneys Porter & Seaber, saying: “Our client has been informed that the bank is not in a position to grant it the loan required on the basis of the strength of our client’s financials.”

It said a third party had been approached to provide surety and requested a further six weeks to finalise the loan.

“I refused,” said Burnett. “I was desperate and risked losing my Southbroom home. I phoned Sifora and told him I wanted the president out of my home. I also threatened to go to the press.”

At a meeting on November 27, attended by Mahlangu, Burnett, his brother and a family accountant, Burnett agreed to a verbal settlement offer from Mahlangu, which included confidentiality. “We shook on the agreement. I was ecstatic. The payment would have got me out of the financial mess they’d put me in,” said Burnett.

He added that Mahlangu told him the president had been moved out of the house at 2am that morning.

But Mahlangu withdrew the settlement offer a day later, Burnett said, allegedly telling him: “The deal is off. Sue us.”

On December 3, Mahlangu sent a letter to Machanik, pulling out of the deal and offering to pay Burnett the R500,000 deposit plus interest, a further R500,000 in five equal instalments, and “co-operation in the quantification and restoration of any physical damage to the property”.

Burnett’s lawyer, Wilhelm Steynberg, responded the next day, accepting the offer on condition that no deductions were made from the deposit, and his client was satisfied with the credentials of the company underwriting the instalments.

But Mahlangu replied the same day, accusing Burnett of harassing him and “occupants” at the house, and said Steynberg’s conditions were seen as a “counterproposal”.

Sifora denied on Friday that he had bought the house for the president and said Motlanthe was “renting”. “I was the person paying occupational rent. The president was paying me rent.” He declined to comment on Majali and referred all queries to Mahlangu.

Mahlangu claimed yesterday that Burnett had threatened his client with “immense embarrassment in exchange for an immediate payment of R1-million”.

“We must state categorically that the current transaction is between ML Sifora Consulting and Mr Burnett. Any statement to the contrary can only bear collateral motives.

“If Mr Burnett has suffered any loss which he attributes to our client, he has remedies available to him in law.”

Presidential spokesman Thabo Masebe said the president had never asked anybody to buy him a house and was not involved with the purchase. He declined to discuss Majali’s involvement, saying it was “irrelevant”.

Despite numerous attempts, Majali could not be reached for comment.