The latest hero of the week is former domestic worker Elizabeth Tsebe, who refused to be used as a front by her employer to score a higher BEE rating and land tenders worth more than R150-million.
In 2007, Tsebe was given documents to sign by her boss, Corrine Ferreira, a co-director of medical supply company Mille Net Imports CC. What the single mother of two didn’t know was that she was actually being made a 40% stakeholder in and director of a company that earned R160-million in government tenders.
The Star newspaper tracked Ferreira’s illegal workings. In 2009, it is reported: “Ferreira accidentally introduces Tsebe as a partner in a meeting with Mille Net’s auditors. Tsebe has no clue what that means … After the auditors mention money, Ferreira orders Tsebe to leave, promising to brief her about further developments, if need be.”
The working relationship between the two began in June 1996, when Ferreira hired Tsebe as a domestic worker. Over the years, Ferreira asked Tsebe to sign a number of forms with no explanation. She was also promoted to part-time office assistant in 2009, and was enrolled in a computer training course by her employer.
However, Tsebe started asking questions after a friend advised her to look at what she was signing. After raising the issue with her employer, Ferreira deposited R100 000 into Tsebe’s account. In the last few months of 2010, Tsebe used her computer skills to upload documents to a USB from the company computer.
Throughout 2011, the former domestic worker had several interactions with her boss where she was asked to sign documents, but she now wanted to know why. Ferreira initially tried to buy Tsebe’s shares and silence for R650 000; she increased her offer to R1.8 million. But the Limpopo woman refused, and at a meeting with her lawyer and Ferreira, demanded R10-million to hand over her share of the company.
Mille Net is currently being liquidated. Earlier this year, R2-million was drawn out of the company’s account with no explanation.
When the new Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act Amendment Bill is passed, companies caught fronting – using people of colour without their knowledge to increase their BEE score – may be fined between 2% and 10% of their turnover.
Corruption Watch urges South Africans to be mindful of what they sign. If you are unsure about the meaning of a document, the best thing to do is to take the document to someone who can better explain to you what is in it.