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Former lottery board member’s defunct farm business swallowed up R4.6m in lotto funds

Former lottery board member’s defunct farm business swallowed up R4.6m in lotto funds
Screen grabs from Google Earth of William Huma’s farm show how it deteriorated. The three photos from left to right were taken in 2021, 2022 and 2023 respectively. In the 2021 photo the 10 grow tunnels don’t exist. In 2022, they look completed. In 2023, they are falling apart. (Photos: Supplied by GroundUp)

Family and a friend of William Huma are directors of the company that got the grant.

A non-profit company controlled by former National Lotteries Committee (NLC) board member William Huma received a R4.6-million lottery grant for a hydroponic vegetable farming project to create jobs and supply produce to residents of a poor North West community.

But two-and-a-half years later, the project in the Lekgalong area in North West has been abandoned and there is little indication of how the millions of rands the Lottery gave to Reagile, a non-profit company, were spent.

The grant was allocated to Reagile on 19 August 2021, not long before Huma resigned from the NLC’s board after he was confronted with details of how he had profited from corrupt lottery grants.

Inexplicably, taking into account the purpose of the grant, the funding was awarded under the NLC’s Arts, Culture and National Heritage sector.

Reagile’s Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) registration as a business states that the company’s principal business is to “conduct farming and agricultural projects in rural communities, capacitate, train and employ women and youth from rural communities”.

The grant of R4,658,118 is now under investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

Reagile was originally set up in 2017 by a company that sets up and sells shelf companies. A shelf company is a company that is already registered but has never traded or conducted business and holds no assets or liabilities and “sits on a shelf” waiting for someone to buy it.

Reagile was bought off-the-shelf on 6 March 2020. New directors, including Huma’s then-girlfriend Lorato Moyo, who he has since married, and other members of his family and a close friend, were installed as directors just five months before the NLC approved Reagile’s grant. The original directors who had set up and sold the company, resigned on the same day as the new directors were appointed.

Neither Huma nor Moya responded to detailed questions sent to them via Huma’s email address.

Abandoned

Huma told people the project was a “pilot” that would grow tomatoes, a source with direct knowledge of the project told GroundUp. It was meant to create jobs for locals and provide affordable, fresh vegetables for the nearby communities, which never happened.

“It never really got off the ground and has been abandoned,” the source said. “It never employed anyone and never sold much produce, if anything at all.”

A very recent Google Earth satellite photo taken on 27 April 2023, shows that several of the vegetable-growing tunnels are badly damaged after apparently being left to the elements when the project was abandoned. A February 2021 satellite photo shows a single small building on the property. But a few months later a new photo, dated 14 October 2021, shows that ten grow tunnels had been installed on the property. Six months later, on 14 April 2022, damage to the front of one of the tunnels was visible. A year later, serious damage to half of the tunnels is clearly visible.

The size of the tunnels is unknown, but according to a quote GroundUp obtained from a credible supplier, grow tunnel prices range from R7,500 for a “B Grade” 3m x 6m tunnel, to R68,500 for a top-of-the-range 12m x 30m tunnel. Prices exclude plastic covering, VAT, delivery and construction. Even with the most expensive tunnels, add-ons and VAT, the total cost of the 10 tunnels is nowhere near the more than R4.6-million grant Reagile received.

A source with knowledge of the project told GroundUp: “Huma and Ms Moyo [now Huma] controlled the finances, and everything else. Most of the directors were unemployed and desperate for work and this was the big break they were hoping for. But they were kept in the dark about the project. He has left them high and dry. This thing has just made them miserable and left them depressed. And now the SIU is also asking them questions about the grant and how they were involved.”

Dodgy financials

To qualify for funding, Reagile would have had to supply two years of financial statements in terms of the Lotteries Act when it applied to the NLC for funding. But because Reagile was a shelf company it would not have previously traded and therefore could not have met the two-year financial statements requirement.

GroundUp has seen an unsigned set of financials for Reagile dated 28 February 2019, which suggest that the company was financially active. Yet, the new directors were only appointed on 6 March 2020, after the end of the 2019 financial year.

During the course of our investigations into Lottery corruption, we have come across several instances where fake financials were submitted to the NLC, like this one used by Life for Impact in the 21st Century with its application for funding a youth awards ceremony.

Living large on Lotto

The vegetable project is not the only instance in which Huma has profited from a Lottery grant.

The project is a 20-minute drive along sand roads from a Lottery-funded poultry farm, on a smallholding owned by Silverlite Trading, a private company, of which Huma is the sole director. The poultry farm was frozen earlier this year after an application to the Special Tribunal by the Assets Forfeiture Unit (AFU) for a preservation order. It was never profitable and stopped trading last year. It has also been regularly targeted by thieves, and security officers at the property have come under attack.

The poultry farming project was funded by a R13-million Lottery grant to non-profit company The Samaritan Initiative, intended to uplift women in Marikana, the site of a massacre of striking miners in 2012.

The Samaritan Initiative was registered with the Department of Social Development (DSD) in March 2016. It was both dormant and non-compliant, according to CIPC records, at the time the NLC approved the grant. It also has no internet presence. None of the registered directors were involved in the poultry farm, and the non-profit organisation (NPO) bears all the hallmarks of having been hijacked. Also, based on improvements on the property, it is unlikely that the entire R13-million was spent there.

The NPO had never submitted financial and other statutory reports to DSD, raising questions about the extent of the NLC’s due diligence before awarding the grant.

GroundUp previously reported how, within a week of the NLC approving a R20-million grant in 2017 to Matieni Community Centre to build an old age home in the rural village of Marapyane, R5-million of the grant was paid to attorneys handling the sale of a luxury estate in Rustenburg.

The payment to the lawyers by Matieni was for the purchase of a luxury Rustenburg property to BDH Group (Pty) Limited, of which William Huma was the sole director. The property, which was later converted into a luxury boutique hotel, has also been frozen by the Special Tribunal.

GroundUp has also revealed how money from grants was paid into the bond account for Huma’s luxury home in Pretoria.

Our investigation also revealed how two separate payments of R1-million each were paid to Huma in late 2016 by Upbrand Properties, just months before he was appointed to the NLC’s board on 1 April 2017. Upbrand is linked to the former NLC chief operating officer Phillemon Letwaba, who resigned last year while facing a disciplinary inquiry.

Huma said at the time that both payments were instalments on the purchase of Just Cuban, an upmarket restaurant and music venue in Pretoria, by Daisy Letwaba, one Letwaba’s two wives. DM

William Huma and Lorato Moyo

William Huma and Lorato Moyo at their wedding on 10 December 2022. (Photo: Supplied by GroundUp, copied as fair use)

First published by GroundUp.

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • William Kelly says:

    Sorry guys but R68,500 for a 12 x 30m^2 tunnel is purest fantasy – it’s useless to quote this without having it installed to similar status as shown in your story. An erected tunnel will be substantially more than that – having just signed off on a 20x30m at R340k for hydroponics I can assure you that your numbers are not accurate. It doesn’t change the point that the tunnels are not R4.5M of cost, but the hydroponic equipment that might have been located inside them could well have brought the project cost up to R4.5M which is a lot of capital to have tomatoes pay back. Hydroponics is not for the faint of heart.

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