Maverick Citizen

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Secret briefings, money trails revealed as more Fort Hare officials and auditors appear in court

Secret briefings, money trails revealed as more Fort Hare officials and auditors appear in court
File photo: Some of the ten suspects are seen outside Alice Magistrateís Court on November 21, 2023 in Alice, South Africa. It is reported that the suspects are facing two charges of murder and attempted murder in connection with the murder of Petrus Roets and Mboneli Vesele. (Photo: Lulama Zenzile/Die Burger/Gallo Images)

About R170m in fraudulent payments at the University of Fort Hare flowed towards and from the former director, Isaac Plaatjies, including the alleged purchase of a R1m house as a ‘pay-off’. This testimony emerged in the Dimbaza Magistrates’ Court as a new set of accused appeared on charges of racketeering and corruption at the university. Some are facing allegations of kidnapping and murder.

More senior staff members at the University of Fort Hare, the university’s forensic investigators and Kiernan “AKA” Forbes’ bodyguard appeared in the Dimbaza Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, 2 April following their recent arrests.

Daily Maverick has confirmed that Fort Hare Vice-Chancellor Sakhela Buhlungu, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, Police Minister Bheki Cele and top police officials were briefed on the latest arrests by the police task team dealing with the case.

The fresh arrests included members of the vice-chancellor’s inner management circle and his office manager just ahead of the Easter weekend.

Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, the university’s chancellor, as well as Sakhela Buhlungu, Bheki Cele and Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola attended the court appearance on Tuesday.

Read more in Daily Maverick: University of Fort Hare VC’s roller-coaster ride for justice in face of murder and criminal syndicates

The list of accused is lengthy:

  • Isaac Plaatjies: The former head of investigations and vetting at the university was requisitioned from custody after failing three bail applications for a host of other charges relating to the murders of Bhulungu’s bodyguard, Mboneli Vesele, and the university’s former fleet manager, Petrus Roets. The court heard that he is being held separately from the other accused. In an interview last month, Buhlungu described Plaatjies as a “master conman”.
  • Ansa Smith: Plaatjies’ former assistant is cited as Accused 2. She was present at the meeting in November 2024 where he was arrested.
  • Paul Tladi: The university’s director of human resources was allegedly key in authorising disbursements from the university.
  • Lucrecia Davids: Paul Tladi’s wife.
  • Mbulelo Gingcana: An official in the university’s supply chain management department.
  • Louis Nkateko Mawila: The university’s former financial manager.
  • Nozuko Mabombo: Buhlungu’s office manager. She is also cited in the other Fort Hare case as a victim of an attempted murder.
  • Sarah Pearl Burger: Cape Town attorney and director of Horizon Forensics. She was released on R50,000 bail. The state did not oppose her bail application.
  • Wayne Gosain van der Haar: From the University’s IT department. He was also released on bail of R50,000. The state did not oppose his bail application.
  • Thamsanqa Sonjica: From Fort Hare’s Protection Services.
  • Terrence Joubert: The sole director of a company, Tarlec, who allegedly received kickback payments from Plaatjies.
  • Bradley Conradie: Cape Town lawyer and partner in Horizon Forensics, whose attorney asked that he be referred to hospital for medical attention. Horizon Forensics was contracted for a forensic investigation into massive fraud at Fort Hare University that, according to papers in an unrelated court case, led to disciplinary charge sheets being drawn up for 28 employees. In his affidavit in that case, Buhlungu said “millions were flowing” from the university’s accounts. Many of the employees resigned before they could be given a hearing. Allegations include the fraudulent clearing of student debt, manipulation of the university’s supply chain management process and abuse of university property. An IT employee was dismissed after fraudulently changing the passwords of senior managers, barring them from their accounts. Conradie was also the attorney of record for the university in a labour dispute with Prof Edwin Ijeoma, who stood accused of creating a scheme where several prominent politicians allegedly managed to obtain fake qualifications.
  • Craig Retief: Given a tender for cyber forensic investigations.
  • Anwar Khan: Owner and director of the Pentagon Group and former bodyguard to rapper Kiernan “AKA” Forbes. He appeared before court with this set of Fort Hare accused. The court was told, however, that he would be held in a single cell for reasons that cannot be disclosed in open court. Khan is linked to Joubert through alleged payments that formed part of the scheme.
  • Nthabiseng Makhoba: A director at EL Reigns company. The NPA has not yet explained the company’s role.

While the charge sheet against the newest group of accused has not been finalised, a provisional copy seen by Daily Maverick alleges that a considerable amount of money flowed to Plaatjies, who in turn paid disbursements to several of his fellow accused.

Magistrates who heard his bail applications have described him as the dangerous mastermind behind the elaborate corruption and racketeering scheme.

It is understood that fake invoices, WhatsApp messages and EFTs will be part of the State’s case when the matter goes to trial. The court will hear bail applications for some of the accused on Wednesday.

Read more in Daily Maverick: University of Fort Hare’s head of investigations arrested for murder and attempted murder

Here’s a timeline outlining the events:

2017: Prof Sakhela Buhlungu starts his tenure as the vice-chancellor of the University of Fort Hare.

2017-2019: The university is rocked by student and staff protests.

2020: After noticing troubling practices and maladministration, Buhlungu starts investigations and implements sweeping reforms. What he does not know is that this has put him in the firing line of alleged syndicates at work at the university.

May 2022: The university’s fleet manager, Petrus Roets, one of Buhlungu’s appointees, is shot dead at his home in Gonubie. Buhlungu and other key personnel are given protection.

5 August 2022: The Special Investigating Unit starts an investigation into tenders and degree programmes at the university.

January 2023: Bodyguard Mboneli Vesele is shot and killed outside Buhlungu’s house in what is believed to be a missed hit on the vice-chancellor.

April 2023: Five suspects are arrested and charged. They are: Bongani Peter, the university’s chief operating transport officer; Wanini Khuza, a retired supervisor of drivers at the East London campus (he had been brought back on contract and was the chancellor’s driver); Sicelo Mbulawa, a former student representative council member and businessman who provides vehicle repair services to the university; Mthobisi Khanyile and Mthobisi Dlamini, alleged hitmen from KwaZulu-Natal, both with criminal records. Their bail applications were all initially refused, but Mbulawa was later granted R75,000 bail by the Eastern Cape Division of the High Court in Makhanda.

July 2023: A policeman attached to the detective services in Mthatha, Constable Lindokuhle Manjati, is arrested, charged and added as accused number six.

August 2023: Zimele Chiliza, a taxi boss from KwaZulu-Natal, and attorney Pelisa Nkonyeni are added as accused numbers seven and eight. Chiliza is released on R100,000 bail and Nkonyeni on R50,000.

September 2023: Thamsanqa Mgwetyana, who had been hiding from police in KwaZulu-Natal, is found and added as accused number nine. He remains incarcerated. In court, he was named as the person who linked Isaac Plaatjies, the university’s director of vetting and investigations, to the murders.

November 2023: Plaatjies is arrested, charged and added as accused number 10. He remains incarcerated. In the latest court ruling in his attempts to get bail, the magistrate says he was the one who drew up the hit list. The court describes him as dangerous and dishonest.

March 2024: Another set of accused, including senior university officials, attorneys who are the directors of a forensics firm, Kiernan Forbes’ bodyguard and Plaatjies appear in court on a separate set of charges involving racketeering, corruption, kidnapping and murder. DM

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