Aurora cuts controversial family ties

Embattled mining company Aurora Empowerment Systems this week booted out their controversial ad­visers and consultants, the Bhana family.

In April the Mail & Guardian reported that the family appeared to have received payments totalling just under R1-million from Aurora, while the company’s 3000-strong workforce were not paid. The family’s chequered past, involving financial offences, was also exposed.

The Bhanas have been providing management services to Aurora, which is led by the nephew of President Jacob Zuma, Khulubuse Zuma, and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zondwa Mandela.

A source in Aurora says that the Bhanas’ contract for consulting work has been terminated because the “negative publicity” is giving the company a bad image.

Solly and Fazel Bhana say the “contract was terminated, on mutual agreement”, though some Aurora employees are sceptical- they say they will believe it when they “see it on paper”.

At a press conference three weeks ago Aurora director Michael Hulley said the company was reluctant to hang the Bhanas “out to dry” without proper proof.

Director Thulane Ngubane would not answer questions about the Bhanas this week.

Although no member of the Bhana family is an Aurora director, the M&G established that the family had an iron grip on the day-to-day management of Aurora’s mines.

In 2002 the Bhanas’ paint-distribution cum oil-importing company, Amlac, was fined R12-million for insider trading.

It was delisted and liquidated in 2003.
But the Bhanas admitted no criminal wrongdoing.

Also in 2002, Fazel and Solly Bhana were arrested on charges relating to a R19-million VAT fraud, but charges were withdrawn after Solly’s son-in-law, Feroz Essay, and Hennie Janse van Vuuren pleaded guilty.

Essay was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years, and ordered to pay the South African Revenue Service R17-million and an additional R3-million court fine.

Financial records seen by the M&G strongly suggest that the Bhana family and their associates benefited from cash-strapped Grootvlei.

Meanwhile, the Department of Water Affairs laid criminal charges against Aurora last week for the pollution of the Blesbokspruit with acid mine water.

But on Monday this week Ngubane denied that Aurora and its management were facing charges. He said the company had not been informed of any action.

But he told the Times more was being expected of Aurora now than under its previous owners. “It is only because we are a young black company that we are being prosecuted,” he said.

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