Claims of missing cash

Isaac Moledi

Isaac Moledi

Old Mutual Property Investments has distanced itself from an incident on Monday involving the eviction of more than 30 small businesses renting premises in its building in Jabulani, Soweto.

The eviction is alleged to have resulted in the tenants' office equipment being stolen and other belongings broken.

The tenants, who were leasing the building for business purposes, were shocked on Monday to find their offices locked and their computer equipment and other belongings thrown outside.

The tenants' businesses include computer training, tourism and tour operations, building construction, funerals, communications and consulting.

As a result of the evictions, more than 80 employees' jobs are on the line as well as the position of about 30 computer trainees.

Elizabeth Soweya, owner of the Ngcwele Training Centre, which was providing computer training to more than 30 young people, told Sowetan that her cash box containing more than R8000 was missing. The money was intended to be used to register the school.

Seven of her computers used for training were also missing. There were a number of her computers and other belongings scattered over the floor, with some broken.

Soweya said she was concerned about the eviction as people would think that she operated "a fly by night" undertaking.

"I have just applied for registration of my school and I was told that I should first get a permanent place to operate from. When I thought that I had ultimately found the place, this happens," she said, pointing to her scattered belongings.

Other tenants claimed that large amounts of money - ranging from R500 to R9000 - were missing and their office equipment was also missing.

Their belongings, which had been scattered outside the building, included computer equipment, photocopy machines, marketing materials and stationery, cameras, speakers and desks.

The evictions were carried out by Patience Mahlangu, operating through her company Mbotho Properties, which manages the building on behalf of Old Mutual Property Investments.

But the tenants vented their anger against Old Mutual, accusing the property giant of evicting them despite their leases having not yet expired. Most of the lease agreements are only due to expire towards the end of this year and early next year.

Tenants said what was surprising was that two sub-leased tenants had different lease agreements.

The tenants claimed that Old Mutual was evicting them because it was interested in new, lucrative developments around the Jabulani Mall.

But Old Mutual Property Investments have refuted the tenants' claims, saying the company had never entered into any lease agreements with the tenants.

Charl Scott, Old Mutual Property Investments institutional portfolio manager, said the tenants had lease agreements with Mbotho Properties, and not with the company.

Responding to queries as to why the ANC and a doctor's surgery were not affected by the evictions, Scott said the two did not sign their leases with Mbotho but with Old Mutual Properties in Cape Town.

"When we signed an agreement with Mbotho, we indicated to her [Mahlangu] that we would need the building for construction. That is why Mbotho's lease agreement contained a 30 days' notice.

"Old Mutual need this building for further development for its business," Scott said.

When approached, Mahlangu declined to speak to Sowetan and referred all queries to Old Mutual Properties.

Police yesterday confirmed that they had arrested Mahlangu on Monday after tenants laid charges of theft and malicious damage to property against her. The police also confirmed that they were investigating the matter.