Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Former Catholic bishop was in thick of dodgy business deal

The Roman Catholic Church was not only mysteriously deeply involved in a dodgy cross-border business deal in which the old Directorate of Intelligence Services (DISS) loomed large, its former national head was also one of the key players.

Documents from the Registrar of Companies and Intellectual Property Authority (CIPA) show that Bishop Valentine Seane was appointed director of a company called Bears Breeches Enterprises on May 24 2012. This company has been linked to Botswana’s most unique car wash that currently does business at the Airport Junction mall in Gaborone. The name of another senior Catholic Church, Father Andrew Godiraone Makgetla, also appears in company documents.

Bears Breeches would controversially come to run a franchise of Sparkling Auto Care Centre of South Africa under the auspices of a company calledKgang tsa Rona. The latter is owned by Thulaganyo Boiditswe and Tshepo Makgalemele who had secured a Citizen Entrepreneurial Development Agency (CEDA) loan and a Sparkling franchise.

Sparkling Auto Care Centreis aone-stop-shop that gives vehicle owners the opportunity to have their vehicles washed as well as to have minor interior and exterior repairs done under one roof and while they shop. The interior and exterior work includes paintless dent repair, window tinting, headlight renewal and wheel repair. It also offers the services of a web café. Having secured the franchise, Kgang Tsa Rona had hoped to operate the Sparkling Auto Care Centre Botswana but that never happened.

The CEDA loan took too long to come even as the Botswana centre took shape at Sparkling South Africa’s expense. That provided motivation for the Sparkling Auto Care Centre of South Africachief executive officer, Cornelius Gustafson, to cast his eyes elsewhere.

He cut Kgang Tsa Rona out of the deal and became a director in Bear Breaches Enterprises – in which the Roman Catholic Church, represented by Bishop Valentine Seane, had a 50 percent stake. In contravention of the law, however, Bear Breaches Enterprises used Kgang Tsa Rona’s trading licence to start doing business at Airport Junction. When the operation started, most staff members were members of the Roman Catholic Church.

The situation unravelled when some Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry officials, including the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ruth Seipone, conducted an inspection and found “some white people” at the carwash working as managers. (Here, “white” appears to mean foreign because there are white Batswana.) As required by city council bye-laws, the Kgang Tsa Rona trading licence was displayed on the wall. Seipone enquired from a Gaborone City Council licensing officer what whites were doing at a business reserved for Batswana. The ministry then started investigating this anomaly and during a meeting with GCC officials, Boiditswe and Makgalemele were asked if they were fronting for foreigners. Seipone would later instruct GCC to have the Kgang Tsa Rona licence displayed on the wall at Sparking Centre removed.

The carwash would manage to navigate the official system and stay in business as Techno Squad. It has now emerged that in August 2016, CIPA issued Techno Squad with a certificate of registration that permitted the company to do business as Sparkling Auto Care Centre Gaborone. Last month, Kgang Tsa Rona protested this registration. In a March 16, 2020 letter to CIPA, Boiditswe says that the approval of this name is unlawful because his company has already been approved to trade as Sparkling Auto Care Centre Botswana. Oddly, the companies – which are supposed to be separate entities – share a physical address and telephone number.

The fight over this very lucrative business (and name) goes back to 2012. In court documents of a since-ended lawsuit, Boiditswe and Makgalemele alleged that a DISS officer referred to only as David warned them off to stay off the Sparkling premises. What has been described as a “battalion of armed officers” from the Directorate swooped down on the two men as they had coffee at Cappuccino’s, a popular gastropub at the shopping mall. The men were arrested and court documents reveal the warning that David issued upon their release: “The plaintiffs were only told by one David who acted as the lead arresting officer in Setswana saying, ‘Banna, le seka la tlhola le dira jalo. Le bake gape le seka la tlhola le ya ko Sparkling’ meaning ‘Guys, don’t ever do that again and never go back to Sparkling’ or words to that effect.” 

Another CIPA document shows that Bishop Seane faded into the background, Father Makgetla (and the Catholic Church) stayed very much in the picture. Minutes of a July 15, 2014 meeting that was held at Unit 301 at Fairgrounds in Gaborone show that Makgetla represented the Church at a Techno Squad meeting that made two pre-incorporation resolutions. The other people attending the meeting were Reginald Phoi (chairing) and Dorcas Kgosietsile, who represented the Business Clinic. The first resolution reads in full: “It was resolved that the Roman Catholic Church with Father Andrew Godiraone Makgotla as its representative venture into a partnership with Reginald Gontse Phoi and Dorcas Kgosietsile where the Church will hold 50% of the shares.” The second reads: “It was resolved that Reginald Gontse Phoi will purchase these shares from the Roman Catholic Church once he has the funds available to do so.”

From what Sunday Standard learns, the Roman Catholic Church, a tax-exempt organisation, never sanctioned any business deal to be involved in the operation of the Airport Junction carwash.

Seane is now well and truly out of the picture having resigned as Bishop in August 2017 for what was diplomatically described as “personal reasons.” The resignation followed the publication of an explosive expose in Mmegi. The expose largely quoted the contents of a letter that Sisters of Calvary in Gaborone had written to the Holy See in Rome, Italy and copied to Eminence Archbishop Peter Wells in Pretoria, South Africa. In the letter, the authors claimed that Bishop Seane, who reported didn’t use a condom, had turned them into “sex toys” and that some of them had had to abort babies conceived from illicit sex.

On occasion, Seane would take trips to South Africa and by prior arrangement with the Mother Superior would have young nuns tag along. In the letter that Mmegi published, the nuns claimed of these trips: “He will spend days in expensive hotels raping us. He will be telling us that he is untouchable. To add credence to our ordeal, one member of the Sisters of Calvary, who happens to be the Bishop’s girlfriend, is now in Rome studying there. She has been sent to Rome under questionable circumstances.”

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Digital edition of The Telegraph, October 21, 2020.