Aurora Empowerment Systems’ former managers and some of their family and friends have been ordered to repay about R16 million to the company’s liquidators.

Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann ruled in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria that Sulliman Bhana, his son Faizel, wife Zubaida, daughters Shamilla and Feroza and friends Mohamed Limbada and Zeenat Laher have to repay R15.5 million to Pamodzi liquidators.

The court set aside almost R16 million worth of unlawful payments that Aurora Empowerment Systems had made to its financial consultants, Sulliman and Fazel Bhana, and their family members between 2009 and 2010, a time when Aurora was already factually insolvent and employees and creditors were not being paid their salaries.

A small victory for liquidators

For the respective liquidators of Aurora and Pamodzi Group, the ruling is considered to be a small victory, and is significant as it is the first court order for monies to be paid back by Aurora managers.

“This is the first ruling holding anyone to account. Up to now, they have been untouchable,” said Gideon du Plessis, general secretary of Solidarity.

Aurora liquidators plan to challenge more payments made in the period, in which the “hopelessy insolvent” Aurora had made payments to the Bhanas who were clearly preferred over other creditors, counsel for the liquidators Cedric Puchrin SC argued.

“Insofar as it is suggested that the payments were made at a time when the respondent was not insolvent, (that) is, with respect, wishful thinking,” Puchrin said.

R1.7 billion Aurora claim continues

The R1.7 billion claim against Aurora’s former directors and key role players was postponed with costs until 22 March next year, as the liquidators have conceded that they would not have enough time to reply to lengthy affidavits filed at the last moment by Aurora’s former directors.

Nelson Mandela‘s grandson Zondwa Mandela and President Jacob Zuma‘s nephew Khulubuse Zuma are amongst the company’s owners the liquidators want held responsible for the fraudulent running of Aurora, along with Sulliman and Fazel Bhana.

Pamodzi’s liquidators intend to hold them personally responsible for the mining company’s losses, caused by large-scale asset-stripping at the Grootvlei and Orkney mines, where 5 300 mineworkers were left destitute. The former Pamodzi employees are still owed around R28 million in outstanding wages and other pay, while R122 million in gold sales remain unaccounted for.

Zuma’s nephew denies blame

Khulubuse Zuma has denied blame for the collapse of Aurora’s Pamodzi mines, saying that “My role as the director of Aurora was that of a non-executive chairperson. I was therefore not responsible for the day-to-day management and running affairs of Aurora.”

In an affidavit filed before the High Court in Pretoria, Zuma argued that Mandela, Sheshile Thulani Ngubane as well as Sulliman and Fazel Bhana were to blame for destroying the mines through looting and mismanagement.

“I reasonably relied on information relayed to me by them,” Zuma said, while denying claims that he had stripped the mine’s assets and taken the profits of the gold sales. “The loss of Pamodzi assets was simply due to criminal activities and illegal mining by individuals commonly known as zama zamas.”

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