Lottery’s looted R9.5-million would have made all the difference to Limpopo cyclists

Tata ma millions, tata to the chances of rural sports stars

By Anton van Zyl

22 February 2024

Limpopo cyclists Kombo Bere (left) and Daan Terblanche are hoping to find money to race in the Cape Epic. Photo supplied

In Louis Trichardt, two young cyclists are training to compete in what is arguably the world’s toughest mountain bike stage race, the annual Cape Epic. They aim to make history as the first team from rural Vhembe to compete alongside the world’s best mountain bike riders. Their biggest challenge, however, is to find sponsorship to cover the cost of travelling to Cape Town: something that would not have been necessary if funds allocated for cycling development in Limpopo had not been looted.

In January this year the two cyclists, Kombo Bere, 26, and Daan Terblanche, 23, heard that the organisers of the Cape Epic had opted to waive their R145,000 entry fee for the race. The two riders compete under the banner of Soutpansberg Youth Cycling Development, a programme aimed at assisting young cyclists from rural areas. The “free ticket” means that their expenses for the duration of the race are covered, but they still need to collect money for all their other expenses.

In Limpopo, there is no funding available for new state-of-the-art bicycles for them, training equipment, or even for covering the costs of getting to events like the Cape Epic.

Yet funding was indeed made available to assist cyclists like Bere and Terblanche. In 2017, the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) allocated R9.5-million for cycling development in Limpopo. But the funds were looted.

How to steal a dream

On 14 February, the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and prosecuting authorities briefed members of Parliament on developments in the investigation into massive fraud and corruption involving Lottery grants. One of the SIU’s many investigations focused on a grant paid to a non-profit organisation (NPO), Limpopo Recreational Providers. The NPO applied for a grant for “arranging an annual cycling competition, recruiting cyclists, promoting good morals for the youth, providing cycle resources to the needy, and empowering youth cyclists for competitions”.

Several of the NPO’s members are from the Vhembe area. According to the SIU, they include a Mr Maphisa (director), Tshililo Mukwevho (chairperson), Tsiko Herbert Ndou (treasurer), Christopher Tshivule (secretary), and two additional members, Samuel Shumani Mudau and Basani Michelle Mashele. Whether all of them were “in on the deal” was not disclosed by the investigators, but at least one of them, Tshivule, is a convicted criminal.

In July 2022, Tshivule was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment after being found guilty of fraud involving a R1.57-million Lottery grant. The Specialised Commercial Crimes Court, sitting in Palm Ridge, found that he had masterminded the hijacking of an NPO called The Message and used it as a vehicle to obtain Lotto funding.

Tshivule was originally charged with fraud along with his niece, Mukondeleli Tshivule, Thomas Ndadza, and Fulufhelo Promise Kharivhe. But charges against the others were dropped after they made representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). Both Tshivule and Ndadza are from the Madombidzha area, close to Louis Trichardt. Promise Kharivhe’s home address is in Louis Trichardt.

Kharivhe’s husband, Collin Mukondeleli Tshisimba, is a member of three other non-profit organisations – Make Me Movement, Lethabong Old Age, and Mbidzo Development Program – that received a combined total of R53-million in Lottery funding. The SIU has identified Tshisimba as a key player in the looting of the Lottery and has managed to obtain preservation orders on several of his and his wife’s properties.

The Lottery’s laundromat in action

Limpopo Recreational Providers’ funding application was submitted on 30 August 2017. On 13 September 2017, R9.5-million was deposited into the NPO’s FNB account.

It took less than two weeks for the money to be transferred to the accounts of three companies, according to the SIU. All were linked to Collin Tshisimba and his wife, Promise Kharivhe. Ndavha Management, with Tshisimba as the sole director, received R5.7-million, while almost R1.8-million was paid into the bank account of Wa Rothe Construction, a company with Kharivhe as the sole director. Another of Kharivhe’s companies, Thwala Front, received R2-million.

The SIU’s presentation in Parliament provided some glimpses of how the funds were further distributed. Thwala Front paid R780,000 to property conveyancers to purchase a piece of land at Brakspruit, just north of Louis Trichardt. The SIU has since obtained a preservation order on this property.

Ndavha Management appears to have channelled some of the funds back to the NLC officials who made the deal possible. The SIU explained that R1.8-million was transferred to a Land Rover dealer for the purchase of a vehicle. “The vehicle was purchased for the benefit of Ms Rebotile Malomane, who is a life partner [in fact, his wife] of Mr Letwaba,” the SIU reported. At the time, Phillemon Letwaba was the Chief Financial Officer of the NLC. “The vehicle was also registered as an asset under the Rasemate Family Trust, where Mr Letwaba and his brother Mr Johannes Kgomotso Letwaba are the only two trustees,” the SIU told Parliament.

The SIU has since obtained preservation orders on property and a vehicle linked to Phillemon Letwaba and on his pension fund. He resigned last year shortly before a second disciplinary hearing could be held. A preservation order was also obtained for a property of Promise Kharivhe in President Steyn Street, Louis Trichardt.

Nothing left for cycling development

It seems as if not a cent of the R9.5-million ever made it to Limpopo to be used for the development of cycling.

Hein de Jager, who served on the board of Limpopo Cycling at the time, says that the biggest event around 2017 was probably the Polokwane Annual Mayoral Cycle Race, sponsored by the Polokwane municipality. There were plans to build a cycling velodrome near the Peter Mokaba stadium, a BMX Track and pavilion, and mountain bike trails, but none of the projects ever materialised and there was never any mention of such projects being funded by the NLC.

Johan van Dijkhorst, who was head of the schools section of Limpopo Cycling in 2017 and also responsible for mountain biking, said that he was not aware of any project funded by the NLC.

Stanley Thompson, who helps run the Soutpansberg Youth Cycling Development initiative, knows of no Lottery funding being allocated to assist cyclists in rural areas.

All of them, however, believe such a grant could have made a huge difference to local cyclists.

“With R9.5-million you can buy a few shipping containers, which could be strategically placed in the district and which could serve as a storage facility for bicycles. You can buy decent quality bicycles and you can train community members to service and maintain these bikes. You can implement training and coaching programmes where more experienced riders can teach children not only proper techniques, but also the etiquette of cycling,” said van Dijkhorst.

”That there is an abundance of talent in the deep rural areas is a fact,” he said.

R9.5-million, says Thompson, could have financed a world-class facility, along with a development programme that would last at least a decade, and the launch of a major national mountain bike race, such as a Soutpansberg Epic.

Meanwhile Bere and Terblanche still have to find the money to get to Cape Town and train if they want to line up on the starting podium at the Cape Epic on 17 March.

A world of difference

“It is no secret that cycling is a very expensive sport,” says Bere, who is actively involved in the various programs of Soutpansberg Youth Cycling Development. To race at the highest level, you have got to compete provincially and nationally,” he says.

The Lottery money would have made a world of difference, he says. “We would have had more young people in big teams – not just locally but abroad also. I certainly had aspirations, at one point, to race for a team abroad. But it is really, really not easy because you need the funding. If you don’t have that, the direction you take in life changes. You change your way of thinking.”

Terblanche also helps with the training programmes and has witnessed the talent in the region. “Some of these children have the potential to cycle for European teams, but the funding is just not there to give them the necessary exposure,” he says. It’s not just equipment - bikes, power meters, nutrition programmes - it’s also coaching which is needed, he says.

A R9.5-million injection, says Terblanche, would have made such a massive difference.

This story is published in association with the Limpopo Mirror.