It has been viewed as unimaginable by many.“We have never seen a scam of such a large magnitude with such a vast number of victims,” said Dlamini.
The man who allegedly scammed almost 300 people, luring them to the city using a bogus SANDF recruitment agency appeared in the Pretoria North Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday.
And while waiting for court proceedings, his entourage threatened and swore at the Pretoria News team.
Petrus Ndaba, 55, commonly known as “The General” by his “recruits”, will remain in custody until his next appearance on July 5. He faces charges of fraud and theft.
SANDF spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini said bogus recruitment agencies had been a problem since 2010, but admitted that the latest scam in Karen Park was by far the biggest.
The SANDF could not confirm or deny that Ndaba was a colonel in its ranks, as claimed. “We are not aware of Ndaba being part of the defence force, but we can’t deny it either; a background check will have to be conducted,” he said.
Dlamini encouraged the public to report such activities, or any people who solicited money from them with the promise of integration into the SANDF, to the nearest police station or army base or station. Red flags should be raised when a person requested money in exchange for employment.
“It does not cost money to join the SANDF. Members of the public are urged to report such activities if any person or persons solicit money from them with the promise of a job in the SANDF.”
He said the SANDF advertised jobs annually in national newspapers, as well as on its websites. “Once again, it is illegal to take advantage of young people by promising them integration into the SANDF.”
Ndaba first shot into the spotlight in 2014 when he led about 200 members of a group of army veterans called Amabutho Royal Defence on a march to the Union Buildings.
The group called for President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa Nqakula, to integrate then into the SANDF.
He argued that Amabutho Royal Defence had the right to be absorbed into the army just like uMkhonto weSizwe and the Azanian People’s Liberation Army.
But this is not the first time Ndaba has hit the spotlight over alleged misrepresentations and making people to pay for services not rendered.
Last year, he was also in hot water for allegedly luring former Namibian freedom fighters to Pretoria on promises of pension payouts for their services during the pre-independence war in that country.
According to the men who heeded his call, they were kept prisoner and assaulted before they were ordered out of South Africa.
In the same year, Ndaba also promised former members of the South West Africa Territorial Force and Koevoet soldiers payouts from the former apartheid government.
On Tuesday, a group of young people aged between 18 and 30 were discovered on the streets of Karen Park, north of Pretoria, with bags, blankets and other belongings.
He allegedly brought them to the city on the pretext of training them for SANDF jobs. They had been kicked out of a house because of unpaid rent.
The Akasia police arrested Ndaba after the Department of Social Development swooped on the area, providing food and water for the group said to have slept outside in the cold for three days.
They rescued the young people, allegedly duped into paying “exorbitant sums of money for training and enlisting in the SANDF”.
The victims were recruited mostly from KwaZulu-Natal and they had reportedly paid between R300 and R800 for registration R1800 for training, as well as R200 a month since last year.
Ndaba is alleged to have demanded payment for lodging from them as well. He also promised them a salary of R13 000 a month and said they would be given the opportunity to study further.
The men and women shared a three-bedroomed house with one bathroom and used two Wendy houses, with males and females sleeping together. Some slept in the kitchen, passages, dining room and lounge.
They also had field exercises or full-scale rehearsals of military manoeuvres as practice for warfare.
After completing their exercises, the recruits said they were forced to do house chores like cleaning, painting the walls and even plumbing and pavement installations.
It is alleged that Ndaba then solicited favours from female recruits like massages. He allegedly groped them and had them rub his feet and back.
Spokesperson of the Department of Social Development Mbangwa Xaba said they were pleased with the progress the rescued “recruits” were making.
They were provided with temporary shelter at the Salvation Army where they would be accommodated while investigations continue.
Xaba said they would be taken to their homes in their respective provinces.
He said some had suffered psychological damage and would be assisted with counselling by relevant government departments.