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CityPress - - Business - SU­SAN COM­RIE su­san.com­rie@city­press.co.za

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma is not the only Zuma who may soon have to turn to friends and fam­ily for funds af­ter an ad­verse court judg­ment. This week, the Supreme Court of Ap­peal in Bloem­fontein turned down a re­quest by the di­rec­tors of Aurora Em­pow­er­ment Sys­tems for leave to ap­peal a judg­ment rul­ing them neg­li­gent.

Khu­lubuse Zuma, who is the pres­i­dent’s nephew, and his fel­low di­rec­tors ap­pealed to the coun­try’s sec­ond-high­est court af­ter the North Gaut­eng High Court ruled the Aurora di­rec­tors and their busi­ness ad­vis­ers, the Bhanas, could be held fi­nan­cially li­able for the de­struc­tion of Pamodzi Gold’s mines.

The high court judg­ment, handed down by Judge Eberhard Ber­tels­mann in June last year, did not spec­ify how much each di­rec­tor would be asked to pay, but con­firmed the prin­ci­ple that through their neg­li­gence (in Zuma’s case) and fraud­u­lent ac­tions (in the case of ev­ery­one else), they were li­able.

In to­tal, the liq­uida­tors want R1.7 bil­lion in dam­ages.

Thurs­day’s de­ci­sion by the Supreme Court of Ap­peal was praised by trade unions Cosatu and Sol­i­dar­ity, which rep­re­sent the 5 300 work­ers who were left des­ti­tute af­ter the col­lapse of the mine.

“Cosatu wants all these di­rec­tors to be crim­i­nally charged. If there jus­tice in this coun­try and if we are a na­tion of laws, the best place for these di­rec­tors is in prison,” said Cosatu spokesper­son Sizwe Pamla.

Zuma’s spokesper­son, Vuyo Mkhize, said his client would not com­ment on the judg­ment un­til he had met with his le­gal team to un­der­stand the rea­son for the Supreme Court of Ap­peal’s de­ci­sion.

Mean­while, City Press has es­tab­lished that Zuma’s team tried to reach a R20 mil­lion set­tle­ment with the liq­uida­tors shortly be­fore last year’s high court rul­ing.

Mkhize con­firmed to City Press last year that he had ap­proached the liq­uida­tors to dis­cuss a set­tle­ment, but de­clined to dis­close de­tails.

“I did have engagements with the liq­uida­tors on a con­fi­den­tial and priv­i­leged ba­sis in an at­tempt to set­tle the mat­ter ahead of the hear­ing,” he said.

“That at­tempt did not come to fruition ... The only thing I can con­firm is that, yes, I did make such an of­fer and the of­fer was not re­sponded to.”

Gideon du Plessis, the gen­eral sec­re­tary of Sol­i­dar­ity, which rep­re­sents 180 of Aurora’s work­ers, con­firmed that, as a cred­i­tor, it was ap­proached about last year’s pro­posed set­tle­ment.

“I was not happy with it ... That would likely be the only money from the di­rec­tors be­cause the other di­rec­tors would not con­trib­ute ei­ther be­cause of poverty or their own dis­re­gard.

“I felt it was not suf­fi­cient to cover the amounts ow­ing to the work­ers; it was a drop in the ocean,” Du Plessis said.

The In­sol­vency Act al­lows for a max­i­mum pref­er­ent claim of R28 000 from each of the 5 300 em­ploy­ees, which could amount to as much as R148.4 mil­lion.

Although the work­ers are pref­er­en­tial cred­i­tors, the liq­uida­tors’ fees must first be de­ducted.

In ad­di­tion to this, Du Plessis says the liq­uida­tors wanted to in­clude a clause in the set­tle­ment that if, at any stage, it was found that Zuma’s as­sets ex­ceeded the R20 mil­lion that he was of­fer­ing, the set­tle­ment would be re­voked.

When ap­proached on Thurs­day, Mkhize ini­tially de­nied that there had been any at­tempt to set­tle Zuma’s po­ten­tial li­a­bil­ity.

When asked about his pre­vi­ous state­ments on the is­sue, he said that any talk of a set­tle­ment had only been made be­fore the North Gaut­eng High Court judg­ment and “that ship had sailed” af­ter that rul­ing.

“He feels hard done by, by that judg­ment – his only op­tion is to ap­peal that judg­ment. Un­less he is pre­sented with rea­sons that per­suade him that the judg­ment is fair, just and proper,” Mkhize said.

John Walker, the lawyer for the liq­uida­tors, said he could not com­ment on the set­tle­ment dis­cus­sions, but said that fol­low­ing Thurs­day’s rul­ing by the Supreme Court of Ap­peal, they would seek to se­ques­trate Zuma, his co-di­rec­tors, in­clud­ing Zondwa Man­dela, and the Bhanas.

“We will be launch­ing ap­pli­ca­tions for the se­ques­tra­tion of all the re­spon­dents in the next few weeks,” Walker said.

PHOTO: MUNTU VILAKAZI

LIV­ING IN HOPE Jo­hannes Ma­hasi is one of the few mine work­ers left at the Aurora hos­tel. He can­not af­ford to go back home. He may get some jus­tice now af­ter the di­rec­tors lost their ap­peal

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