Community faction confronts Wesizwe

[] — A SMALL group of people from the Bakubung ba-Ratheo community, Wesizwe Platinum’s empowerment partner, marched on the company’s offices to hand over a list of demands in an action seen as trying to divert attention away from a court case over shares and an estimated R500m that’s been unaccounted for.

Marked by a heavy police presence, possibly in anticipation of a larger number of people, a group estimated at around 60-strong, handed over a memorandum to Wesizwe chairman Dawn Mokhobo on Monday, outlining demands including that Wesizwe desist in meddling in community affairs and unveil plans for mining an untapped platinum deposit.

The heavily fractured community was at the heart of a boardroom battle last year that saw a group claiming to represent the Bakubung oust CEO Mike Solomon, acting chairman Rob Rainey and mastermind the exodus of four other directors in their attempt to take control of the company.

The group that marched peacefully on Wesizwe’s office in an upmarket part of Johannesburg is thought to back this faction that was ultimately voted out of the company late last year by shareholders, who restored Solomon as CEO as well as the other directors, including Mokhobo.

Behind the saga is a convoluted and messy story.

One of the starting points in understanding the saga was the appointment of Musa Capital Advisors as the Bakubung’s advisors in 2007, ironically with a nod from Solomon. Musa is understood to have been behind his departure from the company.

There was a transfer of 44 million Wesizwe shares out of the community’s direct holdings and into a shadowy company called Newshelf 925.

Musa Capital helped engineer the transfer of the shares out of the Bakubung-ba-Ratheo community’s shareholdings into Newshelf 925, which has no community members listed as a director. Newshelf acquired some 26 million more Wesizwe shares from former Wesizwe chairwoman Thuthukile Skweyiya. The exact nature of that transaction is unknown at this stage.

The Bakubung and Newshelf 925 own 12.6% and 11.96% of Wesizwe respectively.

It was against the 44 million shares that some R500m is reported to have been raised from Deutsche Bank and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).

The court papers filed by Margaret Monnakgotla amongst others are demanding answers to who authorised the transfer of those shares, how much money was raised and where that money is now or how it has been spent.

Monnakgotla is also asking the courts to prevent any transactions regarding the community’s assets or finances other than those approved by her, a community advocate or a court.

Monnakgotla’s brother Ezekiel, and his advisor Disele Phologane, who served on the traditional council that approved the transfer of the shares, were also directors at Wesizwe and helped mastermind the boardroom coup last year.

The court application also seeks to prevent Ezekiel Monnakgotla, the council and its influential member, Phologane, from purporting to represent the Bakubung and from conducting the tribe’s affairs, weekly newspaper City Press reported this weekend.

Margaret Monnakgotla is also attempting to restrain the traditional council, Ezekiel Monnakgotla, Phologane, Newshelf 925, Musa Capital and that firm’s employee and US citizen, Antoine Johnson, from “disposing or encumbering” the assets of the Bakubung, it reported.

Both Ezekiel Monnakgotla and Phologane have been removed as directors and those two directorships reserved for community representation will remain vacant until the community transparently elects suitable representatives qualified to sit on company boards.

Among the demands are that Wesizwe remove a liason office from the community’s land and that the company refrain from the election of a chief. Solomon has said it will help where it can but ultimately the Bakubung must resolve its issues by itself.

Whether the march and memorandum were a diversionary tactic and whether it worked is a moot point. What remains unchanged is a fractured community that has factions vying for control of shares in a company that will either build a R6bn platinum mine alone or in a partnership, or sell the asset, realising a substantial sum of money.

There is a lot at stake and the only sure bet is that the story, which shows how empowerment can go disastrously wrong, still has a long way to run before reaching any sort of conclusion if at all.