Soweto man’s house sold behind his back for R100

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Solomon Nhlapo is accused of trespassing in his own house

This article first appeared in Groundup.

solomon-nhlapo-2Solomon Nhlapo, 65, is squatting in the Soweto house where his mother lived since 1965. Police have told him he is trespassing in his home which was sold in 2014 for a paltry R100. Nedbank apparently managed to obtain default judgment against him, even though he has written confirmation that his late mother’s loan is paid up.

Nhlapo turned up in the South Gauteng High Court in August last year with proof from Nedbank that his mother’s home was fully paid up. He was trying to defend himself, without legal representation, against an eviction order. To no avail. The court awarded the new owner an eviction order against him, which he is now fighting with the help of the Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation, a group helping hundreds of people in similar situations across Gauteng.

The lucky buyer of this bargain R100 house at the sheriff’s auction is Nedbank itself, which offloaded it to a company called Pyramed for R51,000, which then sold it to a company called CC Trade 57 for R18,700, which then sold it to Company Unique Finance (CUF), which then sold the property to another buyer for R350,000.

Nano-technology could be a game changer for gold mines

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Is this nano-technology breakthrough to gold mining what Google is to the internet?

gold-pourThis article first appeared in Mineweb.

Nano-technology could come to the rescue of ailing gold companies.  A new recovery method using nano-technology promises to improve gold recoveries by upwards of 40%, and in some tests has achieved improvements of an astonishing 90%. For marginal mine operators, this is could clearly be a game changer.

In August, the technology transitioned from pilot phase to full production at Nevada-based New Gold Recovery (NGR), and is already attracting interest from mining companies around the world. New York-based investment firm Unicore Group has taken a minority share in the company and sees this as one of the most exciting additions to its portfolio.

UniCore Group’s senior managing partner, Herve Ime, says the expansion possibilities for NGR, given the parlous state of gold mining worldwide, is huge. “We decided to back NGR when it was still in its embryonic phase and the technology had not been commercially applied. The gold mining industry is crying out for something like this. We see this as a killer technology, rather like what Google is to the internet.”

Sanral’s mysterious and wishful accounting

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

When will the roads agency admit that most of its e-tolls debt is unrecoverable?

This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

etoll-gantry-2Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) raised some interesting questions about the South African National Road Agency’s (Sanral) 2016 annual report which came out recently, specifically Sanral’s lack of enthusiasm for writing off unpaid e-tolls, which many suspect will never be recovered.

The balance sheet shows trade receivables of R7.66 billion, up from R4.96 billion in 2015 and R1.15 billion in 2014. Is Sanral continuing to count unrecoverable e-tolls as an asset on its balance sheet?

“Had Sanral accounted prudently and honestly as regards these unrecoverable amounts, it would have been forced to report a far greater loss than the R954 milllion reported for the 2016 financial year,” says Outa.

Airports Company of SA minorities sue for fair value buyout

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

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Minorities say they are economic hostages to the company

This article first appeared in Moneyweb.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but there was a time when the government seemed serious about privatising and listing the Airports Company of SA (ACSA), which manages SA’s nine airports. Private investors were encouraged to acquire shares at a pre-listing price, and many did, among them African Harvest Strategic Investments and empowerment shareholders who paid with debt.

Among the early investors was Aeroporti di Roma (ADR), which acquired 20% for about R890 million in 1998, or R8.19 a share. This valued ACSA at about R4 billion at the time. With no prospect of an IPO on the horizon, in 2005 ADR sold its shares to the Public Investment Corporation for R16.75 a share, more than doubling its initial investment.

But when minorities asked to be bought out, they were offered R12.87 a share – roughly 40% of ACSA’s net asset value (NAV), despite a 2014 valuation by Deloitte of R18 to R22 a share. In the same year ACSA did its own valuation exercise which valued the shares at just R10.36, less than half the R25.37 NAV a share disclosed in its own financial statements for 2014.

Presidential housing project mired in fraud and corruption

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Hundreds of residents of Gauteng townships cheated out of housing

This article first appeared in Groundup.

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A 2010 presidential project intended to house shackdwellers in the south of Johannesburg is mired in corruption and wholesale land theft, with hundreds of residents cheated out of houses they paid for.

Those who have attempted to get to the bottom of the theft have been threatened and, in one case, kidnapped.

