State funeral ‘rip-off’
Minister orders criminal charges after taxpayers’ millions spent on VIP burials
● The funerals of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and two other ANC struggle stalwarts cost taxpayers R76m in what the department of public works has branded a giant rip-off.
Public works & infrastructure minister Patricia de Lille has instructed her officials to lay fraud charges against the company that staged the funerals of Madikizela-Mandela, Zola Skweyiya and Billy Modise, who all died in 2018, for allegedly inflating their invoices.
She is also moving to cap the amount state and official funerals can cost the taxpayer.
For the funerals of Madikizela-Mandela and Skweyiya, the department spent R7m to hire padded chairs, leather couches and scatter cushions; R2.47m for draping; R470,000 for serviettes; R695,000 for orchestra equipment and R30,000 to dig three graves.
But that’s not all. The huge bill, according to invoices the Sunday Times has seen, excluded venue hire such as that of Soweto’s Orlando Stadium, where 37,000 people attended Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral service.
However, Sammy Mashita, project manager of Crocia Events, which won a two-year tender in 2017 to provide infrastructure for all state funerals, insists that he saved the state money.
He said the department would have paid “R274m for services rendered” had his company not pointed out inefficiencies in the tender.
“This was because of the stupidity of those who compiled the tender specifications. They were more than willing to pay that amount even after we warned them of their glaring stupidity,” he told the Sunday Times this week.
“We actually saved the state huge sums of money because of our business conscience. We told them if they paid us the full amount it would be robbery. For what they were prepared to pay, and what they actually paid us, they could have bought everything that they would ever need for all future funerals.”
Crocia is owned by Pheladi Mphahlele, who in December 2018 married Mashita in a threeday society wedding at which US R&B star Anthony Hamilton performed.
De Lille said “red flags” around excessive funeral spending warranted high-level investigations by her department’s anti-corruption unit. She told the Sunday Times that she had asked the unit to investigate whether proper processes were followed in appointing Crocia, and to report back to her by next month.
“We have given the instruction to the relevant officials to lay criminal charges against the service provider,” she said.
“I have also supported recommendations to investigate possible irregularities that may have been perpetrated in other funerals supported by this service provider.”
Some of the invoices Crocia gave the Sunday Times show that:
● For Madikizela-Mandela’s 10-day, R37m memorial and funeral, taxpayers paid R624,000 to hire 12 “air coolers”; R185,990 for pot plants, greenery and flowers; R18,000 for 300m of red ceremonial rope; R420,000 for 3,500 serviettes (hiring them at R60 per napkin per day); R170,000 for 1km of temporary fencing; R638,950 for carpets and draping, and R696,000 for orchestral equipment.
● For Skweyiya’s R28.9m funeral at the Pretoria East Christian Revival Church, the state paid R3.1m to hire draping, carpets and AstroTurf; R50,000 for 500 serviettes; and R96,792 for plants, flowers and greenery.
● The funeral of Modise, who was buried in Johannesburg’s West Park Cemetery, cost the state R10m.
The R76m figure also includes 15% in “management fees” loaded onto agreed quotes for
We have given the instruction to the relevant officials to lay criminal charges against the service provider
Patricia de Lille
the Madikizela-Mandela and Skweyiya funerals, which De Lille said were “concealed”.
“The department intends to institute civil and criminal action to recover R7.7m from the service provider in this regard,” she said.
De Lille is now recommending to minister in the presidency Jackson Mthembu that state funeral costs be capped.
She declined to provide copies of the invoices, saying they would be used as evidence in disciplinary processes now under way against two chief directors in the department’s Prestige Unit, and two administrative events clerks.
The department’s probe also found that its own director-general, Sam Vukela — who initiated the investigation — approved the massive costs of Madikizela-Mandela and Skweyiya’s funerals.
“As the delegated authority, Vukela gave the final approval for the payment of two of the three funerals, which each exceeded R20m,” said De Lille’s spokesperson, Zara Nicholson. “The adverse findings of the investigation on the conduct of the officials apply to him equally.”
