Zimbabwe: 'Cricketer Swindled Us of Life Savings'

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(File photo).

To Johannesburg couple Stephen and Thandiwe Moyo, fellow Zimbabwean Dumisani Mankunzini was a rich sports star living the dream life. He had presented himself to them as a high-flyer, a much-sought-after cricket player who had been signed for a whopping R16 million (US$1,1 million) by a South African team, a respected world cricket media personality, an extensively networked sports agent who got paid handsomely by big organisations like the International Cricket Council (ICC) -- and hobnobbed with wealthy global sports executives.

According to the couple and well-supported by a dossier of evidence collected by this newspaper, Mankunzini spoke of his healthy bank balance back home in Zimbabwe in addition to providing notification of new payments running into millions of rands and several thousands of US dollars.

To make the Moyos part with even bigger sums of money in loans, Mankunzini presented a series of documents -- complete with an interchange of messages that left no doubt of his strong financial position, good standing and reputation in the cricket world as well as lucrative job opportunities.

In July this year, he said he was at the World Cup in England working for some of the world's leading media outlets. He excitedly announced that Zimbabwe's cricket association had deposited into his account payment of US$86 000 for services rendered. He also forwarded to his creditors an email from an executive at his South African team -- Bank All-Stars -- acknowledging overdue payment of R6,7 million (US$461 000) as compensation after another club official was said to have embezzled funds meant for players.

But there was just one small matter: Mankunzini said he had damaged his credit card after mistakenly putting it in the laundry of his Johannesburg hotel room. He therefore needed to travel home to Bulawayo to replace it, but then there was another obstacle -- an official of Bank All-Stars, a certain Sandra Williams, could not release his passport because the team needed him to play.

By the time the Moyos started to harbour suspicions -- sensing that the email correspondence and WhatsApp exchanges of big-money deals could be self-generated, using names of fictitious characters -- Mankunzini had gobbled up more than half a million rand in loan from the couple, who heavily invested in the 29-year-old sweet-talker's upmarket lifestyle, as well as cricket projects in anticipation of a windfall on interest once he was able to pay back.

"Auntiza (Thandiwe), Zimcricket paid me. They paid me US$86 000, but u Sandra dololo (but Sandra is not reachable)," wrote Mankunzini on June 25 to Ndiweni as assurance to pay back what he owed.

"Zim cricket? Yiyo vele oyiholayo? (Are those your normal earnings?)," enquired Thandiwe, with Mankunzini replying: "Ikhwelile mbijana (it has gone up a bit)."

A particularly heart-rending moment was to discover that the Nkulumane-raised Mankunzini in fact led a different kind of life -- worlds apart from the one he had portrayed.

Hardly a household name in Zimbabwean cricket, he was a modestly-gifted club scene player good enough for just nine provincial second league cricket matches for Matabeleland Tuskers B in 2010 and 2011, before a back injury cut short his career.

"We are also from Zimbabwe, Bulawayo, and we thought we were helping a brother from home and that our investment in his cricket activities would be rewarded when he sorted his credit card issues," Stephen Moyo told IndependentSport from Johannesburg last week.

"These are our life savings, as things are, we might never recover our monies. We thought we had secured our future as a family. It just feels like a nightmare."

The investment Ndiweni speaks of, some R550 000 (US$37 900) in total, started with the couple paying for Mankunzini's three-month hotel accommodation at Bruma Lodge, a quiet establishment east of Johannesburg, close to OR Tambo International Airport.

In August this year, the couple proceeded to bankroll Mankunzini's development tournament, the Baines Junior School Winter Cricket Festival in Bulawayo, which runs under the Dumisani Mankunzini Cricket Initiative (DMCI).

Now acting as sponsor and anticipating a huge paycheque on their investment, the Moyos travelled with Mankunzini to Bulawayo by road using a hired Toyota Quantam vehicle, with the couple footing all tournament expenses.

It was in Bulawayo where they were finally going to be reimbursed for their expenses, now passing the half-a-million rand mark.Thandiwe says after the successful hosting of the tournament, Mankunzini asked them to drive to a building in central Bulawayo, Magnet House. She claims Mankunzini went inside and vanished, leaving them stranded before driving back to South Africa empty-handed and inconsolable.

A South African sports apparel manufacturer, BAS, was said to be the official tournament sponsor, but Thandiwe says the company did not make any contribution to the event as she and her husband were in charge from the word go.

Johan Vorster, a South African who played a single first-class match for Transvaal in the mid-1990s and also acquired playing and coaching experience in Australia, was invited to be the guest-of-honour at the Baines event.

