South Africa

Malibongwe unravelled

Women’s dreams shattered as ANCWL social development arm collapses – and R50m ‘vanishes’

Women’s dreams shattered as ANCWL social development arm collapses – and R50m ‘vanishes’
Bathabile Dlamini, president of the ANC Women’s League. (Original photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Muntu Vilakazi)

‘Everyone was there to grab. I could have taken too. But God gave me a heart. The funds were never used for projects. There was no governance.’

Bathabile Dlamini, the president of the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), has acknowledged its social development arm, the Malibongwe Women’s Development Organisation (MWDO), has fallen apart and R50-million of an estimated R211-million in dividends the organisation received from just one BEE deal is missing.

Dlamini’s admission follows an investigation into the failure of Malibongwe’s projects across South Africa as a result of a lack of funds, ruining women’s dreams of improving their lives, especially in poverty-stricken areas.

The ANCWL had promised it would use the dividends, received from a 2005 BEE deal with Anglo-American, to support small-scale women-controlled projects to ensure they grow into successful businesses. But its projects, in Gauteng, North West, Limpopo, Western Cape and Eastern Cape, have failed and no successful Malibongwe projects could be identified.

In Gauteng, Malibongwe projects in Vlakfontein that ended “in shambles”, according to former provincial Malibongwe co-ordinator Maria Madumise, included a brickmaking plant that had once employed 10 women, a vegetable garden and a crèche. She said Malibongwe had initially funded technical support and training, but this had soon stopped.

I’m shattered. It’s so painful. We had the vision of a development centre. We wanted to change lives, but they did what they wanted to do. They weren’t worried about poverty. I get angry, but I want to let everything go, knowing God will prevail.” The sewing group survived, she said, but because of funding from the Department of Social Development, not Malibongwe.

Mpho Molaoa, former Western Cape co-ordinator of Malibongwe, said: “Everyone was there to grab. I could have taken too. But God gave me a heart. The funds were never used for projects. There was no governance.”

Molaoa said rural women’s aspirations of improving their lives “came to nothing. They’re still the poorest of the poor”. A piggery in Elands Bay on the West Coast had received initial funding of R5,000 to buy water pipes to link to the piggery. Malibongwe also negotiated land for the piggery and provided training in management, medication and feeding. But the funding soon dried up, said the former head of the piggery, Cylda Rexwana. “We lived in the hope that we would receive support,” she said.

In the North West, collapsed projects included an agricultural project with backyard gardens, a cooking project and a tie-dye project, according to the province’s former Malibongwe co-ordinator Barei Segotso.

Malibongwe dumped us. Nobody had funding. They withdrew people’s salaries. They just stopped everything”.

In Limpopo, projects including a poultry project and cattle farm ended in disarray, said former Limpopo Malibongwe volunteer office assistant Maria Lekganyane.

The cattle farm was very strong. But everything collapsed. We didn’t receive a cent”.

One of the would-be beneficiaries of the cattle farm, Moira Mailu, said although Malibongwe had visited the farm “once or twice”, they never gave funding or other support to the emerging farmers, which led to the farm’s failure.

In the Eastern Cape, a three-storey multi-purpose training centre for women in Stutterheim – named Mandi, the Malibongwe National Development Institute – closed its doors. This brought an end to an organic vegetable garden, a traditional dressmaking project, an on-site crèche for beneficiaries’ children and beneficiary training in conference rooms.

It was put to Dlamini that, “All the women’s dreams are shattered and all the dreams they had for a better future for them and their children are gone”. Dlamini agreed: “Yes”.

Malibongwe pledged on the Anglo website it would use the dividends from Anglo’s investment for the “sole benefit of its development projects”. The ANCWL promised Malibongwe would benefit 10,000 women.

Dlamini said, “People thought the money was theirs and not for women’s organisations”. She said the ANCWL would probably be “crucified” for this: “People are going to blame us for not keeping a closer eye on the money.”

She said the league planned to lay criminal charges.

We are going to report to the NPA and the public protector. I’ve suggested we should write to the NPA because later, people will say we worked in collaboration with them if we don’t report it.”

Dlamini said Malibongwe, launched 28 years ago, had “collapsed” and dividends received from the BEE deal, including R50-million it received in 2017, the biggest payout of the deal, had “vanished”. The ANCWL leader, who has been in the top structure of the ANCWL since 1993, denied it was part of her duties to oversee Malibongwe.

No, no, I did not have that responsibility. I don’t know what happened to the money,” Dlamini said, adding that according to the “structures and functions” of the ANCWL, this was delegated to other people.