In August, the Sunday Times reported that Vukela was implicated in a Public Service Commission report into a massive hiring spree of 714 officials in his department. He was also named in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on massive overspending at former president Jacob Zuma’s
Nkandla homestead, to which he allegedly diverted millions of rands.
Vukela failed to respond to WhatsApped questions. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is responsible for appointing directors-general, has yet to discipline Vukela.
In a separate audit, finalised in June last year, of the department’s goods and services contracts, the auditor-general uncovered more than R30m in irregular expenditure around the funerals of Madikizela-Mandela, Skweyiya and Modise.
A source close to both investigations, however, said R76m was the tip of the iceberg. “Just three funerals cost R76m. Other funerals, which were far bigger, saw hundreds of millions of rands apparently stolen through inflated invoices,” the source said.
“The billings and payments went unchecked for years. That’s why these investigations are so important. It’s vital that financial limits are set to stop the looting.”
About Mashita’s claim that the department was prepared to pay him R274m for the funerals, the source said: “The department would never spend a quarter of a billion rand on the logistics supplies for three funerals. It’s an illusion. There are no facts behind this.”
De Lille has now ordered a review of all official funerals Crocia conducted.
Nicholson said: “A staggering level of ineptitude and negligence is apparent in the manner in which officials failed to protect the interests of the state … Crocia submitted inflated invoices which differed in some cases from its tender arrangements, with no
Treasury approvals obtained.
“The quotation of the service provider exceeded final departmental specifications in two of the funerals.”
Nicholson said irregular and questionable payments to Crocia included R27.5m for items whose prices differed from the prices contracted for; R33.9m on items not contracted for; and R12.4m for goods delivered which were never requisitioned.
The auditor-general’s spokesperson, Africa Boso, confirmed that the contracts were audited as part of normal annual financial-year audits.
When the audits were concluded, the auditor-general recommended that the department perform a full investigation of all similar contracts.
Crocia’s Mashita — who was chief of staff of both former public works minister Geoff Doidge and former international relations minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane — denied De Lille’s allegations and said the department had brought the problems on itself.
He said he could have worked out a deal with the department to lower costs through service-level agreements “but they were not interested even though they all knew the state could be paying less and that they were ripping themselves off”.
He dared De Lille to take him to court, saying he would prove that her officials originally agreed to pay Crocia R274m.
“They must not blame us for their stupidity and not putting out a proper tender. We got lucky and rode this luck. There was nothing sinister about how we got this tender and all invoices and signed contracts are legally binding,” he said, adding that his company was still conducting official funerals and other events for the state.
“The R76m is not irregular. It would have been irregular if no due process was followed or overpayments were made. We bid and won the tender fairly.
“They must take us to court. We will fight them all the way and demand the R274m, which is what they would have originally paid us.”
Mashita said the prices were high because the department requested daily hiring rates instead of a hire-per-event option.
“Obviously daily rates are more expensive in eventing, which they didn’t comprehend. We warned them of this in e-mails to senior [public works] officials including Vukela, who I worked with previously when he was DDG in the department’s corporate affairs,” he said.
“If we went with [the department’s] approved costs, Skweyiya’s funeral would have cost R211m and Madikizela-Mandela’s funeral R63m. We saved taxpayers R182m on Skweyiya’s funeral and R27m on MadikizelaMandela’s funeral.
“We followed the department’s specs and gave them our pricing costs, which they understood and approved. Questions must be asked of the [department] officials who said it was correct to bill per day and those who signed off on orders and the payments.”
Mashita said Crocia was being used as a scapegoat for the department’s mismanagement. The company was unaware of the auditor-general’s investigation, “which we welcome”.
“We did co-operate with a forensic investigation by PricewaterhouseCoopers, which was done for the department,” he said.
Asked about his 15% management fee, which he insisted was “not hidden”, Mashita said this was for overall event management and covered costs not in his quotes, such as security, as well as food, transport, accommodation and overtime pay for his staff, among others.
Crocia Events owner Pheladi Mphahlele and her husband, Crocia project manager Sammy Mashita.