Matlaopane speaks out over housing scandal

There was a time when Gugulethu Matlaopane and Khotso Khasu had to prove their political independence. In the first decade of democracy, they were election observers, ensuring free and fair ballots in their home provinces and elsewhere on the continent.

Matlaopane is now the head of the Northern Cape's health department. Khasu made millions from a municipal low-cost housing project in Vryburg in North West, although he completed only four of the 3 000 houses he was contracted to build. The Mail & Guardian reported last week that he allegedly shared R1-million with Matlaopane.

The newspaper also reported on the preliminary results of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) probe, which traced the payment of R87-million from the Naledi municipality to Khasu's personal and business bank accounts. From there, the money was moved to at least 160 accounts, some of which belonged to his relatives and former Naledi municipal officials. As the money moved from account to account, construction on site in Vryburg quickly ground to a halt.

The municipality began to attach terms to Khasu's contract. But he pleaded poverty, claiming that the municipality owed him money. The SIU report would later show that less than a quarter of the money he had been paid went to the housing project. 

The early years
In democracy's early years, Matlaopane worked as a director in the Northern Cape housing department. Her next career move would be to head the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in the Northern Cape, where she oversaw the 2000 and 2004 elections. 

It was a controversial step: her husband, a doctor, was deployed by the ANC as provincial minister of health at the time. But both the IEC and Matlaopane denied any conflict of interest.

Khasu was the electoral chief in North West during the same period. In 2001, they formed Khasu Matlaopane Elections Management, an elections consultancy company. 

In 2006, Matloapane led a 128-man IEC squad to ensure free and fair elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). But some Congolese did not take kindly to her, accusing her of planning to rig the elections in President Joseph Kabila's favour because of former president Thabo Mbeki's perceived approval of him.

South Africa's ambassador in the DRC at the time, Sisa Ngombane, denied the allegations. "Matlaopane, once an employee of the IEC, left about 24 months ago. She has visited the DRC on many occasions in pursuit of her private business interests, which the embassy has no knowledge of,” he said.

It is unclear if Khasu accompanied her on the DRC election mission. But a year later he had changed vocations: from independent elections overseer to building contractor.

Mystery deposit
In 2007, the Naledi municipality appointed his Khasu Engineering Services to build 3 000 low-cost houses, without ensuring a competitive bidding process. Its pretext for this was that the project had to start urgently: in mid-2007, residents stormed the council's offices, demanding that it deliver on its promises of housing. 

In the M&G of May 24, both Khasu and Matlaopane refused to explain Khasu's R1-million deposit in her account during his contract period. But this week, she broke her silence: "I don't have to answer questions because I know who I am. You guys will just write whatever you want to write because your intention is to tarnish people's reputations,” she said. "But I know that I would never take money from the poor.”

Before ending the call, Matlaopane said the R1-million payment was in relation to work done through a separate company she co-directs with Khasu, called Ubunye K and K Project Management. She refused to give further details.

The SIU's investigation into the housing project revealed that payments of R910?000 went into Ubunye's account in late 2007 and early 2008, but most were made before Khasu's appointment as contractor on the housing project.

The money paid into Matlaopane's personal account, however, can be traced back to the money that Naledi municipality paid Khasu to build the houses. Ubunye and Matlaopane had no other involvement with the project that would justify the payment.

Khasu did not respond to questions about his larger role in the Vryburg housing debacle. – Additional reporting by Puleng Phoshoko

 

Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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