Resplendent in her expensive designer gear, the flamboyant football club owner, reality television star and occasional actress trots out inspirational invocations on social media. Her Instagram account has 1.5 million followers and she pitches herself as an exemplar of South African success, a “township gal” done good by overcoming all manner of adversity to rise to the top.
That is one version. The other is of a gauche but politically connected operator who lives a ridiculously privileged life owing to vast riches accumulated on the back of state contracts that essentially took advantage of the impoverished.
In the past week or so, Shauwn Mkhize, or MaMkhize as she is widely known, has been roasted after the club publicly doled out cash to members of Royal AM after their victory against Maritzburg United in a KwaZulu-Natal derby. It had also emerged that her team was the beneficiary of a three-year sponsorship worth more than R15 million from the ANC-controlled eThekwini municipality.
Mkhize’s cultivated social media feed is of a self-made superstar and philanthropist, but for many the success story rings hollow. After all, if anyone epitomises tenderpreneur, it is Mkhize.
Her mother, Florence Mkhize, was an ANC councillor in eThekwini and the family enterprise, mainly through the company Zikhulise Cleaning, Maintenance and Transport, scored lucrative government contracts in the province to build low cost-houses, schools and clinics, and renovate state buildings.
By the time a scandal erupted in 2010 about how much Mkhize had benefitted from state largesse, she was already a multimillionaire living large in an opulent mansion in Durban’s swish suburb of La Lucia. She and husband S’bu Mpisane, whom she has since divorced, revelled in their wealth and power. Cabinet members, celebrities and government officials flocked to their lavish parties and ogled their conspicuous wealth and consumption.
The state as blesser
During a 2013 court case involving the South African Revenue Service, it emerged that Zikhulise had been awarded government contracts worth more than R1.1 billion in the previous seven years. According to an article on the TimesLive website, court papers detailed, among others, a R482 million job awarded by the eThekwini municipality to build low-cost houses in Umlazi; a R176 million housing contract awarded by the municipality in KwaDukuza; a R13.9 million contract to refurbish Truro House, the provincial Department of Education’s head office in Durban; a R26.9 million contract awarded by the provincial Department of Public Works for a primary school in the city; and a R21-million contract to build a clinic in Inanda.
At the time, members of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit seized assets worth R140 million from their Durban home. A fleet of vehicles worth more than R30 million was attached, including two Rolls-Royces, a Ferrari, Maserati and two Porches, as well as construction vehicles.
Mkhize admitted in court that she had a previous conviction for tax fraud for which she had received a suspended sentence. It would not be the last time she appeared in court for cases related to her many companies, though she has escaped any new convictions.
The former co-owner of the Royal Eagles football club, Mkhize left the club to buy Real Kings, which she renamed Royal AM last year, after her son Andile Mpisane. He became its “founder” and also its chairperson at the age of 19, the youngest in Premier Soccer League (PSL) history. In February, Mpisane secured the team’s No. 10 jersey, with his midfield career coming hot on the heels of his stint as a rapper.
On the field Mpisane treats his mother, the club’s president, with great deference. She, in turn, trumpets making football history with Royal AM, but her detractors attribute their success to money and influence, including buying Bloemfontein Celtic’s Premiership status after failing to gain promotion through the pitch. In one post on Twitter, Mkhize says she never thought winning would be “this painful”.
Some of Royal AM’s players cringed at the spectacle of Mkhize and Mpisane handing them wads of cash while they celebrated their win over the Team of Choice. The cringeworthy act, which was streamed on the club’s social media pages, caused howls of outrage, but she described it as “divinely inspired”. In a report on IOL, she is quoted as saying that “sometimes we always say God always has time where he shows off and I think he is showing off for now”. SowetanLive reported Mkhize will face a PSL probe and possible charges over the bonus saga.
For many, Royal AM’s success is typical of Mkhize’s unbridled ambition. Opposition parties in eThekwini have criticised the city’s sponsorship of the team.
How the other half lives
While Mkhize’s fans swoon over her success, impoverished residents in Lamontville, south of Durban, are not nearly as effusive in their praise. They are adamant that she built substandard houses in a section known as Enyokeni. Mkhize emphatically denies that she built houses in Lamontville and repeated attempts to get clarity from the eThekwini municipality were unsuccessful.
Many houses in the hilly suburb have been built on thin foundation slabs and perch precariously. Their walls were not plastered and are cracking, water seeps through the floors and there are sewage leaks. The asbestos roofs leak and the residents perennially patch them with plastic.
“It was never right from the start,” says pensioner Nokuthula Ndevu, 66, who shares her home with seven family members. “The house is like a coffin, it shakes in the wind.”
Ndevu and her neighbours cling to copies of correspondence with the municipality chronicling their complaints about the defective houses. Pensioner Busi Ndimande says she took occupation in 2004 and is adamant that Mkhize’s company built her house. This is echoed by many other neighbouring residents.
