Johannesburg fires hated Red Ants

The Johannesburg Metro Council has quietly ditched its multimillion-rand contract with Wozani Security, better known as the “Red Ants”, after alleging that the security company obtained the contract through corruption and black empowerment fronting.

The council has launched what it calls “a massive investigation” into charges that the security company bribed a number of senior metro officials and fraudulently presented a black employee as a shareholder.

Details are contained in court papers filed by both parties in the Johannesburg High Court.   

Wozani Security guards earned the nickname “Red Ants” because of the bright red overalls they wear. 

They are hated in some townships and informal settlements because of their role in forced removals on behalf of Johannesburg’s municipal authorities in Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Bloemfontein. Land activists have accused them of using “apartheid tactics”.

The high court case between the metro and Wozani began last year after a dispute over money.
The company issued summons against the metro last June, claiming it was owed more than R1,4-million in respect of services rendered between August 2000 and October 2003.

In September last year — two months after the summons — the metro management hit back by cancelling the security company’s contract and accusing it of misrepresentation and bribery.

The court hearing has been set down for October this year.

The metro’s court papers point a finger at some of its own senior officials, including the former head of housing, Thulani Khosi. Other accused officials include Joanna Pogulis, assistant director for housing, and Buti Lesiela, a project manager.

Khosi and Pogulis were apparently part of a team that adjudicated Wozani’s application for the tender.

Wozani started working for the metro in 2000, and for the first two years served on a month-to-month basis under a “counter land invasion agreement”.

In August 2002 it was awarded a one-year contract after an open tender process. The contract was supposed to have lapsed in July 2003. However, for reasons that are unclear, the metro continued to assign work to Wozani.

In the court papers the metro said it had “embarked on a massive investigation into the role played by [Wozani] in its relationship with the metro]”.

The metro said although the investigation was not complete “the findings thus far are perturbing and create considerable doubt as to whether or not [Wozani] has been bona fide in the performance of its contracts with the [metro]”.

“The metro has grave reservations as to whether [Wozani] in fact performed adequately or at all in terms of various agreements concluded with [Wozani],” it said.

According to the court documents, the metro’s investigation has focused on the company’s “unusually” close relationship with metro officials.

The metro claims assistant housing director Pogulis had her house renovated by Wozani’s sister company free of charge. The allegation is corroborated by a former Wozani employee, Samuel Selepe, in an affidavit attached to the metro’s court papers.

Selepe also said that Nkosi, the housing director, had been pampered by Wozani. He claims Wozani bought instant lawn for Nkosi’s residence and gave him a music system.

The metro said Wozani would not have received the tender had it not lied about its empowerment credentials. Its court papers include parts of the documents submitted by the company in its contract bid.

 These show Wozani cited Selepe as a 51% shareholder in the company. This statement, the metro said, was “false in that Mr Selepe has advised the [metro] that the reference to him owning 51% of the shareholding in [Wozani] was included in the tender in order to create an impression that [Wozani] had black ownership.”

Selepe, the metro said, has “advised the [metro management] that he has received no dividends nor shared in any profits of [Wozani], nor received a share certificate indicating his shareholding in [Wozani]. On the contrary, he has only received a salary from [Wozani]”.

In his affidavit, Selepe said his association with the company began in July 2002, a month before the company applied for the metro tender.  He was recruited by Johan Bosch, the company’s principal.

Selepe said Bosch gave him the title of managing director, but that the appointment was meaningless, as he was not allowed to participate in management.

“Johan Bosch once pointed out that he only appointed me as director of the company in order to sign tender documents,” he said. 

Selepe said Wozani’s claim that he held a 51% stake in the security company was “questionable” as he had not received dividends. “I only received a salary during my years of employment with Wozani Security. I had no signing authority on Wozani Security accounts, nor had insight in financial records of Wozani.” 

Selepe said Bosch had promised to pay him R500 000 after the company was awarded the tender by the metro, but that this had not happened. He said Bosch paid him R50 000 when he started complaining about not receiving dividends.

Selepe said Wozani fired him last June, the month in which the company served summons against the metro, for alleged conflict of interests. The conflict of interests charge, he said, stemmed from the fact that he owned another company called Selepe Cleaning Equipment. He has referred the matter to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration.

Bosch refused to comment this week, saying that his lawyers had advised him not to do so. Despite repeated attempts, comment could not be obtained from the metro or the officials implicated in its court papers.

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