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Local cyclists Kombo Bere (left) and Daan Terblanche (right) are both involved in the development of cycling among the youth. They wonder what more they could have done to promote this if the money had actually reached the right places. Photo supplied.

Tata ma millions, tata ma chances of rural sport stars

Date: 24 February 2024 By: Anton van Zyl

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 Vhembe to compete alongside the world’s best mountain bike riders. Their biggest challenge, however, is to find sponsorship to cover their cost of travelling to Cape Town, something that would not have been necessary if the funds allocated for cycling development in Limpopo had not been stolen.

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 (SYCD), 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 the other expenses.

The unfortunate reality is that in Limpopo, no funding is available to assist such a development team. No funds exist to support the purchase of new state-of-the-art bicycles, training equipment, or even to cover the transportation costs to get these incredibly talented cyclists to events such as the Cape Epic.

What exacerbates the situation is that funding had indeed been made available to assist cyclists such as Kombo and Daan. In 2017, the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) allocated R9.5-million for cycling development in Limpopo. However, these funds were stolen by a gang responsible for the large-scale looting of Lottery funds.

How to steal a dream

Last Wednesday (14 February), the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and prosecuting authorities briefed members of Parliament on the latest developments in the ongoing investigation into massive fraud and corruption involving Lottery grants. One of the (many) investigations conducted by the SIU focused on a grant paid to a non-profit organisation (NPO), Limpopo Recreational Providers. The NPO applied for a grant and the money was supposed to be used 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 Mr Maphisa (director), Ms Tshililo Mukwevho (chairperson), Mr Tsiko Herbert Ndou (treasurer), Mr Christopher Tshivule (secretary), and two additional members, Mr Samuel Shumani Mudau and Ms 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 (then 46) 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.

Tshivhule was originally charged with fraud along with his niece, Mukondeleli Tshivule (27), Thomas Ndadza (49), and Fulufhelo Promise Kharivhe (42). But charges against the others were dropped after they had 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 since managed to obtain preservation orders on several of his and his wife’s properties.

The Lottery’s laundromat in action

The funding application of Limpopo Recreational Providers was submitted on 30 August 2017 before the NLC’s distribution agency for adjudication. As was the case with many of these applications, little to no due diligence was done by the NLC officials. When R9.5-million in funding was approved, the money was paid over to the NPO within days. On 13 September 2017, the funds were deposited into the NPO's FNB account.

Less than two weeks later, the money was 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 only provided some glimpses of how the funds were distributed further. Thwala Front paid R780,000 to property conveyors 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, Mr 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 another property of Promise Kharivhe in President Steyn Street, Louis Trichardt.

Nothing left for cycling development

Not a cent of the R9,5-million apparently ever made it to Limpopo to be used for the development of cycling. Enquiries to people who were (and still are) involved in cycling development in the province indicated that no project of that scope had been initiated in Limpopo in the past decade.

Hein de Jager, who served on the board of Limpopo Cycling at the time, recalls that the biggest event around 2017 was probably the Polokwane Annual Mayoral Cycle Race. This event was, however, sponsored by the Polokwane Municipality. Around 2016, ambitious plans were also tabled to build a cycling velodrome near the Peter Mokaba stadium as well as a BMX Track and pavilion. The “Polokwane CBD plan for 2016” also makes provision for “mountain bike trails and walkways”. None of these projects, however, materialised and no mention has been made 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. Johan said that the only funds for cycling development in rural areas came via the MTN Qhubeca programme.

“The funding obtained through this programme was used to organise three races at schools in deep rural areas. The tracks were laid out, and medical personnel were on standby. All participants received medals and food and drinks were provided,” recalls Johan.

Even Stanley Thompson, who helps run the Soutpansberg Youth Cycling Development initiative, knows nothing about Lottery funding being allocated to assist cyclists in rural areas. Stanley is very passionate about cycling development and has been involved in the sport for many decades.

All the local sport administrators, however, believe such a grant could have made a huge difference to local cyclists.

What if the R9,5-million did end up in Vhembe?

“The short answer - a lot,” is what Johan van Dijkhorst had to say when asked what difference a R9,5-million injection would have meant to cycling, specifically in the Vhembe area.

Johan pointed out that development is always on the agenda at Cycling South Africa (CSA) meetings. But for local people intimately involved in the sport, this is about more than just words. With minimal funding, local cycling enthusiasts have managed to enable roughly 500 cyclists from about 40 schools to take part in races over the past few years. The development programmes, which include those for primary schools, are driven by volunteers who offer their time and resources to train and support the children.

“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 Johan.

Johan added that a myriad of plans are possible if funds were available. He would buy a few trailers, which would allow the bicycles to be transported to races, he said.

”That there is an abundance of talent in the deep rural areas is a fact. Sadly, development and transformation only remain a discussion point at CSA meetings and very little gets done to address the issue,” said Johan.

Stanley Thompson agrees that much can - and should - be done to assist cyclists in the region. He is more ambitious and believes that R9,5 million would have allowed them to build a world-class facility, along with a development programme that would last at least a decade. It would also have allowed them to present a major national mountain bike race, such as a Soutpansberg Epic.

But all this is like crying over spilt milk for Kombo and Daan. They must get to Cape Town on time and spend time training for the race. The local community has been very supportive, with several businesses making contributions, but a lot still needs to be done before they will hopefully line up on the starting podium on 17 March.

If only …

For Kombo Bere, the issue of cycling development lies close to his heart. He is actively involved in the various programmes of Soutpansberg Youth Cycling Development. Under his tutelage, a new generation of young cyclists is starting to collect medals at races. They are learning from the experiences he gained from his short stint as a professional rider. They also do all this with extremely limited resources.

But this is also where the sad consequences of fraud are visible. In 2017, the same year that the Lottery funds were stolen, Kombo became part of Team EuroSteel Pyga, where he competed alongside his childhood heroes, Philip Buys and Matthys Beukes. He gave it his all, but the world of professional cycling is incredibly difficult to break into. He believes that if cyclists like him had the support of properly funded development programmes, the outcome might have been different.

“It is no secret that cycling is a very expensive sport. To race at the highest level, you have got to compete. You have got to compete provincially and nationally,” he said. He believes that if the Lottery funding had ended up where it should have in 2017 and were properly managed, it would have made a world of difference. “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 unfortunately, it is not easy. It is really, really not easy because you need the funding. You need the resources, and if you don’t have that, the direction you take in life changes. You change your way of thinking.”

His partner for the Cape Epic, Daan Terblanche, agrees. Daan also helps with the training programmes, and he has witnessed the incredible 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 said. Daan explained that the problem is not only equipment, such as top-quality bikes, power meters, and nutrition programmes that are needed, but also proper coaching to take them to the next level. All these things cost money, and a R9.5-million injection would have made such a massive difference.

Sadly, it’s a case of tata (to the) millions, tata to the chances of all the young sports stars.…

 

 
 
 

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Anton van Zyl

Anton van Zyl has been with the Zoutpansberger and Limpopo Mirror since 1990. He graduated from the Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg) and obtained a BA Communications degree. He is a founder member of the Association of Independent Publishers.

 
 

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