"I WAS NEVER A DIRECTOR OF ECSPONENT,'' – DAVE VAN NIEKERK ''...…..GEORGE MANYERE MUST BRING BACK THE MONEY.''

Early in the week, on Monday 31 July, the High Court of Eswatini issued an interim order preventing two South African investors, Global Fintech Entrepreneur Dave Van Niekerk and a long-time Eswatini resident Edwin Soonius, from leaving the country after an ex parte application was filed by ESW Investment Group Limited.

In the court papers, Van Niekerk and Soonius are the first and second respondents respectively. The court had directed the Royal Eswatini Police Service and the Ministry of Home Affairs (Immigration Department) to assist in the execution of the order, interdicting the two from leaving the Kingdom of Eswatini.

The two left the country and the case continues in the High Court of Eswatini; it is a battle of the legal eagles as the applicant is represented by renowned attorney Sidumo Mdladla, while the respondents are represented by an equally distinguished attorney Zweli Jele.

The respondents' lawyer Zweli Jele.

Dave Van Niekerk has since released a statement in which he discloses that he was not notified and that a copy of the court application was not served on them. He clarified that the order that was subsequently granted by the court was never served on either of them.

Van Niekerk says he was in Eswatini on 31 July 2023 for a meeting. Van Niekerk says he flew back to the Republic of South Africa on 31 July 2023. According to the statement, following becoming aware of the application and the order granted by the Court, their attorneys of record obtained a copy of the application from the court file and filed a notice of intention to oppose the interim order. He reveals that their attorneys of record attended on the return day of the order on 2 August 2023 and the court ordered the applicant to file a report regarding the order not having been served on any of the respondents.

“There is simply no basis for the serious, false and factually incorrect allegations, made against myself and the second respondent, that we were involved in the applicant losing E340 million of investors monies. The order should never been granted and should be discharged. The applicant who was not part of Ecsponent at the time of these alleged allegations, should be sanctioned for having brought the application,” reads a statement by Van Niekerk.

He further points out that he has been cited in the court application despite the fact that he was neither a director nor part of the management of Ecsponent Swaziland nor was he in any way involved in the Ecsponent Group of companies and its holding company, Ecsponent Limited (now Afristrat Limited or “Afristrat”).

In the statement of which The Bridge is in possession, Van Niekerk says Ecsponent Swaziland has at all times been controlled by one Mr George Manyere who is a shareholder and director of MHMK Group Limited which now holds 100% of the shares of the applicant (ESW Investment Group Limited).

“Manyere is also a director of the Applicant,” he says.

At the heart of the press release by Van Niekerk, is the repeated statement that he was never a director of Ecsponent and that he was advised that even though Edwin Soonius was director of the applicant until 2018, at the time all decisions were taken by the board of directors of the applicant, and that no investment decision was taken by the board without the approval and input of Manyere and all investors’ funds were lent and advanced to the Ecsponent Group or its investee companies (which included Getbucks Eswatini) with substantial returns in line with the credit model of Ecsponent Limited.

For the uninitiated, Ecsponent was an investment company in which Swazis invested hundreds of millions of Emalangeni and was eventually sold for next to nothing – ZAR1.

The Investment firm stopped operating because it could not pay its investors back. The story of Ecsponent has been widely reported in the media; many investors lost their money and there is a court case in that regard as the investors want back their money, which is in the region of ZAR350 million.

Dave Van Niekerk has for the longest time been associated with the directorship of the company but he has since come out to clarify that he was never a director. Previous media reports have also mentioned that another company, Status Capital Building Society, was associated with him and that about ZAR80 million of investors’ money has disappeared from the Building Society.

The Bridge had an exclusive interview with Dave Van Niekerk to get his side of the story. He denies that he was ever a Director of Ecsponent and says he had nothing to do with the company.

“That company has at all times been controlled by George Manyere – a shareholder and Director of MHMK Group Limited which now holds 100% of the shares of ESW and owns GetBucks Eswatini,” he says.

Entrepreneur George Manyere.

Van Niekerk clarifies that they had bought into his holding company which was at the time listed in Germany. The livid investor says the investment made in Getbucks Swaziland should have gone to Ecsponent Swaziland to settle some of its investors.

He questions the selling of the company (Ecsponent) by a mere ZAR1 without the Stock Exchange approval or shareholder approval.

It simply appeared as a note in the annual financial statements.

“They are now trying to look for a scapegoat instead of fixing their mess,” says Van Niekerk.

He told The Bridge that there is no money to recover from Ecsponent because the money (debt) which was incurring interest or attracting dividends was converted to equity.

He says recouping some of the money would require taking control of Getbucks Swaziland where, according to him, some of the money was invested.

“Getbucks Eswatini and its loan book were a portion of the security for the Eswatini investors. That security has since disappeared and, ironically, Getbucks Eswatini is now owned by Finclusion (another subsidiary in the MHMK stable now,” exclaims Van Niekerk.

On the Status Capital Building Society matter, Van Niekerk explained that he attended the Annual General Meeting (AGM) in the country and had a positive response from members.

The noise within the society was regarding some of the initial loans the building society made and staff loans granted to its management.

“Three of the five investments have been repaid and we are now working on getting the last two repaid. I am now working with the new Executive Director, Nomfundo Fakudze, on the Disinvestment Strategy. The previous management team had to be removed. They granted themselves staff loans, in contravention of the Building Society Act,” explains the South African national.

Status Capital Executive Director Nomfundo Fakudze.

Epitomizing an executive who takes full responsibility, Van Niekerk says the Status Capital issue is being resolved, saying he was happy to assist in the “clean up.”

“We had a forensic done by SMG. The new management team is resolute in its task of managing the building society strictly in accordance with regulations and has a fiduciary duty to the member,” says Van Niekerk.

“The members have asked me to be part of the board, a role I have gladly accepted. I’m happy to be held accountable and to join the board and get things done accordingly. I haven’t been involved for a while, however, I think the Building Society issues are manageable because there are only a few of the initial loans outstanding and some work to be done on new products and services. The building society has tremendous opportunities. I hope we can use technology to make a real difference in the members’ lives. This can’t even be compared to the financial engineering involved in the ZAR350 million Ecsponent mess that MHMK’s George Manyere has to fix,” continues Van Niekerk.

The Global Fintech Entrepreneur alleges that they (Ecsponent / ESW) now have the approval to raise another ZAR1.8 billion so that they are able to settle the ZAR350 million and emphasizes that they should not be allowed to continue with this capital raise.