SANDF colonel accused of swindling colleagues in UN business scam

A senior South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldier is accused by her colleagues  of swindling them out of hundreds of thousands of rands in an alleged army-related business scam. 

Colonel Kgomotso Seremane, who recently returned to the country from a peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is alleged to have begun requesting money from her colleagues as far back as 2015 — and promising them returns when she was paid by the United Nations.  

One of her accusers, Nosipho Mahlangu, told the Mail & Guardian that Seremane had approached her to invest R200 000 in a lucrative business venture, which included supplying equipment to the UN office in Johannesburg. This was in 2015. 

“I was in a desperate situation financially. I was supposed to undergo my ukuthwasa ceremony, so I was in the process of gathering money to make this a possibility,” she said. Mahlangu emptied her savings and invested them in the venture, expecting that “once it pays back as promised [to the tune of R1-million]”, she would be able to afford the ceremony “with ease”. 

Two other colleagues similarly allege that Seremane approached and asked them to invest in a tender she had with the UN in Johannesburg. According to Seremane’s accusers, she had claimed that the contract was to supply army equipment required for a peacekeeping mission. 

When approached for comment this week, Seremane initially agreed to meet the M&G to give her side of the story, but then referred the newspaper to her lawyers, who were later sent questions. 

Broken promises

Mahlangu said the tender was allegedly supposed to give Seremane a return of 

R3.5-million. “She promised me I would get R1-million for the R200 000 I invested and she would take the rest, since this was her tender. I was vulnerable and believed everything she told me,” Mahlangu said. 

When the money wasn’t forthcoming, Mahlangu asked what had happened. “[Seremane] said to me the deal happened, but she had not received money yet. I didn’t believe this, of course. Because at first she said the payment would be made to her in 14 days.” Those days turned into months, and then years.

Mahlangu said: “From here it was just [one] story after another. At some stage she said she will pay me back, once she comes back from deployment [in the DRC].” 

The angry investor turned to her lawyers, Laubscher Prokureurs, and asked for the money, with interest. In a July 17 2019 lawyers letter, seen by the M&G, they ask Seremane for the R200 000 and interest of R99 180.42.

Repayment plan

Through her lawyers, Seremane responded by proposing a repayment in instalments of  R12 000 a month, starting from December 15 2019, and thereafter on the 15th of every month. She committed to paying the legal fees of R9 173.03 that had been incurred.

Seremane also claimed that she had made attempts to pay back Mahlangu’s money, but that she had not received her account details in time after requesting them.

But she refused to pay the proposed interest: “Our client further disputes the interest charged in the amount of R99 180.42. Seeing that your client is not a registered credit provider and therefore she included this amount as an illegal money lender (loan shark) and accordingly she cannot charge such an exorbitant interest.”  

The lawyers added: “Furthermore the interest of 10.15% should be in accordance with the prescribed interest rate.”

Court papers, received from Mahlangu’s lawyer, also confirm the events and detail the agreement. In the papers, Seremane is alleged to have also admitted verbally to Mahlangu that there was no such tender with the UN. In her plea, Mahlangu confirms that Seremane’s misrepresentation was conducted solely to persuade her to pay her the R200 000.

The document further explains that Seremane failed to comply with her duties “as a partner to the partnership and did not conclude an agreement with the United Nations.”

The documents also indicate that Mahlangu cancelled the partnership agreement due to Seremane’s misrepresentation of the alleged tender.

Mahlangu is not the only person who claims to be owed money by Seremane. 

She allegedly also swindled R10 000 from another colleague, Sergeant Prince Matlala. 

“As much I am not happy with talking about this to the media, I can confirm that the colonel also owes me some money as well. But it is a matter that I am not pursuing anymore; I decided to give up on the money,” said Matlala.

Betrayed trust

Another colleague, Sergeant Meme Zungu, also claimed she gave R50 000 to Seremane, who had promised that she would pay it back in instalments once her lucrative deal had paid her. “I gave her the money in good faith. I trusted her, as she was more [senior] than me. I saw her as a mother to me. She was untrustworthy about the whole thing.”  

Zungu said Seremane started paying back in R3 500 instalments. This money then dried up. “I started by taking this matter to our supervisors at the SANDF, but no one took it seriously. Anyways, I was a mere sergeant, so no one would listen to me. As a matter of fact, I decided to drop the whole thing, without having received all of my money back.”    

SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said, “This was a private matter between two parties and not the SANDF. They are the ones who have taken each other to court. This is a matter between two people who happen to work in the same department and has nothing to do with it. The complainant is best placed to tell you whether the matter was brought to the attention of the department or not and, if so, where it was reported.”

Asked for comment about her undue delay in repaying the money, Seremane said she would not be answering any questions, on her lawyers’ advice. In their response to the summons,  Seramane’s lawyers said, “The defendant prays that the claim be dismissed with costs. The content is noted and the plaintiff is put to prove her allegations thereof. The defendant would submit that in the event the plaintiff successfully proves her allegations, the defendant would strongly argue that the claim has since prescribed and it should be dismissed with costs.

Attempts to obtain comment from Seremane’s lawyer, advocate Vusi Nxumalo, bore no fruit. “The matter is now with the court. I can only comment once I have met with my client and there is a set court date. I cannot act in a way that will sabotage her,” he said.

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is an Open Society Fellow in Investigative Reporting at Wits University. Currently spending six months with the Mail and Guardian in the Investigations desk. He started journalism with Independent Media’s vernacular publication, I’solezwe LesiXhosa in East London. He has freelanced for publications such as GroundUp and Workers World Media.
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