In another part of Enyokeni, water pipes snake down a steep hill where residents have built retaining walls with vehicle tyres to stop their houses sliding away. “When I sleep I can hear the water running underneath my house,” says Bonga Ncube.
He has reason to fear the water. A few years ago, half of his neighbour Tembeka Mbango’s house caved in during a mudslide while she was at the clinic one afternoon. It happened around 3pm and luckily Mbango’s daughter was still at school. Now the family lives in a small wooden house built near the ruins of the old one.
“I don’t know how many letters we have written, how many times we have complained,” says Ncube. “I have been to the municipality and asked them for the plans for our houses. There are none.”
Ncube’s neighbour, Maude Muthwa, 70, once stormed down to complain at the eThekwini municipal office at Shell House in central Durban, but it made no difference.
“Zikhulise is the company that built my house,” she says. “I remember this well. They came in a bakkie with the company name written on it. I know that company was owned by Mpisane. She is now MaMkhize. I spoke to the guys who worked for her. She built all these houses. I am prepared to make an affidavit to this effect.”
A disgusted Muthwa adds: “Those people live in a mansion and they are happy, but we sit here like dogs. We see the shit roll down the river while my house is sinking into the ground. It is a disaster.”
Claudia Ngcobo, 73, says she remembers “like it was yesterday” the day she saw Mkhize touring the houses. “She came here. She can’t deny it.”
Vincent Phera, 58, says “everyone” knows that Mkhize built the houses. They slaughtered close to 10 cows on the day of the handover. “We still remember the construction company called Zikhulise,” he says.
But Mkhize denies this. “Let me state categorically that I didn’t build houses in Lamontville,” she says, even as Zikhulise’s website lists “Lamontville Northwest Project” under “completed projects”.
Msawakhe Mayisela, eThekwini municipality spokesperson, says the city is “aware of defects in some of the houses built as part of the Lamontville Northwest Project”. He could not identify which company built the houses, but said funding to repair them had been sourced from the provincial government.
Building a brand
Mkhize, meanwhile, says she is “celebrating” 20 years in construction. “Of course I am happy with the work I have done. I have built over 80 000 units and you can look at the completion reports. The houses are still standing.”
This is decidedly at odds with reports in newspaper archives. A story in The Mercury dated August 2010 says two houses built by Mkhize’s company in Lamontville were demolished because they were unsafe. The story quotes local ANC ward councillor Nolubabalo Mthembu saying almost 300 houses were inspected, 30 were found to have “serious structural defects” and two had to be demolished. She is also quoted saying Zikhulise had been told to build new retaining walls at 14 houses because walls were collapsing, among other defects.
Also in 2010, civil and structural engineer Mike Staphorst accompanied the Daily News to the site of a Zikhulise housing development in Umlazi. He said the development had “unstable excavations”, some double-storey houses didn’t have the required underpinning and there was a “lack of stormwater management and retaining walls which were failing”. He assessed that “there is a serious risk to life and property”.
Mkhize’s lawyer, Happy Godi, says his client takes issue with reports of 10 years ago, which are “factually incorrect”. She, on the other hand, bemoans the fact that she is building her brand and it is being “tarnished by the media”.
She says she is a businesswoman and philanthropist, not a politician, and it is “sad that everything has been politicised”, although she admits that she comes from “a strong political background”.
For all the world to see
Soon after the interview, Mkhize used her Instagram account to share visuals of the handover of a house she donated to an impoverished family in Weenen as part of a project with the Department of Correctional Services. “To the Zungu family, we are so happy to have been part of this journey with you. This is not about me, Zikhulise, the officials or the media and their cameras … this is about you,” she wrote.
In another social media post, Mkhize said: “It’s almost time to tell my story, my way without all the misperceptions. It all started with a young farm girl from Umbumbulu who had big dreams and those dreams become bigger than she could ever imagine … Stay tuned as I take you through my 20 years of excellence. This journey has not been easy but it has surely been worth it because no matter the challenges I kept walking.”
In a film clip on social media, son Mpisane buys pricey clothing brands and perfumes, spins the wheels of a fancy car and pops expensive champagne, while an Instagram post shows Royal AM being photographed posing in front of an ANC memorial as Mkhize delivers “inspirational” messages in the background.
For DA councillor S’the Ngema from Lamontville, Mkhize’s story is representative of the ANC’s contempt for impoverished people. Her designer outfits, fabulous jewellery and sports cars turn his stomach.
Ngema says Mkhize “cashed out a lot of money and they live a lavish life”.
“But her family was involved in the ANC and they have crippled service delivery. She always has her fingers in a rich pie, but look at how poor people live in this country. Mkhize’s story is not about success, it is about failure,” he says.
“We live in a country where the homes of poor people wash away while tenderpreneurs live in mansions. They buy soccer teams for their children and post on social media when they go on expensive shopping sprees.”