dream dashed

Isaac Moledi

Isaac Moledi

Samkelisiwe Tswai, 16, a Grade 10 pupil at Inanda Seminary boarding school in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, has had her dream of studying again at the same school this year shattered after Fidentia Holdings failed to pay her fees last year.

The girl from Mofolo, in Soweto, is holding her breath that her aunt will settle the remaining R9000 so that she can receive her end-of-year results and enrol at a cheaper school in Gauteng.

The cash-strapped Fidentia left many pensioners and pupils financially stranded after it was placed under curatorship early last year. The company was accused of maladministration and gross mismanagement and misappropriation of investors' funds.

The company's executive chairman, Arthur Brown, was accused by the Financial Services Board of using millions of rands invested with Fidentia Asset Management for himself, channelling the money through various family trusts.

At a certain stage, Fidentia could not account for more than R1billion in pensioners' savings.

Tswai, who enrolled at Inanda Seminary last year, is believed to be among hundreds of pupils who are uncertain about their futures after Fidentia's joint curators had told them that the cash-strapped company would not pay their school fees as there was not enough money.

Both curators, Dinesh Gihwala and George Papadakis, have not responded to our questions since November last year.

A spokesman who did not want to reveal his name said: "There is no response that the curators will give you as there is nothing they can do about this situation."

Stressing that the curators had only recouped less than 30 percent of the missing millions from the sale of some of Fidentia's assets, the spokesman advised the affected parties to apply to the government for subsidies for their children's fees.

He said the curators were facing hundreds of similar cases. In one instance, said the spokesman, a second-year university student was expelled because he could not pay fees.

The Financial Services Board - the regulator of the non-banking financial services industry which blew the whistle on Fidentia - said there was nothing they could do about the situation as the curators were still busy selling some of the assets.

Spokesman Russel Michaels referred Sowetan to the curators.

Tswai and her sister are beneficiaries of a trust account that was created for them following their father's death in 2001.

Their father Terence had worked for ABI for more than 10 years.

Tswai's aunt, Pumla Hlatswayo, says when Tswai registered with Inanda Seminary at the beginning of last year, Fidentia's division, Living Hands, where her trust was invested, had agreed to pay for her school fees, which amounted to two payments of R9000 each a year.

Fidentia apparently paid the first instalment of R9000 but failed to pay for Tswai's stationery valued at R3000. Her grandmother, Isla, 68, paid for the stationery and she has not been reimbursed.

The problem began when Tswai's family was served with a letter of final demand from her school last November, with a warning that if she failed to settle her R9000 fees she would not write her final examinations.

Hlatshwayo, approached the school and arranged to settle the amount.

She undertook to pay the money in two instalments of R4500 each at the end of November and December last year.

Tswai's mother Salome is unemployed and she is currently very ill. Tswai is living with her aunt and grandmother in Mofolo.

When asked whether she had settled the amount, Hlatshwayo said she managed to pay half the money and was still trying to put the remaining amount together.

"Can you please help us to make this company pay our money back? The curators have told us that there is no money to pay for this child's school fees," Hlatshwayo said.

"Should her education suffer because of the irresponsibility of certain individuals who masquerade as trustees and administrators of our funds?

"Most of the families who have been robbed of their money are very poor.

"That saving is the only source of income that they have in all their lives," she added.