Municipal workers convicted in R3.5m ‘Christmas cheer’ fund fraud scheme

Municipal employees who swindled R3.5-million from a social fund meant to provide end-of-year Christmas cheer to workers will be sentenced this month after being convicted of an elaborate fraud scheme. 

Jackey Tshabalala, who worked at the Rand West municipality’s payroll section, and Letitia Nonkosi Mafuta and Anna Nomakhedu Mdange, both of whom were general workers, were convicted in January of 17 fraud counts after stealing from a Christmas fund workers had contributed into. 

During the trial, which began in February last year, it emerged that the three municipal employees had stolen the money because they believed it to be “manna from heaven”.

The convictions stem from 19 fraudulent transactions from November 2017 to August 2018, with the largest transfer amounting to almost R1.4-million.

Tshabalala, Mafuta and Mdange were the signatories of the Abasebenzi Christmas Club, after they received authority from the municipality to form a social fund. 

“The objective of the club was to save funds through contributions deducted from their salaries to be disbursed at year end in accordance with each member’s contribution,” reads the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) charge sheet.

Testifying at the trial in February last year, the municipality’s expenditure manager, Thomas du Toit, revealed how the theft had hurt the municipality to the point at which critical service-delivery projects had to be shelved and overtime payments stopped. 

Du Toit added that, at a September 2018 meeting, a month after the last transaction was made, the accused “refused” to divulge details of the fund following repeated attempts. 

“At the 12 September 2018 meeting, we wanted to know how much was left in the Abasebenzi account to return the money to the municipality. There was no indication whether there was still money in the account.

“The mood of the meeting was very friendly. I even asked Ms Mafuta why they took the money, and she just said that she thought it was manna from heaven,” Du Toit had testified. 

The three fraudsters had pleaded not guilty during the trial.

The Mail & Guardian contacted the trio’s attorney, P Maeyane, for comment, but he had not responded by the time of publication. We will update this article when we receive comment.

An internal note from the NPA confirmed that Tshabalala, Mafuta and Mdange had been “convicted on 19 counts of theft amounting to R3 514 499.80 and adjourned to the 15 March 2021 for sentencing proceedings”. The matter will be at the Johannesburg specialised commercial crimes court.

A breakdown of the transactions shows that Tshabalala, who was responsible for the payroll, made the most money, with more than R2.8-million making its way into her Absa account.

Mafuta made R447 639.74 and Mdange pocketed just more than R200 000.

Tshabalala, Mafuta and Mdange, who are all out on bail, will return to court on 15 March.

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Khaya Koko
Khaya Koko is a journalist with a penchant for reading through legal documents braving the ravages of cold court benches to expose the crooked. He writes about social justice and human-interest stories. Most importantly, he is a card-carrying member of the Mighty Orlando Pirates.

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