In 2006, the BEE deal was taken over by coal producer Exxaro, which paid Malibongwe’s dividends for 13 years up to 2018. In 2005, the deal, which involved a large variety of politically connected beneficiaries, of which Malibongwe was just one, was worth R9-billion – the biggest BEE deal up to then in South Africa, Mail & Guardian reported.

Besides the Malibongwe Women’s Development Organisation, a non-profit organisation (NPO) started in 1992, there’s another entity aligned to the ANCWL, the Malibongwe Women’s Development Trust (MWDT), registered in 2005. The NPO is the main beneficiary of the trust.

The main players in Malibongwe are Deputy Minister in the Presidency for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, Professor Hlengiwe Mkhize, a leading figure in the NPO and trust. An advocate, Medi Mokuena, is a trustee of the trust. Sibongile Mkhize, former KZN ANCWL chairperson, is the head of the NPO.

Neither one of the Mkhizes nor Mokuena could list successful women development projects of the Malibongwe Women’s Development Organisation. Mokuena said the trust was not required to know which projects it funded through the NPO. Former co-ordinators of Malibongwe also couldn’t think of a successful project.

Hlengiwe Mkhize said Sibongile Mkhize “has been stealing the assets of the organisation. Now there’s a whole lot of money missing. She’s refusing access to the account.”

But Sibongile Mkhize, who said she has been involved with Malibongwe since 2004, said: “If I’ve robbed the women, why haven’t they taken me to court? If I’m being investigated, they must open a case. Why are they dragging their feet?”

Hlengiwe Mkhize has also been accused of misappropriation. Mpho Molaoa, former Malibongwe Western Cape co-ordinator, said during her brief stint as Malibongwe acting national co-ordinator a decade ago, she had left the organisation deeply disappointed when Hlengiwe Mkhize had overseen the diversion of R250,000 of Malibongwe funding to a banquet for former President Jacob Zuma.

Hlengiwe Mkhize responded: “That’s a blatant lie.”

Mokuena said Exxaro at first wanted to give the R50-million to the trust in 2017 but she told them it belonged to the NPO, which angered Hlengiwe Mkhize and the ANCWL leadership.

Hlengiwe Mkhize, Dlamini and ANCWL secretary-general Meokgo Matuba believe the R50-million is due to the trust.

Matuba said from 2008 up to now, the dividends have been deposited into a Standard Bank account controlled by Sibongile Mkhize. She accused Sibongile Mkhize of holding on to the R50-million Malibongwe received in 2017 and another R400,000 last year.

Mokuena and Sibongile Mkhize have been summoned by the ANCWL leadership to explain what happened to the dividends, but they have refused.

Former financial adviser to the NPO and the trust, Musa Madonsela, said Sibongile Mkhize and her team were “responsible for the collapse of the NPO”.

These women were not properly skilled and I think they had ulterior motives. Even when the organisation [NPO] folded, people were just laid off and proper procedures not followed,” he said.

Madonsela said both the NPO and the trust were supposed to improve small- scale women-controlled businesses, “but this did not happen. I left because I’ve told them I have integrity. I can’t get involved with an organisation no longer carrying out the objectives it was originally formed for.”

Both Anglo and Exxaro said it’s not their responsibility to check whether Malibongwe’s dividends filtered through to the grassroots projects.

Anglo American spokeswoman Ann Farndell said, “Our role did not extend to monitoring the use of dividends.” She said Malibongwe had “numerous agreements and undertakings”, but these were confidential.

Exxaro spokesman Mzila Mthenjane said: “There’s really nothing we can do. We do understand the seriousness of this, but we cannot be paternalistic in dealing with grown people who are supposed to manage their investments. We generate cash and pay dividends on the assumption that people can make mature decisions.”.

He acknowledged: “In the lives of the people who were supposed to get that money, it’s a lot of money.”

He said Exxaro’s BEE partner, Main Street 333 and Malibongwe were involved with an “internal process” to establish what happened to the dividends.

According to an analysis of Anglo and Exxaro annual reports, Malibongwe received R211.62-million over 14 years: R16.8-million in 2005, R13.28-million in 2006, R6.5-million in 2007, R15.3-million in 2008, R8.18-million in 2009, R20.52-million in 2010, R20.5-million in 2011, R6.2-million in 2012, R12.9-million in 2013, R3.54-million in 2014, R8.7-million in 2015, R12.8-million in 2016, R21.9-million in 2017. R44.5-million was received in 2018. Debt repayments are excluded from the calculation.

Malibongwe was formed in 1992 after an ANC Women’s League conference in the Netherlands which inspired many delegates to help women back home. DM

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