Prasa Millions Fund Lavish Lifestyles for Looters

Burnt out trains at the Paarden Eilend Depot in Cape Town. (Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks/GroundUp)

This is the second of several stories about corruption in Prasa’s ties with front business Swifambo Rail Leasing.

It focuses on the actions of Makhensa Mabunda and Auswell Mashaba, the individuals who coordinated the purchase of obsolete locomotives for the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (PRASA).

Makhensa Mabunda leads a wealthy lifestyle. His 1.2-hectare house in north Gauteng is worth approximately R30 million. The mansion’s design and décor cost up to R5 million. We know this because bank records obtained during investigations into Prasa’s illicit contracts show that the train agency paid for repairs to Mabunda’s home.

The investigations were carried out by forensic auditors Ryan Sacks in 2017 and Jan Dekker in 2021. The Hawks-commissioned Sacks investigation resulted in a draft report on which the Zondo Commission relied significantly. Tshwane Trust, Swifambo’s liquidators, commissioned Dekker’s investigation, and they have a number of claims against individuals and companies who benefited from Swifambo’s misconduct with Prasa.

Mabunda heads the Siyaya Group of Companies, which has a lengthy history of bidding for Prasa projects. According to a forensic examination conducted by law firm ENS, Siyaya had already received almost R1 billion in Prasa contracts prior to the agreement in which front company Swifambo joined with Spanish supplier Vossloh to deliver locomotives.

Mabunda and firms associated to him were paid R123.7 million following the Swifambo purchase, according to an investigative audit study commissioned by Swifambo’s liquidators, Tshwane Trust. Swifambo made the payments, as did its holding firm Railpro.

In addition to these payments, Vossloh itself paid Mabunda’s firms R89 million in ten payments between 2011 and 2015.

According to a 2017 Reserve Bank assessment, these payments may have been kickbacks for Mabunda’s role in establishing the Swifambo-Vossloh contract with Prasa.

However, the Mabundas continue to live in their luxurious estate in Waterfall Equestrian Estate.

At the Zondo Commission, Mabunda denied any involvement in wrongdoing. He informed Open Secrets in March 2024 that the Commission “didn’t bother to call me back” after receiving his proposal.

Mabunda is currently under investigation, but it was launched by Spanish authorities. Authorities in Spain requested Mutual Legal Assistance from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for an inquiry into Mabunda and others who benefited from Prasa’s corrupt transactions with Swifambo between 2012 and 2017.

When asked for comment by Open Secrets, Mabunda stated that he would only respond to a case brought forward by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) or the NPA. “I don’t deal with media,” he explained. “I want to deal with the Hawks, SIU, or NPA. I’ll reply to police enforcement. Whatever information you have, please forward it to them, and I will respond if there is a case to answer.”

The Mashaba millions

Auswell Mashaba was Swifambo’s director when the Vossloh-Prasa locomotive contract was signed.

He and his family continue to profit from enterprises they founded, which were partially funded by millions illegally taken from Prasa.

In 2015, City Press reported that Mashaba spent over R50 million on property after Swifambo received its initial payment of R460 million from Prasa in 2013. This included R27 million spent by Mashaba on the luxury AM Lodge in Hoedspruit, Limpopo, which was paid for with cash. Mashaba resigned as AM Lodge’s director, but his two children, Nsovo and Njombo, were appointed directors. According to the lodge’s website, staying in one of its luxurious villas costs R38,000 a night.

Swifambo obtained money from Prasa under a contract that the Johannesburg High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) declared corrupt and unlawful. In 2018, the SCA affirmed a Johannesburg High Court decision from 2017 that found Prasa’s contract with Swifambo corrupt. The courts determined that Swifambo was a front firm with no prior business experience, and that the tender procedure was rife with irregularities that allowed Swifambo to be given the contract.

Swifambo is currently under liquidation and has been in talks with Prasa about a settlement for money owed to the train agency. However, the Mashaba family’s fortune has been permitted to increase.

In addition to the land, the Mashaba family controls the Mamoroko Makolele Trust, which is led by Auswell Mashaba and his wife, Joyce. The beneficiaries are their four children, Nsovo, Akani Arnold, Njombo, and Xihanano. According to a forensic analysis commissioned by the Tshwane Trust, Swifambo transferred R85 million from Prasa money to the family trust. Swifambo payments accounted for 78% of total account income in 2015, when the report was produced.

According to the Dekker report, Swifambo made 16 direct payments totaling just over R262 000 to Mashaba’s son Akani Arnold between February 2015 and November 2016. And Akani and his father benefited from Swifambo payments totaling R9.2 million made to a firm named Brightwave Technologies, where both are directors.

Swifambo also paid R19 million to the Mizana group of enterprises, where Bekani Ephraim Mashaba serves as a director. According to the Dekker report, Auswell Mashaba’s brother is Bekani Ephraim Mashaba.

In total, Mashaba senior and his firms and associates received R177.8 million in Prasa plundered funds via Swifambo’s bank accounts.



Mashaba was summoned by the Zondo Commission to appear in answer to allegations of corruption in the Swifambo deal, but he declined. After the Zondo Commission delivered its final findings, Mashaba filed a review application in court against the report and the summons issued against him. The Commission’s lawyers, lead by attorney Baitseng Rangata, filed a response affidavit, which Mashaba has not responded to. The case will be heard in court in June.

Tshwane Trust is initiating legal action to recover funds from Swifambo’s directors, including Mashaba, as well as at least five of Mashaba’s firms that received corruption proceeds, including the AM Luxury business, totaling more than R90 million.

Open Secrets questioned Mashaba and his son, Nsovo, in detail about funds made to the family and utilized for business purposes. They didn’t respond.

In February of this year, the SIU said that it is examining Swifambo’s contract with Prasa. While the Hawks and NPA have faced criticism for failing to investigate and prosecute state capture instances, the SIU has been mainly effective in holding corrupt officials accountable.

Mashaba, like Mabunda, created his kingdom through corruption. And these two men have yet to account for what they stole.

Meanwhile, banks and accountants turned a blind eye to the money that flowed from Prasa into the coffers of greedy and influential individuals. Our next post in this series will focus on the auditors and banks who permitted Prasa’s plunder.

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