Mandla Mthembu ran a printing company in Johannesburg called Sechaba Photoscan without conspicuous success. He drove around in a beaten old BMW; his friends remember him coming every so often to ask for petrol money.
Then in 1998, Mandla saw an advertisement in a newspaper. The government was in financial trouble, and was holding a fire sale of government enterprises. It had advertised sale of Transnet Production House, the printing division of Transnet, the public corporation that ran railways, ports and buses for the government. Mandla sent off a bid.
Two years later, he got a letter telling him that the bid was won by Skotaville Press, and that Sechaba had lost it. Skotaville Press is a well known South African publishing house. In the Eighties it published a number of books by black authors, including ones in the black nationalist cause. It has been a favoured publisher of African National Congress members and supporters, and continues to be an important publisher in South Africa.
Mandla thought about that day in 1998 when he had received a phone call from Zwelibanzi ‘Miles’ Nzama, the official in charge of the auction. They set up an appointment in a downtown hotel. Miles met Mandla and William Peterson, the joint managing directors of Sechaba, and told them that he would guarantee their success if they gave 15 per cent of the shares of their company to the African National Congress Fundraising Trust. They refused.
Incensed, Mandla went to court and sued the government for 60,689,000 rands, which he said represented the profits Sechaba would have made out of the business in the three years since bids were called for the business. Transnet admitted that Miles had persuaded Skotaville to give ANCFT 20 per cent of its equity for a throwaway price. The trial judge awarded Sechaba the damages asked for after deducting only five per cent for contingencies — that is, 57,650,554 rands. Transnet appealed to the South African supreme court, but lost. So it had to hand over the money to Mandla.
That money transformed Mandla's fortunes. Now he had money not just for petrol, but for new cars. He bought one car after another: as a journalist put it, “A car to drive to go and buy bread; a car for going to parties; a car to go to church; a car to drive long distances; maybe even a car to go to the toilet!” Mandla started an agency called Umsobo Investment Holdings. It picked up a contract to import Saudi crude and sell it to the local oil company. That contract proved to be a gold mine. By 2005, Mandla was a billionaire — or so everyone said.
What is a man approaching fifty to do with so much money' Mandla divorced his wife, Dolly Matshabe, with whom he had two children. He gave her a 3-million-rand fully furnished cluster home in Bedfordview, and a monthly allowance of 10,000 rands. Having thus pensioned off the family, he bought his freedom to enjoy himself.
In the meanwhile, Muvhango, the interminable, hugely popular situation comedy on South African Broadcasting Corporation’s SABC2, had a crisis: Lindiwe Chibi, who acted as Doobsie, the heroine of the series, was shot in the head on April 30, 2005 by her boyfriend outside her home in Soweto, the sprawling black township outside Johannesburg. Duma Ndlovu, the producer of the sitcom, had to replace her in a hurry. He got hold of a bubbly nineteen-year-old Khanyisile Mbau to replace Lindiwe.
It was Khanyi’s first break, and she made the most of it. She gave chatty interviews and appeared on the covers of tabloids. Everyone wanted to meet her, to take her out, and to invite her to parties; and she took all the invitations that came her way. She had a whale of a time. Soon she was known around the city as the wild girl, painting the town red. Ndlovu did not like her hogging the publicity and bringing him and his show unwelcome publicity; six months later, when her contract came up for renewal, he sacked her.
But by then, Khanyi had run into Mandla. Mandla was doing more or less what she was doing — he was picking up girl friends, going to bars, driving around in his Porsche, and generally having a good time. Soon they teamed up. Every evening, after her performance, they would go to bars, drink, dance and sing. They would get to his place around 3 am, do what remained to be done, and then sleep till 2 pm. Then Mandla would take Khanyi shopping. Soon she had 600 pairs of shoes. The time came when there was no more room for her clothes in their bedroom.
Khanyi’s father ran a taxi business. Mandla bought him a house worth 1.5 million rands. As a reporter wrote, “She is known for little other than having a to-die-for collection of shoes and a 51-year-old accessory, hubby Mandla Mthembu, who swipes his credit card the minute he gets bored.” But Khanyi had no regrets: “This is everyone’s dream — now that it’s happened why should I feel sorry for myself' We’re so quick to hear about black people suffering or our country’s economy going down — why can’t we celebrate what God has given you and say: ‘It happened to me, it could happen to you.’”
All this togetherness led to love, and Mandla married Khanyi. The wedding was conducted by Masibulele ‘Hawk’ Makepula, three times world flyweight boxing champion. Hawk is 33, and can see the end of his boxing career approaching. So he is taking a degree in theology in Rhema Bible College in Johannesburg. He cannot yet do a full-scale church wedding. But he did the preaching at the wedding of Khanyi and Mandla, and no one bothered to doubt that he had married them.
As often happens after such hectic love-making, Khanyi delivered a 2.67 kilogram, 48 centimetre baby at 6:30 pm on December 24, 2006. Then she and Mandla went and bought a pram for 80,000 rands. The baby was just a distraction. Khanyi and Mandla soon resumed their high life.
On April 19, they went to the South African Music Awards, which went on and on. At the party after the event, Mandla was feeling peckish. He picked up a pie from the tray of a waitress passing by. Khanyi told him off for lacking class. A row began that went on till they were in their 6-million-rand penthouse in Melrose Arch. He accused her of having an affair with Thokozani. She nearly died laughing. She said Thokozani was a gay; how could she have an affair with him' Mandla slapped her. Khanyi stormed out and went back to her mother.
She has been incommunicado, but Mandla has been giving statements to the swarming media, and denying them. He said that Khanyi was a gold-digger, and denied it. He said he was feeling suicidal, and then denied it. The saga has not ended. Even till now it has proved much more fun than Aishwarya trudging through temples in the company of in-laws or Shilpa being repeatedly bent by Gere. South Africans are luckier in their celebrities.