MUST WATCH: Bhana of Aurora v Solidarity’s Du Plessis; riveting television

Television is sometimes criticised as promoting the superficial; a flag-bearer of the sound-bite; co-creator (with Twitter) of the 140 character generation. But when TV works, no other medium can compare. And today’s CNBCAfrica Power Lunch debate between two warring parties really worked. Entrepreneur Solly Bhana has been painted as an evil crony capitalist responsible for the disaster around Aurora Gold Mining. He came through to the studio to answer allegations made earlier this week and repeated today by trade union Solidarity’s General Secretary Gideon du Plessis. Bhana brought along his lawyer/family spokesman, the combative Frederick Kyle. The transcript is instructive. But watching the body language between my studio guests is like having a front row seat to a bare-knuckled prizefight. Riveting. – AH

ALEC HOGG: We have a fascinating debate coming up for the next 15 minutes, so stick with us, put that volume up, and get a little closer to the television screen because we’ll be unpacking issues that haven’t been in the public domain before. Solly Bhana is an entrepreneur here in South Africa. He’s the man who’s linked very closely with Aurora, the company that took over the Pamodzi Gold assets. He’s in the studio with us. With him is the family spokesman, Frederick Kyle and he will be helping Solly if required, on legal issues. Gideon du Plessis, the General Secretary of Solidarity: if you recall, was in the studio on Monday saying that the Bhanas has possibly fled the country. Well, we’re going to get the other side of that story now and pick up on those issues that Gideon raised. Firstly, he clearly hasn’t fled the country. We know that for a fact.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: Yes.

ALEC HOGG: The reason why you thought he’d fled the country was that Judge Bertelsmann (you told us the last time around) had given an attachment for assets. When the Sheriff arrived at the Bhanas’ house, it was empty. This was what you alleged.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: We put the bait out there and Solly took the bait. We said he’d possibly fled, which he obviously hasn’t. He wanted to prove himself, so he played right into our hands to be here today. That was our strategy, so we’re glad you’re here and now we can have a discussion.

ALEC HOGG: So this was all your strategy. I thought it was our story. Solly, do you feel ‘played’?

SOLLY BHANA: Not at all. Not by Gideon – not at all.

ALEC HOGG: That’s good. Just tell us about the house. Apparently, the house was empty.

SOLLY BHANA: If he’s honest and he reads what was in the court papers, I said I moved from the house. The press knows where to get hold of me. The liquidators have gotten hold of me for the last four years. Everybody who worked at the mine, got hold of me, so all Gideon is doing is looking for this hype in his life. I don’t know where he’s riding on this horse, that’s all.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: Well firstly, I’m not the Sheriff and the investigation that was done by the Sheriff and the liquidators was based on court papers. In terms of the court papers, he resides at 30 Royal Houghton Estate, 22-3rd Street, Houghton. Clearly, he did not notify the court and he did not notify the liquidators. He says they’ve known where to get him in the past four years. He moved, so that’s a lie.

ALEC HOGG: Okay, we got it. That’s rather a small thing because some of the allegations that you make here…

FREDERICK KYLE:  May I interject here?

ALEC HOGG: No, you can’t. Let’s get onto the real issues; otherwise, you (lawyers) take us around the bush. I don’t want to go around the bush. I want to go to the essence. Five-thousand-three-hundred workers lost everything. That was your allegation.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: Correct. One of the things we said was that Solly and Fazel Bhana were the brainchildren of Aurora, the masterminds behind Aurora, and the destruction that took place – politically, well connected. In the end, we’re sitting with a situation where R122m of gold sales were made. The money is gone. In total, approximately R240m was raised through gold sales. On top of the gold sales was the selling of equipment and scrap metal, etcetera. That money is gone. Not even SARS got their part of it. During that period, there were the loans issues etcetera. In the time where they raised the money, the workers were not fully paid and in the end, we’re sitting with 5300 lives destroyed. We’re sitting with an asset. The replacement value is R1.8bn. We’re sitting with a long list of legal action that will flow out of this process and then we’re sitting with history from AMLAC, VAT fraud, the Aurora corruption investigation, the Velvet Sky investigation, and Blyvooruitsig, etcetera – the same people.

