North West inventor's bad Nkandla trip

Realeboga Lucky Tau says he wants his electricity-saving gadget back from his one-time business partner. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

Realeboga Lucky Tau says he wants his electricity-saving gadget back from his one-time business partner. (Troy Enekvist, M&G)

North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo was so dazzled by amateur inventor Realeboga Lucky Tau’s electrical invention that he took him to meet President Jacob Zuma at Nkandla to get the go-ahead for a multimillion-rand prototype.

After years of working on his patented Curved Armature Coil, Tau thought he’d finally hit the jackpot when, three days after Christmas in 2014, he found himself on board an SAA flight from Johannesburg to Durban.

His new business partner, lawyer Raphepheng Mataka (who denied ever having represented Mahumapelo) told him they’d be calling on the president to share the remarkable promise of the invention – a device they claimed could help minimise the country’s electricity crisis.

Four months later – allegedly at the instruction of Mahumapelo – Mataka signed up with Tau as co-director of Shushu Engineering, the vehicle through which initial funding of R10-million would be paid by the North West government. This was to mark the beginning of the development phase of the prototype.

Peter Langley, senior consultant at Eskom’s Research Institute in Johannesburg, remembers Tau’s creation because he had brought it in for a demonstration where several engineers examined and tested it.

Unfortunately, the measurements ran by his team didn’t add up.

“It defied the basic principle of electricity conversion, the science of it,” Langley said.

Louis Coetzee, head of technical college Westcol’s Randfontein campus, said Tau had previously spent time developing his gadget, using a R417 000 grant from the department of trade and industry.

“We helped him with equipment and stock and premises from where to work from, but that was it.”

Coetzee said the college declined to endorse the device and suggested Tau take it to a university or the South African Bureau of Standards. “We were not equipped to test the final product, nor to endorse it.”

A frustrated Tau said this week that he never signed the company registration document bearing his name and a signature purporting to be his. He says he now wants his gadget back, but has not been able to convince Mataka to hand it over.

“He says I owe him money for the flight to Nkandla.”

Tau doesn’t understand how the deal could have ended on such a sour note, especially after getting the “backing” of the president.

“Actually, the president was very nice. Just like him, I am not a highly educated man. I just grew up building electrical models and this machine is my life.”

Tau says Mahumapelo introduced him to Mataka, who told him to be at OR Tambo International Airport on the morning of December 28.

“I didn’t know where I was going. Once there, he told me we are going to see the president,” said Tau.

The two made their way to Virginia Airport, near Durban, where they met Mahumapelo, who joined them on the short helicopter trip to Zuma’s Nkandla home.

“They wanted me to tell the president about the product. I explained to him what it was about and he really liked it. He told us to make it work first in the North West and that, if it worked, we could look at a national rollout,” said Tau.

After a few hours, they sat down for lunch with Zuma.

“It went very well and we were so excited when we left there.”

The plan was to develop a prototype big enough to power about 200 homes, the same amount of electricity required to charge up one of the provincial government buildings.

But then things started getting tricky. Tau and Mataka clashed over how the project should be run and the need for sound, formal and scientific data to be documented during the development phase.

On Tuesday Mataka said the provincial government didn’t pay any money over to the company, adding that he has since abandoned the project because of disagreements between him and Tau.

“We knew we were up against the conventional scientific community. It needed to be done properly and he didn’t get that.”

Asked why they needed to go all the way to Nkandla for approval, Mataka said: “I knew we needed government backing because it was potentially huge. The premier suggested we take it to the president.” 

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