Burial societies in panic mode - VBS clients struggle to get their money back

VBS Mutual Bank customers form long queues outside the bank in Thohoyandou, Venda, yesterday to withdraw their monies.
VBS Mutual Bank customers form long queues outside the bank in Thohoyandou, Venda, yesterday to withdraw their monies.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Cash-strapped VBS Mutual Bank has left scores of burial societies in limbo and members panic-stricken that they will not be able to fund their loved ones' funerals.

Hundreds of burial society members queued outside the bank's headquarters in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, yesterday to inquire about their contributions.

This was after the bank announced on Monday that those with R1000 or less should come and close their accounts and would be paid out their money.

One of the people in the queue, Sylvia Netshiungani, from Khonani Burial Society, said she had been unable to withdraw R1000 for the past three days.

"I have been here since Monday and I am told there is no money," she said.

Yesterday, Netshiungani said she had arrived at the bank at 6am but had not been helped by 2pm and was worried about their society contributions.

"We have invested R59 000 in the bank but now we are told that we can only withdraw R7 000 for each funeral. We pay our members R10 000 each for burial, what the bank is offering is not enough."

Netshiungani said she had spent more than R500 in taxi fares from Masisi village to Thohoyandou (about 80km) in the past three days.

She was also stressed about what she would tell her society members as not everybody at her village understands what is happening with the bank.

Another client, Justice Manavhela, said the situation was getting out of hand and elderly people were now sleeping outside the bank.

"I came here at 5am and I was number 475 in the queue. It is 2pm now and I haven't gone inside the bank," he said.

Scores of elderly people formed long queues as they waited to close their bank accounts.

Manavhela said the situation at VBS was pitting them against one another as burial society members. Some members don't understand what's going on in there and think for some reasons we stole their money. Members are beginning to doubt one another."

A third client, Mungadi Burial Society chairwoman Livhuwani Mungadi, said she had arrived at the bank at 2am but she failed to make it inside. "Some of the people I came with slept at the police station because it was cold here. There are no toilets, they just don't care about us."

She said they have been using other savings or borrowed money to bury their members.

VBS curator spokeswoman Louise Brugman said those who had less than R1000 in their VBS accounts will not be charged when closing them.

"The decision to take a more conservative approach and close the accounts of certain individuals was made due to increased uncertainty surrounding VBS."

According to the National Treasury, over R900-million is missing from VBS and it can't be traced.

Eight Limpopo municipalities also irregularly invested almost R1-billion and a forensic investigation was under way in this regard.

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