Durban – Nongoma residents were fleeced out of more than R1 million in a jobs scam after they were told about the project by local councillors.
The alleged scam, pitched as an “initiative” that could change their lives, saw more than 1 500 people lose R1.2 million, in payments of R750 each.
The losses could mount, as the scam has allegedly been carried out in other areas, including Ulundi and Nquthu.
It is understood the project was presented to the municipal council during the national lockdown period in March, by an independent contractor.
The independent contractor allegedly claimed she was backed by international donors, with funding for the project.
Councillors allegedly “rushed” out and pitched it to the community, before it had been vetted and approved by the council.
“I participated because I believed it was legitimate. It never occurred to us that a councillor would bring us crooks, who meant to steal the little that we had,” said one of the victims.
She said they were told to pay R750 per person to participate. They were told that about R250 of the money will go towards training and another R250 will go towards food on the days people were at training. They did not know what the last R250 was for.
The victim said they were informed that, once the training was done, there would be employment opportunities, and the trainees would receive a three-year contract and earn about R2 500 a month.
“The first sign of trouble was when we went for training, we were supposed to be trained for 10 days on gardening, but we were trained for one day on counselling. These people had also reduced the number of training days from 10 to five. After that one day, the people disappeared.
“There were about 31 people in my immediate area that registered and we lost about R31 250. The whole of ward three lost about R150 000, in total, about eight wards were affected and lost about the same amount.
“Speaker Bhekinkosi Zulu said, on a local community radio station, that the people behind the scam had presented it as a project to the council, and that he warned his councillors not to rush out to the community before it was vetted,” she said.
Ward councillor Elliot Shiba said it was no longer possible to speak on the matter as it had now been reported to the police.
“All I can say is that the police are now the best people to speak to because this matter is now very serious and has been politicised.”
Zulu said the presentation was never approved by the council.
“I warned the community that this could be a scam. These people were taking the money from the community in cash, and did not appear to be well-off people who could afford to hire and pay salaries of others,” said Zulu.
He said people in the area were in pain and some had borrowed the money from loan sharks to make the R750 payment.
Police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said two counts of fraud were opened at Nongoma police station for investigation.
“The suspect came to their community at Nqokotho and persuaded the members of the community to pay R750 in exchange for agricultural training. The community paid the money and the suspect disappeared with the money.”