ALEC HOGG: Plenty. You’ve heard the allegations.

FREDERICK KYLE: May I deal with this? We want to get to the nuts and bolts of this. You started off by saying that you’re playing a game. Stop playing games. You (as Solidarity) are accusing Aurora of owing monies to employees. That’s a falsified version.

ALEC HOGG: Why is it false?

FREDERICK KYLE: If you go through the court papers – I have portions of the agreements here – they acted as Pamodzi’s agents. They used Pamodzi’s Employees. At all times, Pamodzi is, and remains, responsible for the mines, its Employees, and the actions.

ALEC HOGG: Frederick, I get the legal side, but Solly spoke to me on the phone this week and he said ‘my side of the story has never been told’. Now come on, Solly. People are coming at you. They’re making all these allegations. What’s the story?

SOLLY BHANA: Okay. The one person making the allegation is Gideon – nobody else.

ALEC HOGG: But the media…

SOLLY BHANA: No. Come on. What he writes goes into the media. Right. R120m: I brought it up in your enquiry. They take R120m, – which we admit, gold was sold – but they don’t take the expenses, so the expenses come from heaven. Salaries and everything else that was provided to the liquidators, comes from heaven. Who paid for that?

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: And signed off…

SOLLY BHANA: And signed off every month… Every month, the liquidators sent an auditor to the mine. The liquidators came there. The accounts were given to them. Why do you now barge onto something? You know you take one side of it and you don’t put the other. If you want to solve a problem, put the two sides together. Put the two stories together.

ALEC HOGG: Help us to solve this problem.

SOLLY BHANA: It doesn’t exist. I will give you the proof of where the money went. You people (Solidarity) destroyed the documents. Your workers in Aurora destroyed that room. Come on. That room was never reported because that was a storeroom on the outside. You looked for somebody. You tried to gain popularity on it and you went with the story. Not one of your stories is the truth, Gideon. Come with the truth and everybody will win on this. We’ll solve this matter.

ALEC HOGG: Solly, just for those of us who aren’t as close to things as the two of you are, just tell us your side of the story. Pamodzi had these gold mines – these assets that were distressed. Frederick told us you acted as the agent.

SOLLY BHANA: That’s correct.

ALEC HOGG: So what happened then?

SOLLY BHANA: Right. Aurora takes over. Three months later, they have the big strike there. When the strike takes place, Aurora is not on the mine anymore. For the next ten months, it’s run by Solidarity members. They run the mine. Aurora cannot run the mine. Solidarity members ran the mine. They ran the books. They ran everything else. Aurora was a separate entity that was not on the mine. What do we know about mining – to run a mine? They did the accounts. If you read… I want you to take the time, and read the enquiry transcript. It will be the joke of the century, where shoeboxes are given and the one minute, in the enquiry (not on mine): in the shoeboxes, they think its shoes and the next minute, they say it’s money. Nobody’s seen it. They thinks so.

ALEC HOGG: Before we allow you to respond… Solly, what about that was sold? Did that come through the accounts?

SOLLY BHANA: That came through the accounts and it was paid out to salaries. Five days later, when the mine was taken over, they were served with a Section 45 to close the mine because nothing was working on the mine. Who repaired all that? Who paid for the water? Your (Solidarity) own Employees give invoices that the water is treated. Where did all that treatment come from?

ALEC HOGG: So are you saying that the guys in Solidarity at fact, were responsible for the R1.6bn in value destruction, and not the Bhana family?

SOLLY BHANA: No, it wasn’t the Bhana family. It wasn’t them (Solidarity). It was through the theft: 1290 cases were reported to the police. In our Affidavit, you see every report from the security company. Every security company in South Africa can’t be wrong, Gideon. I’m not saying ‘your’ theft destroyed it. I’m saying your emails from your Employees to the Aurora Board clearly states that ‘this went wrong last night. We can’t control it. This went wrong’ and that is our proof. We’re prepared to give you the proof on that.