Using funds provided by his benefactors, Mankunzini flew Vorster and his partner Aimee Megan Kirby from Johannesburg to Bulawayo. The double return ticket, shown to this newspaper, cost R14 470 (us$995) and Mankunzini's name appears under the "buyer" column.

Upon returning to South Africa, the couple stepped up efforts to recover their money. Mankunzini, who initially remained in touch by responding to messages and phone calls, explained that his disappearance in Bulawayo had been due to frustration and anxiety caused by failure to solve his bank account challenges.

In a recorded phone conversation with Stephen, he is heard pleading and asking for more time to pay. In the audio, he promised to make a part payment by September 16. The couple say Mankunzini has not paid anything to this day.

Also provided to this newspaper is a supporting document earlier in the year sent to the couple by Mankunzini when he began borrowing, showing that the South African team Bank-All Stars had bought him for R16 million (US$1,1 million).

It reads: "Leg spinner Dumisani Mankunzini will also suit up for the Bank All-Stars after an R16 million (US$1,1 million) purchase went through."

Included on the player signings list provided by Mankunzini were Zimbabwe national team pace bowlers Chris Mpofu and Donald Tiripano alongside Thamsanqa Nunu, a 21-year-old player who was part of Tatenda Taibu's Rising Stars Academy squad that spent a season in England in 2017.

Mpofu, as Mankunzini's teammate at Bank All-Stars, was said to have gone for a grand R36 million (US$2,476 million).

Tiripano and Nunu were said to have been signed by a team called Western Warriors for R11,5 million (US$791 000) and R2,5 million (us$172 000) respectively.

Mpofu last week confirmed that Makunzini had indeed arranged a deal for him to play a few games for Bank All-Stars, but said he was only going to receive modest pay "not anywhere close" to the said sign-on figures.

"He had got me a team in South Africa before I went to the Ireland and Netherlands tour (with Zimbabwe) in June and when I came back from Europe I couldn't go (to South Africa) because I was then selected to go to Bangladesh," Mpofu said.

In June, Mankunzini forwarded the couple a payment confirmation of US$29 128,12 into his Zimbabwean Stanbic Bank nostro account, deposited by "ICCWC", presumably referring to the "International Cricket Council World Cup."

Another payment followed immediately, curiously exactly the same amount of US$29 128,12, this time coming from a certain Piyal Matilal, one of Mankunzini's "bosses" who features prominently in WhatsApp and e-mail exchanges forwarded to the Moyos and others.

After the two payments, Mankunzini's Stanbic balance is left hovering well above US$300 000. Again in June, Mankunzini -- who said he was in the UK at the World Cup -- forwarded the couple an article he had supposedly filed from Southampton for leading South African sports website, Sport24.

The story, which still appears on the internet, headlined "Emotions running high as creaking Proteas face CWC collapse," was in fact penned by Sport24 staff writer Lloyd Burnard, who was in England to cover the World Cup for the online publication.

The South African journalist's byline, which appears twice on the article, is replaced by Mankunzini's name in both instances. For example, where it should be "@LloydBurnard (his Twitter handle)" at the bottom of the story, it was changed to: "@DumisaniMankunzini is in England covering the 2019 Cricket World Cup for Sport24 . . ."

Further investigations reveal that Mankunzini did not work at the World Cup, neither did he travel to the UK anytime this year.The Moyos - who have since lodged a police report - first met Mankunzini early this year when the former Bulawayo Athletic Club leg-spinner had just finished working for an Asian television network during Pakistan's tour of South Africa.

They were introduced to Mankunzini by another Zimbabwean, Lawrence Mareya, who operates a fleet of taxies in the Jo'burg area.While driving Mankunzini to his lodgings one day, Mareya - a cricket enthusiast - engaged in conversation about the game after finding out that his client knew it well.

Days later, Mareya says Mankunzini broke news to him that his bosses at Bank All-Stars had encouraged him to employee a "manager" to drive him around, amongst other personal assistant roles - with the club paying an attractive wage through Mankunzini.

Mareya, who says he was left thoroughly convinced after being shown regular activity of Mankunzini's overflowing bank accounts, was offered the job and accepted. Three weeks after the working relationship and then the complications with the credit card, Mankunzini asked his aide if he could secure a financial backer for him, to be paid with interest together with Mareya's dues.

Also from Bulawayo, Mareya proceeded to introduce Mankunzini to his friends - Stephen and Thandiwe Moyo. The couple took an immediate liking to their young charismatic new friend. They then took over responsibility for all his financial matters, a worthy investment, they thought, in the activities of a millionaire sportsman.