GroundUp spoke to dozens of residents of Thulamntwana, near Orange Farm, who say they paid up to R25,000 to secure housing units in the township, only to find that the units had been sold to other buyers. They have been trying for four years to get their houses or to get their money back, without success.

The town of Harrismith gets a reprieve for now

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

This story first appeared in Noseweek.

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SA National Roads Agency’s (Sanral) determination to push through proposals to build the controversial De Beers Pass Route, which will shave just 14kms of the existing route at a cost of close to R10bn, was slapped down by the Department of Environmental Affairs in June this year. The route preferred by Sanral would by-pass the Free State town of Harrismith and put thousands of people out of work as dozens of businesses currently dependent on traffic passing between Gauteng and Kwazulu-Natal would close down.

Those who have been following Sanral’s apparent obsession with building the De Beers Pass Route (DBPR) have long suspected a deeper agenda. The concession to operate the current route between Cedara, near Durban, and Heidelberg in Gauteng, expires in 13 years. No business generating R400bn over the 30 year life of the project is going to just turn off the lights in 2029 and hand back the road to Sanral, as required in terms of the original concession contract signed in 1999.

State-owned enterprises drag SA to the brink of junk

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

This story first appeared in Finweek.

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SA’s persistently weak growth and the stench of failure in its state-owned enterprises (SOEs) has dragged the country to the brink of junk status.

Last week Moody’s issued a credit note warning that a credit downgrade was on the cards unless government embraced reforms needed to put the country back on the growth path, and placed five SOEs on downgrade watch. Moody’s warning merely restates facts already on the ground: bond investors are increasingly steering clear of SOEs such as SA National Roads Agency (Sanral), Eskom and Transnet. In other words, a downgrade is already priced into SOE credit instruments.

The medieval state of SA’s home repossessions industry

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

This story first appeared in Moneyweb.

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A recent study of home repossessions puts SA among the worst in the world. The enthusiasm with which SA banks rush to repossess homes is described as ‘medieval’ and cruel.

SA might claim to have one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, with supposedly strong legal protections against arbitrary deprivation of property, but tell that to the more than 5 000 people booted from their homes each year by the banks, and the 15 000 served with sale in execution notices, which is a prelude to sale at auction by the sheriffs.

Did Standard Bank lie and cheat to get its hands on computer programme?

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

This story first appeared in Noseweek

noseweek-standard-bank-cover-story.

Did Standard Bank lie and cheat to steal an idea worth billions? When atm and internet fraud started seeping into public consciousness in the 1990s, Joburg-based software development company Advertising Digital Services (ADS) came up with a novel solution to a growing problem: hackers had found a way to secretly install a program on computers that would record keystrokes and mouse-clicks when users were logging on to sensitive websites. With this information, they could empty a bank account from anywhere in the world. ADS’s solution was to remove the keyboard as a point of entry to the computer and replace it with an on-screen virtual pin-pad that, each time it was used to input a password or PIN number, would rearrange the digits on its virtual keyboard. ADS director Johan Reynders wanted to patent the system, but was advised against it because, in any event, the system was protected by copyright for 50 years.

To avoid any ambiguity about ownership, however, he uploaded it to the internet in the 1990s so that people around the world could download it free, but only with his permission and provided they acknowledged that the intellectual property rights remained with ADS. Importantly, he says, he chose not to provide any information on the uses and applications of the product so as to prevent software developers coming up with rip-offs. He knew the industry had not yet woken up to the threats from hackers. When it did, he planned to introduce his solution to potential clients.

Residents fight back against banks’ eviction tactics

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

This article first appeared in Groundup.

A group called Lungelo Lethu Human Rights Foundation is preparing a class action suit against the four major banks for what it says are the unlawful evictions of thousands of South Africans from their homes.

MeetingOnEvictionsMethodistChurch-CiaranRyan-20151202 (1)The group is being led by King Sibiya, who has waged this fight before. “What we are seeing now is no different from the human rights violations that we fought against during the apartheid years. The difference now is we are fighting the banks. And it is not just black people who are victims of the banks, white people are too. This case shows that justice is for the haves, not for the have-nots.”

The Constitution provides protection against arbitrary deprivation of property, but Sibiya says this is routinely flouted by the banks.