Vivian Reddy says it's in his nature to help struggle vets. His detractors say he is also a serial pledger to communities and charities.
Cynics might say that billionaire businessman Vivian Reddy can bail out badly indebted ANC politicians such as Carl Niehaus at minimum risk. Among his many business interests is a polymer currency notes enterprise that prints money, quite literally.
But the founder and chairperson of Edison Corporation, who this week added disgraced former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus to a debtor’s ledger which includes ruling party president Jacob Zuma and “lots” of other struggle veterans, says he does it because “it’s in my nature”.
The Durban-based businessman, who celebrates his 56th birthday on February 22, says the “sacrifices” made by ANC activists for a democratic South Africa warrant his largesse.
“I was always in business, even during apartheid while these guys sacrificed their jobs and lives for the struggle. This is my way of contributing to the struggle as a businessman,” he says.
Reddy told the Mail & Guardian that he had decided to bail out Niehaus “three or four weeks ago because of his immaculate struggle credentials”.
“I’ve known Carl for years through his activity in the ANC and he is a good friend of mine. As an Afrikaner fighting apartheid, he sacrificed a lot,” Reddy said. He added that he was “disappointed” to learn of further debt revelations concerning his friend.
Reddy is reported to have paid Zuma R50 000 to help him finance his large homestead at Nkandla, northern Natal.
He refuses to disclose other beneficiaries, saying “it’s a private matter. There are lots of them and like Zuma they pay me back—we have a formal agreement.” He insists the ANC president has returned “every cent” owed to him.
Considering the often sleazy relationship between the ANC in government and business, doesn’t he expect anything in return from former activists locked in a new struggle—against the repossession of their high lives? “Absolutely not, I’ve got nothing in return and I don’t need anything from them,” he says.
Reddy’s Edison Power subsidiary, which provides electrical installation, transmission and distribution, has won some of KwaZulu-Natal’s juiciest government contracts. These include the R7-billion Dube Trade Port, uShaka Marine World, Durban’s Moses Mabhida 2010 stadium, Soccer City and Orlando Stadium, which is being refurbished as a training centre for 2010.
It is also responsible for Eskom’s multimillion-rand transmission line projects, says the company website.
“We’re the best, even if we aren’t the lowest bidder. [It’s] because we’re so good that we get the big jobs,” said Reddy of the company he apparently started with a R500 loan and a bakkie.
Don Mkhwanazi, a close associate and chairperson of the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust Fund, says Reddy, a regular at Zuma court appearances and political functions, “is a public relations master who knows how to use power, whether it is real or perceived — he can sniff out a good deal and go for the jugular”.
A divorcee with three adult children whose current partner, Scandal actress Sorisha Naidoo, gave birth to a baby boy five months ago, Reddy is no stranger to controversy.
When Judge Hilary Squires delivered judgement in the Schabir Shaik corruption trial, he criticised the Development Africa Trust for being Reddy’s “alter-ego”. Squires noted that rather than supporting poor ANC members with money for funeral and education costs—ostensibly what it was set up for—the trust was used to finance Zuma’s spending, especially on the R2,4-million upgrade on his Nkandla homestead.
Reddy’s detractors say he is a serial pledger to communities and charities who sometimes fail to deliver.
A source on the board of the Curries Fountain Sports Development Centre, who spoke to the M&G anonymously because “Reddy has been putting pressure on us not to speak to the media”, said that as part of a social outreach initiative which formed Reddy’s KwaZulu-Natal casino tender, the tycoon had promised the centre “a 10-digit figure”.
“He later reneged on this promise, saying he was not authorised by the board of Afrisun [an Edison subsidiary] to make that pledge,” said the source.
In 2007 Reddy was criticised by the Newcastle community for going back on an alleged promise to donate the site of a temporary casino to the town for a sports complex. This was again part of his company Balele Leisure’s social responsibility programme, linked to the permanent casino tender.
“He eventually sold the land back to the municipality for R15-million,” said Martin Paul, Newcastle Advertiser editor. “This was more than double what an independent real estate agent had valued it at,” said Paul.
The Newcastle Advertiser covered the issue and is now facing a R10-million defamation lawsuit brought by Reddy—the fairy godfather to South Africa’s cash-strapped politicians.
At the time, it was reported that Amajuba District mayor Sam Mlangeni had criticised the deal, which he said was forced upon the municipality by provincial government.
Paul says he has fought and won, with the award of R200 000 in costs, two other lawsuits Reddy brought against the paper.
Reddy dismissed the allegations that he reneged on his promise to the community as “absolute nonsense, I never said that [I would donate a sports complex to the town]”.
The Newcastle townfolk, meanwhile, still assert that he made the pledge at a public meeting and has since betrayed them. Perhaps they just didn’t have the “immaculate struggle credentials” necessary to benefit from Reddy’s generosity.
‘He invented water’
It’s not all bad news for Carl Niehaus. Since his tearful confession to the Mail & Guardian, he has become an internet hit.
A social network profile called “The Carl Niehaus Facts” has been created on Facebook and members can post comments describing some of Niehaus’s lesser known heroic “achievements”.
Dubbed on the site as “the politician’s version of Vernon Koekemoer”, Niehaus is tagged as a “phenomenal character who can do many things”. The list of these things grows by the hour and includes the following astonishing revelations:
- Carl Niehaus tampered with the cricket ground in the West Indies;
- Designed the N96 cellphone;
- Was the cameraman in Joost’s sex video;
- Wrote Kgalema Motlanthe’s state of the nation speech;
- Knows where to find Jimmy Hoffa;
- Created the Soweto Derby;
- Has been selling ice to Eskimos for years;
- Unfixed the price of bread;
- Is Joe the Plumber;
- Can sneeze with his eyes open;
- Invented water; and
- Played a grand piano in a marching band.
Meanwhile, M&G Online readers have extended a helping hand to Niehaus. “I can offer comrade Carl a shack in Hout Bay for only R250 pm. Sea view included,” wrote Thomas Nkosi.
Rod Baker had this to say: “If Niehaus decides to write his autobiography, I know some good publishers. One specialises in fiction, the other in fantasy.”—Mmanaledi Mataboge