Last week, GroundUp published a story indicating that the Gauteng Department of Social Development had allocated unusually high grants to two organisations. Subsequently, the department initiated an investigation into these questionable grants, as well as those awarded to other entities. GroundUp has now identified four officials who were suspended last year due to their involvement in potentially fraudulent grant procedures.

By Raymond Joseph

Four senior members of the Gauteng Department of Social Development have been suspended as part of an investigation into grants paid to non-profit organisations. All four were involved in funding decisions or grant allocations.

Last week GroundUp reported that two organisations received a total of R114 million over two years (2022/23 and 2023/24), far more than other grant recipients. These organisations are The Beauty Hub and Daracorp. The grants are being investigated according to the department.

The four officials, who were suspended late last year are Mbali Ndlovu (provincial director of sustainable livelihood), Themba Msimanga (director of finance), Sello Mabaso (deputy director general), and Onkemetse Kabasia (deputy director-general).

The department declined to comment on both the suspensions and the investigation, which it earlier said would be completed by the end of March.

Ndlovu, the most senior person under investigation, was placed on precautionary suspension in November.

Ndlovu’s suspension letter accuses her of fraudulent or irregular payments to non-profit organisations and inadequate vetting of grant applications.

The letter also expresses concern that if she was not suspended “there is a risk that you may interfere with evidence and attempt to influence potential witnesses”.

“Based on the seniority of your position at the Department, your presence at work, physically and/or virtually, pending the outcome of your disciplinary enquiry, may endanger the well-being, peace of mind and/or safety of employees and/or state property,” she was told.

GroundUp was told that Mabaso had returned to work this week, but it is not clear why his suspension had been lifted and whether he would still face a disciplinary enquiry.

He was appointed deputy director for the Sustainable Livelihood Directorate in 2022, responsible for “cooperatives development and departmental projects such as school uniform, agricultural and dignity packs”, according to a media release at the time.

But there was allegedly a failure to deliver on several programmes, including dignity packs, according to a media release by Refiloe Nt’sekhe MPL, the Democratic Alliance’s Gauteng Shadow MEC for Social Development.

Shortly after GroundUp revealed the multimillion-rand grants to Daracorp, the organisation issued a statement claiming that there had been “extensive oversight [of Daracorp’s funding] by [the department’s] monitoring and evaluation team, a clean audit by the Auditor General (AG) and clean audits from Daracorp’s auditors for the past two years.”

It is highly unlikely that the Auditor General, whose role is to check on spending of public money by national and provincial government departments and government entities and municipalities, would have audited a non-profit organisation.

Daracorp said that GroundUp had “failed to mention that a significant portion of the funding received was used for setting up the production sites and to purchase agricultural equipment to be used for the programme, and that the beneficiaries received monthly support for meals and transport.”

“To date, 717 beneficiaries have [been] recruited, participated in and benefitted from the programme which spans over 37 sites with 31 co-ops formed in the process,” Daracorp said. –

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