ALEC HOGG: Just one final point before we get back into this: the story that has been published is that the mine equipment was sold for scrap.

SOLLY BANA: Nothing was sold for scrap. There were 32… How many shafts are there, Gideon? You know the mine. How many shafts are there?

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: Close to 14.

SOLLY BANA: No, there are 32 shafts. Of the 32 shafts…when Aurora got onto the mine, two shafts were working – two shafts out of 32 shafts. You people then take photos of shafts that don’t exist, that were closed 20 and 30 years ago. Come on, Gideon. Let’s be honest. It was Shaft 4 and you know that. That was the only shaft that was left working.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: What about Ndlovu? It was a brand new shaft – erected in 2008.

SOLLY BANA: It never worked. You say the shaft existed. It’s right in the middle of a squatter camp. Who went there to go and destroy it – Aurora?

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: Okay.

SOLLY BANA: Did Aurora move anything? Nothing could move from there without your managers passing anything.

ALEC HOGG: So his guys sabotaged you. Is that the way you see it?

SOLLY BANA: I’m not saying they sabotaged. I’m saying it was through theft and they (Solidarity) know about the theft. Why don’t they come out with the truth? What are they hiding?

ALEC HOGG: Who stole?

SOLLY BANA: The Zama Zama’s. There were more Zama Zama’s on that mine than they could handle and they know that. Everybody knows that. The security company reports are attached there, Gideon. Why don’t you read those security reports? ‘We sold’. ‘We stripped the mine’. What was there to strip?

ALEC HOGG: Let’s give him a chance to respond.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: I’ll gladly respond. I think Solly is getting confused between all the mines and all the things…

ALEC HOGG: Yes, but the key issue here is Solly says ‘we, as Aurora, did not steal and sell the things for scrap’.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: That’s a lie.

ALEC HOGG: Is it a lie?

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: Firstly, Solly must go and read the 417 transcripts. I wish that he could be interviewed again because suddenly, his amnesia is gone and now he can remember everything. During the 417 enquiry, he just had this poker face and he couldn’t remember anything. Firstly, he must go and read the Confirmatory Affidavit that he signed, which was recently the opposing Affidavit of Thulani Ngobane.

ALEC HOGG: We’re now getting into really, complex areas. We need to keep it nice and short.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: What is in there is (1) the Aurora Directors. I have it in front of me.

ALEC HOGG: Okay, so you’re alleging that what he’s saying is not true.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: They blame Solly. The Section 14 enquiry: Fazel and Solly came out as the masterminds – people behind the corruption. The judgment that was issued on the 26th of August said they are responsible for R15.5m that they need to pay back. In addition, Solly’s friends and family need to pay back the balance of 95. What he’s saying here is absolute nonsense.

ALEC HOGG: We have two parties passing each other. I need to know something on a broader scale because we could carry on all day, but we can’t. The allegations against you are that you are politically connected – that you got this because you have all these friends. In fact, he (Gideon) even said Winnie Mandela made a phone call to stop them cutting the electricity.

SOLLY BANA: That was the biggest lie because he takes Mama Winnie Mandela’s name. Your own people were there and they know who made the phone call. It wasn’t Mama Winnie Mandela. You owe an apology to somebody of that nature for that statement. You look for every name. Every morning that you get up, Gideon, you look for somebody whose name you want to have a go at, right. You’re going to step on the wrong person who’s then going to issue summonses against you. You say you won the case. You didn’t win the case. The only reason that was done is that we didn’t have money for an Advocate to put in a response to it. You talk about the allegations/about the enquiry. I ask you something. Fourteen of you chaps sitting there: one black person in there and one non-white in there. What do they do? They take the magnificent seven of yours that run the mine.

