Recipient of R7m in Lottery money won’t say what it’s for
Mystery company is run by prominent businesswoman Carol Bouwer
- Venalor is a non-profit company which has received more than R7 million from the Lottery.
- But neither the company nor the National Lotteries Commission will say what the company does or what projects were funded by the Lottery.
- Prominent businesswoman Carol Bouwer is one of three directors of Venalor.
- Her company Carol Bouwer Productions featured in a scathing Public Protector report on spending on memorial services for former President Nelson Mandela in Mpumalanga.
The directors of a mystery non-profit company which has received more than R7-million in Lottery funding have refused to say what the company does.
Carol Bouwer, a former Generations actress and talk show host turned businesswoman, is one of three directors of Venalor NPC. The other two directors are Athina Christians and Hazel Sithole. Venalor received R4.7 million in Lottery funding in the 2018/2019 financial year, and R2 million and R292,300 respectively in August and November 2019.
The company also received a R100,000 grant from the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) Covid-19 relief fund, intended to help non-profit companies “struggling to stay afloat during this time”.
That means that Venalor received a total of R7,064,480 between 2018 and 2020.
But it is unclear what Venalor, which was registered as a non-profit company in 2012, does. GroundUp has searched the Internet using multiple search engines and have found no website for the company or any online activity or accounts in its name on social media platforms. We have attempted to visit the company’s premises, but security guards told us we had to make an appointment.
Responding via WhatsApp, Bouwer failed to answer questions sent to her by email. These included queries about the type of business Venalor is engaged in, a request for links to the company’s website and social media accounts, and links to any online publicity about the funded projects. Bouwer was also requested to share the questions with her fellow directors, but neither responded.
Bouwer said only: “…we have signed a grant agreement with the NLC, so everything about our projects is contained in the progress reports we have submitted to NLC. Furthermore we not only have widespread media coverage of the funded projects - all bearing NLC branding so our clients may be aware of the support, but we also use social media to create visibility of their support.
“As an organization we are proud of our record of being change agents when it comes to the arts, women empowerment, and support towards marginalised groups, including the LGBTIQ + communities.
“With regards to the Relief Fund for the distressed organisations, we refer you to the call for the relief fund by [the] NLC and its purposes.”
When GroundUp repeated our request for further information on Venalor, Bouwer did not reply.
Questions emailed by GroundUp to Ndivhuho Mafela, the NLC’s head of communications, were ignored. These included a request for details of the Venalor projects funded by the Lottery. Receipts showing the email had been read were received from both Mafela and Gugulethu Yako, the NLC’s legal manager.
According to Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) records, Venalor shares premises with Carol Bouwer Productions and several other of Bouwer’s companies in a listed building in Church Square in Cape Town.
Bouwer is an active director of 24 different companies involved in a variety of activities, according to the CIPC. These include TV productions and events planning, luxury goods like designer handbags and bespoke cutlery, arts awards, and trade and investment companies.
Carol Bouwer Productions featured in a scathing Public Protector Report into a R70 million splurge on memorial services for Nelson Mandela in Mpumalanga after his death in 2013, which Bouwer’s company organised. Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane found that while the company was paid R44.2 million and had paid other service providers, there was no evidence to show how much these had received.
Mkwebane found that the Mpumalanga Office of the Premier “irregularly appointed” Carol Bouwer Productions and ruled that “the entire” R70 million spent on the memorials was “irregular” as Treasury guidelines and the Public Finance Management Act had been breached. In addition, Carol Brouwer Productions had never received an official letter of appointment.
In 2015 City Press reported how Mpumalanga director-general Nonhlanhla Mkize had appointed Carol Bouwer Productions, which had charged R8.2 million for the main event alone. Other charges by the company included R2.9 million for “infrastructure”, R1.4 million for audio, a R2.3 million management fee, and a R782,000 “contingency fee”. Carol Bouwer Productions also claimed R3.6 million for 100,000 T-shirts and R2.1 million for 500,000 bottles of water.
Despite the Hawks saying in 2016 that they would investigate the Mpumalanga memorial events, three years later no action had been taken against anyone.
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As a business we are diligent in ensuring that we advocate for women where possible and remain equally transparent and accountable when it comes to the use of the funds with which we are entrusted. All the funds sponsored or donated are audited for the comfort of those who support us but also because transparency, accountability and ethical use of funds is central to our business. Given that we were dealing with public funds, there is no question that we submitted our work to be audited and provided the NLC with the statements as well as all supporting material to ensure transparency- something upon which we insist.
Briefly I wish to point out that we used the funds to run workshops, an exhibition, women’s summits as well as the award ceremonies for which we had applied. We have provided evidence of this and the more than 1000 beneficiaries of this work can attest to this. The work impacted over 900 women in cooperatives, over a thousand women in small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs.
We ran workshops, gave talks and even exposed the ladies to opportunities presented by banks, government and the NLC with input from accomplished business women from across the country and abroad. We consistently do this, with or without sponsorship.
Our programmes and events are curated to the highest standards, ensuring the dignity of the women participating and reminding ourselves of the need to shun mediocrity and present our businesses in a manner that attracts respect.
Throughout this time, Venalor supported the hosting of dialogues with women in the diaspora on common challenges and this was done in Jhb, Cape Town and New York.
We have partnered with others to provide blankets, food, sanitary ware and electronic supplies throughout this year without seeking recognition. Our work is also our passion and we have assembled the best teams to execute with diligence, fairness and transparency. The night of the awards is what everyone sees but we painstakingly work through the year to prepare for each ceremony which is a culmination of all the support we provide and all we do to ensure sector support.
An example of why this work matters is what happened with the theatre groups we workshopped in Bloemfontein and Qwaqwa under the guidance of a past Mbokodo Award winner. It is important to note that theatre and other performing arts groups across the country don’t always have the opportunity to work under the guidance and facilitation of professional and seasoned artists. Something we are proud to facilitate in these communities. Under our past winner’s leadership for the Mbokodo Awards community work, one of the groups for whom she facilitated a workshop, performed on the National Arts Festival Stage in Grahamstown (Makanda) and went on to win the Std. Bank Ovation Award.
The Ambassador Programme of which she is part, has made a significant difference in small communities around South Africa and has also had a hand in developing artists from various disciplines within these communities.
Last week we hosted the 2020 Mbokodo Awards celebrating women who continue to use their craft to influence and/or comment on critical issues in our society. The 2020 Mbokodo was awarded in the following: Rising Light, Literature, Visual Arts, Architecture & Design, Theatre, Opera, Media, Humanitarian, Film, Music and Lifetime Achievement.
Over the years, Mbokodo Awards have awarded the most prolific female artists in our nation and we are intentional about creating a platform for excellence that champions women especially at a time when GBV, sexism, lack of inclusivity and racism continue to be scourges in our nation.
We have chosen to use our NPC, Venalor to support the work of the Mbokodo Awards to avoid being excluded from grants on the basis that we are a business. Our work is nation building and fills us with pride. The important community work being done by the Mbokodo should not be excluded from accessing funds to which we as a business and as individuals contribute.
Venalor is an NPC registered with CIPC with a registered NPO number obtained from the Department of Social Development and a PBO number obtained from SARS.
Our greatest regret is that we did not respond to the questions asked by Mr. Joseph as we believed we had reported to our clients/ donors and all involved. We also felt that our work was well publicised and we had nothing to hide. This was a huge error in judgement and I as the leader in CBP which runs the Mbokodo Award with the support of Venalor should have known better and availed myself to Mr. Joseph when he reached out for answers. Our books are open and I regret the unfortunate impression created by my refusal to answer.
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