VBS looting clouds fight for Vhavenda throne

A screengrab of the website of the now defunct financial institution, VBS Mutual Bank, whose looting has now entered the legal battle for the vacant Vhavenda throne.

A screengrab of the website of the now defunct financial institution, VBS Mutual Bank, whose looting has now entered the legal battle for the vacant Vhavenda throne.

Published Feb 18, 2024


THE looting of the now defunct VBS Mutual Bank has entered the lengthy legal battle over the vacant Vhavenda throne ahead of the Constitutional Court application to have Mavhungu David Mphephu recognised as acting king.

The Mphephu-Ramabulana royal family is challenging Limpopo High Court Judge Legodi Phatudi’s December 2022 ruling that dismissed its application to have premier Stan Mathabatha and cooperative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs MEC Basikopo Makamu’s decision not to recognise David Mphephu as acting king reviewed, set aside, declared unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid.

The Mphephu-Ramabulana royal family also wanted Mathabatha and Makamu’s decision to be replaced with one that David Mphephu was the recognised acting King of the Vhavenda.

Now, the apex court has been asked by the royal family to set aside Judge Phatudi’s judgment and remit the matter back to the high court for determination of some of the 14 points in limine (preliminary points raised at the beginning of the hearing) and the merits of the application.

Mathabatha and Makamu are opposing the royal family’s application.

Head of the cooperative governance, human settlements and traditional affairs Modjadji Malahlela told the country’s highest court that the matter has no reasonable prospects of success and can be classified as a back door application to vary judgments and orders of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and Concourt rulings dethroning former monarch Toni Mphephu-Ramabulana in 2019 and 2021, respectively.

In the royal family’s Constitutional Court application, senior khadzi (king's sister) and Tshavhalovhedzi village headwoman Phophi Ramabulana states that earlier rulings dethroning former monarch Mphephu-Ramabulana do not prevent and acting king or queen from being appointed.

Ramabulana said after the 2021 Constitutional Court ruling, Mathabatha continued to pay Mphephu-Ramabulana and his supporting staff’s salaries until February 2022 when he informed the then king that his benefits would be withdrawn and that the remaining employees would continue with their duties and that the monarch’s office will not close.

David Mphephu was identified as acting king as he is one of the most senior remaining uncles a sibling to late King Patrick Ramaano Mphephu and an uncle to another late King Dimbanyika Mphephu, Princess Masindi Mphephu’s father and Mphephu-Ramabulana’s half-brother.

However, Princess Masindi has accused David Mphephu of committing perjury by stating under oath that Mphephu-Ramabulana did not benefit from the looting of billions of rands from VBS Mutual Bank.

“It is on record that David Mphephu has committed perjury by lying under oath on his affidavit filed in the Constitutional Court in litigation concerning Masindi Clementine Mphephu’s claim for recognition as queen of the Vhavenda,” she explained in her papers opposing the royal family’s bid to have David Mphephu recognised as acting king.

In the affidavit referred to by Princess Masindi, David Mphephu stated: “The royal family can confirm that the first applicant (Mphephu-Ramabulana) is not a suspect in any investigations or at risk of being arrested for the crimes committed against VBS.

His representations in this regard were found satisfactory by the SA Reserve Bank (SARB) and the relevant law enforcement officials. Such representations were also broadcast on local radio on numerous occasions”.

Princess Masindi had stated that Mphephu-Ramabulana and his attorney received millions of rands stolen from the savings of predominantly poor and low income citizens of the Vhavenda nation.

She added that while there may have been protestations of innocent the actual receipt of VBS funds has never been denied by Mphephu-Ramabulana and his lawyer.

”At the very least, however, it cannot be said that the first applicant (Mphephu-Ramabulana) and his attorney are above suspicion,” Princess Masindi added.

She then requested Mphephu-Ramabulana’s representations to the SARB and relevant law enforcement officials such as the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority but was furnished with what she described as a “complete fabrication” as the document David Mphephu put up was a royal family press statement and not representations to either the SARB or relevant law enforcement officials.

”He lied to the court under oath in an attempt to prevent scrutiny and consideration of the serious problems for the institution of the Vhavenda kingship/queenship arising from the first applicant’s (Mphephu-Ramabulana’s) receipt of money stolen from VBS Mutual Bank,” Princess Masindi added.

The investigation commissioned by the SARB’s Prudential Authority and conducted by Advocate Terry Motau SC found that the dethroned king was among biggest recipients, directly and indirectly, of the gratuitous payments made by VBS and received almost R18 million.

Former VBS chief financial officer Philip Truter is in jail for his role in the looting while several of his erstwhile colleagues and other beneficiaries of the payments are facing criminal charges but Mphephu-Ramabulana is not among them.

Arguments in the matter will be heard on February 22(THURSDAY).

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