In the meanwhile, a now contented Mareya continued working for Mankunzini, travelling to Bulawayo as manager of the delegation to the Baines tournament in August.

An email written to Mareya by Bank All-Stars' Sandra Williams on May 3 acknowledges owing the transport operator R216 000 for work done for Mankunzini, and committing to pay.

"The money owed to you as of today is R216 000," stated the email. "It should all be paid by Monday latest and tomorrow they will pay you R133 000."

Just like the others, Mareya was never paid. He says Mankunzini stopped responding to his messages and calls, then blocked his WhatsApp number.

Before communication was severed between the two, Mareya was also shown an email, supposedly written by a certain Riaan Naidoo, another of Mankunzini's "bosses", who was livid in a message to a third party because of payment delays.

"Hi Robert," Naidoo wrote. "I believe you are not in the office yet and I would like to know the reason why you are not around. I told you very well that we will be leaving for Bloemfontein today and you haven't paid Dumisani and Lawrence. Now Dumisani is threatening not to play without money.

I need this sorted out in the next 30 minutes without fail. You know Dumisani can be a huge problem when it comes to money. We are lucky to have Lawrence who has been calming him down so for now can you do what is right for both of them. Lawrence needs to pay his bills before he leaves.Yours In Cricket, Riaan."

"He played this game very well," Mareya said of Mankunzini last week. "I never even got to meet these people: Sandra Williams, Riaan, Piyal, Robert. It was just email, email, email. When I asked for their phone numbers, he said 'you know, these people are too professional that's why they deal with emails, they want everything to be on record.' It's now clear that it was a scam, these people don't even exist. I tried to check on the internet, they are different people - nothing to do with cricket. I don't know how he was doing it."

Also testifying to have fallen victim to Mankunzini is a designing, branding, signage and printing agency - DesignJozi - which was hired to supply material for the Baines Junior Winter Cricket Festival in August.

Johannesburg-based DesignJozi manufactured all tournament clothing for players, coaches, media, catering and medical teams as well as formal wear for officials.

The invoice of R35 000, addressed to the general manager of Mankunzini's junior cricket development project, Mbongeni Ndebele, is also in our possession.

No payment has been done, according to sales representative Barnabas Milku, a Ghanaian national.

"The material was collected in August," said Milku. "He (Mankunzini) said he was in the UK so would be sending his twin brother to collect. It has turned out that he was the one who personally cane to collect."

Grievance against Mankunzini's deceitful tendencies do not all involves large amounts of money.Paul Barow, who runs an action sports centre in Jo'burg and says he considered Mankunzini a friend, has been told "story after story" since selling the Zimbabwean a brand new phone on credit in 2017, worth R2 000.

"It's not a lot of money, but it's the principle," South African Barow, who even offered Mankunzini relaxed payment terms in a message he sent him last month, told this paper last week.

"Pay me. Come on buddy," he wrote on November 27. "Just R500 a week."In another message to Mankunzini, Barow wrote: "So another Friday came and went and again you did not keep to your word. Where is the honour in your word and trust? Man of God who believes... "

Barow says he is patiently awaiting payment from Mankunzini, over two years later.In another WhatsApp exchange between the two friends, Mankunzini said his inability to pay had also been due to a close shave with death after he suffered two heart attacks in Cape Town - caused by "coke (coca cola) and chocolate" over-consumption.

"Hahaha ok," Barow reacted. "But you so young. Coke and chocs don't cause heart attack."To which Mankunzini replied: "Are u a doctor now buddy? I think u need to check."

IndependentSport first tried to obtain a response from Mankunzini two weeks ago. He initially requested that the questions be put in writing and emailed to him, which was done.

In our follow-up, Mankunzini said he had studied the questions, but preferred to respond over the phone.After choosing a date and time convenient to him, Wednesday afternoon last week, we made the phone call.

Mankunzini, this time, said he no longer wanted to speak on the phone. Instead he would be flying from Cape Town to Harare last Friday morning to meet us at 3pm.

On Friday when we reminded him, he said his flight was now landing at 18:15, rescheduling the meeting to that evening at his hotel.

When we enquired around 7pm if he had arrived, Mankunzini said he had been "delayed", but would definitely meet us the next morning - Saturday - over breakfast at the hotel.

Asked in the morning if he was indeed in Harare and now prepared to meet us, Mankunzini didn't respond, and never communicated again.

Taking into consideration that we had offered Mankunzini a fair opportunity within reasonable timeframe to state his side of the story, we decided to publish this story. *The Moyos and Mareya requested to use aliases saying they fear for their safety on trips back home.

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