They take their Affidavits and they find that that is the truth – to cover themselves, that is the truth. Your own member says in there that ‘Solly became cross with me on my birthday because he doesn’t know about mining’ but he doesn’t tell you that he was caught…

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: That’s a personal attack and I need to respond

ALEC HOGG: We’re running out of time here.

SOLLY BANA: Let me clarify. They were doing gold at the bottom when they were caught that day and the enquiry accepts that he has gold with him.

ALEC HOGG: I need to ask you (Solly) one question before you (Gideon) get the opportunity to respond. You didn’t really answer my question about the political connection. We’re not political.

ALEC HOGG: But you have a Zuma and a Mandela with you.

FREDERICK KYLE: Let me interject here.

ALEC HOGG: Did they help?

SOLLY BANA: No.

ALEC HOGG: So why did you have them as partners?

SOLLY BANA: That’s where the idea came in. That’s where we were approached from.

ALEC HOGG: Your response.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: Firstly, the Confirmatory Affidavit that Solly Bhana signed under oath recently was when Ngobane said he (Solly) was the man with the political connections. That is his Director saying it. He signed it under oath and he said whenever there’s an issue

FREDERICK KYLE: Excuse me.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: You’re a nobody.

FREDERICK KYLE: Has that matter been heard by a court of law? If not, it’s sub judice. You are speculating for your own personal gain.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: You are out of your depth.

FREDERICK KYLE: Listen to me.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: In the end, that’s in an Affidavit, which is signed, and the Affidavit is now public.

ALEC HOGG: Cool it, guys. We can only talk one at a time.

FREDERICK KYLE: When a judgment is made on that, we’ll be back to discuss that. If you want to have a debate with the Bhana family and all this nonsense you conjure up for your own personal gain, we will come to that meeting. We will have that meeting.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: If he’s your legal advisor, you’re in trouble because an Affidavit has been filed. In there, they say…

FREDERICK KYLE: Do you understand the court process, that matter must be heard by a court of law and argued? Once that’s done, you can comment on it. Until then, it’s sub judice.

ALEC HOGG: We have run out of time, but I’ll give the two of you 30 seconds each to conclude your case – 30 seconds.

GIDEON DU PLESSIS: When you hear the names Richard Maponya, Patrice Motsepe, and Koos Bekker, you think of very astute and ethical businesspeople. When you hear the names Solly and Fazel Bhana, they are always under investigation that goes along fraud, corruption, and all kinds of allegations.   These are the individuals that we deal with. These are the individuals who were the masterminds of the whole thing. It was their brainchild from the outset. It was a lie. They start with a commercially insolvent company and they need to pay the price for all the destruction they have caused to people, contractors, and to the image of this country.

ALEC HOGG: That’s your perspective. Solly, you have 30 seconds to respond.

FREDERICK KYLE: Gideon, it’s very simple. You do not know anything on this matter. You speculate on your own truth. You’re welcome for us to have another interview. We can have all day. You can have as many days as you want, but the truth of the matter is that you’re speculating. There is no judgment of fraud or anything. You conjured it up for your own political gain.

ALEC HOGG: I look forward to hearing from the two of you when you have that opportunity. Solly, a last word from you.

SOLLY BHANA: All I want to tell Gideon is don’t look at the Aurora platform or the Bhana platform to get support for Solidarity. Be man enough, one who truly goes out there and speaks for himself, and one who doesn’t use a wagon. Don’t use that Red Riding Hood book that you use all the time in your life and then we’ll get a solution to this problem. The day you’re prepared to sit down like a man and say ‘help us with this’ or ‘help us with that’, I would gladly do it with you.

ALEC HOGG: I look forward to it. Guys, I’m sorry. We’ve now concluded. That was Solly Bhana, Frederick Kyle (the Bhana family spokesman), and Gideon du Plessis, General Secretary of Solidarity. We look forward to getting feedback after they’ve had the next meeting where they can look in each other’s eyes and ‘man it up’.

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