Tumelo Ramaphosa, one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s sons, has angered those who bought tickets for an upcoming conference which was meant to showcase the latest artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology, as the conference was meant to take place on December 3 and 4 but has been postponed until a so-far undetermined date in April or May next year, allegedly without the offer of refunds.
A report from investigative journalism centre amaBhungane describes how Tumelo was confronted on North West radio station YOU fm by Jade-Lee Herman, who bought three tickets for Unlocking Blockchain Africa at a total cost of R9,000.
Herman said the conference was postponed without notice, and that Tumelo initially hung up on her when she approached him for a refund. She was later able to obtain a refund through Payfast, which handled online payments for the event.
Tumelo lost his temper with Herman on air, accusing her of “making false accusations” and of being “false”, which prompted the radio presenter to say: “Wow Tumelo, you didn’t have to take it that far!”
According to Tumelo, Herman was the only attendee who had asked for a refund, while most who planned to attend “have confidence in what we’re doing”. Payfast confirmed that only one refund had been requested.
The younger Ramaphosa stands accused by amaBhungane of running a small-scale South African version of the infamous Fyre Festival, a fraudulent luxury music festival promoted by Billy McFarland in partnership with rapper Ja Rule.
McFarland was sentenced to six years in prison and fined $26 million for defrauding investors and ticket holders.
Hundreds of festival-goers who forked out between $500 and $12,000 [for the festival’s top VIP package] were left stranded on an island in the Bahamas, in half-built huts and disaster relief tents, with cold cheese sandwiches the only food available, in contrast to the gourmet menu festival-goers were promised.
The infamous event has been immortalised in two documentaries, Netflix’ Fyre: The Greatest Party that Never Happened and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud.
The comparison between Tumelo’s tech conference and the Fyre Festival is as a result of the conference offering its attendees luxury but with little information offered.
R50,000-VIP tickets offer a “two-day Safari stay”, “elephant adventures”, a chance to see “rare species” and “after-hour sessions” – but what exactly these sessions would entail is not disclosed.
The event’s website seems to be offering a line-up of speakers who mostly deny having been booked to appear.
The speakers at the event have changed various times since its website, which appears to be made from a generic WordPress template. Communications Minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams was advertised on the site as a speaker, but her spokesperson confirmed that she had turned down the invitation to speak due to prior commitments.
Colin Thakur said he was advertised as a speaker representing the South African Reserve Bank but doesn’t work there. He also says his name was advertised without him having any knowledge of the event.
Candy Steyn of Edcon was advertised as a speaker, with a picture of a Costa Rican woman used instead of hers. Steyn said Tumelo did tell her about the festival but she was not formally booked as a speaker.
Thumelo has defended his conference, saying it was the third event he had organised in a year. He claims his company StudEx is one of the world’s top 20 cryptocurrency companies.