A story first brought to light by this publication two months ago, in which a former Zimbabwean domestic cricketer has left a trail of victims in his wake following a series of fraudulent activities executed over a sustained period of time, has now been picked up by mainstream media in South Africa, the country Dumisani Mankunzini mainly performs his sneaky schemes from.
The Star, one of South Africa's most influencial national daily newspaper, reported at the beginning of this week how a devastated victim had lost close to
R500 000 to the unsuccessful former Zimbabwe Under-19 trialist -- between September 2018 and February last year -- tricked into submission by fake emails assuring him that the International Cricket Council (ICC, among several organisations claimed by Mankunzini as his employers, would reimburse all costs incurred.
The ICC, which allowed Mankunzini to cover the recently ended Under-19 World Cup in South Africa as a journalist, later rescinded the accreditation and issued a security alert for future events after media organisations he claimed to be representing, including our sister paper NewsDay, distanced themselves from the 29-year-old smooth-operator, once a very promising spin bowler on Zimbabwe's domestic cricket circuit.
As shown by our story of two months ago and The Star's own piece this week, Mankunzini's modus operandi is strikingly similar: the victims invest in the former cricketer's luxurious accommodation, road travel across the length and breadth of South Africa, flights and general upkeep.
Our story in December centred on a Johannesburg-based married Zimbabwean couple, who were also scammed of over R500 000 after going the extra mile of bankrolling a costly Mankunzini-run youth cricket tournament in Bulawayo last August, including buying two return air tickets for an all-expenses paid trip to Zimbabwe for the event's South African guest-of-honour Johan Vorster and his wife.
The victim featured in The Star's story, a Zimbabwean who runs a profitable small business venture in the Gauteng area, had also spoken to this newspaper last week of his "trauma" after being swindled out of a "fortune" by Mankunzini, who has since stopped picking up his calls or returning messages left on his phone.
The youthful entrepreneur from Bulawayo, Trust Nyoni, whose real name has been withheld at his request, related how he financed and accompanied Mankunzini on regular travels across South Africa, by road and air, to attend "real South African cricket activities with real people" who all appeared to know the ex-cricketer well and welcomed him warmly to their events.
Nyoni also told us how he received emails from Mankunzini's "bosses" committing to settle their employee's ballooning debts, and the names of the said employers -- Riaan Naidoo, R Singh, Faith James -- are the same fictitious characters prominent in separate cases in which other people were also duped.
"At some point, I started having doubts about him," said the victim. "But I felt I had already spent too much on this guy to quit."
We are also told that as Mankunzini's expenses swelled, so did his requests -- some of them quite odd. "Sometime last year, I had to move him into a new hotel because he said he no longer felt safe in the one he was as some people who were jealous of his cricketing achievements had found out about his whereabouts. He told me he was the top contender for the South Africa Under-19 coach job, so these jealousy people, both Zimbabweans and South Africans, wanted to kill him for that."
While Mankunzini appears to have successfully conned several people of substantial sums of money running into more than a million rands and most likely a lot more, there is a most puzzling thing in what he does, and why.
Whereas he has taken loans from people in cash, pocketed it and absconded, a huge chunk of the money victims testify to have lost to Mankunzini had paid directly for the ex-cricketer's lifestyle: road trips, flights, hotels, reaching glitzy cricket events, fine dining, tournament sponsorship and what have you.
While this enables Mankunzini to portray a lifestyle of wealth to those observing distantly, as he is known to, those that have been close up to him have witnessed a far cry -- stark contrast to the good life the man clearly desires, and what he wants people to see.
"He used to take sugar, coffee, soap and towels from hotels then keep the stuff in his bag," said the latest big-money victim, describing the half-a-million-rands swindle as a nightmare.
But what drives a very promising young man -- one with a whole life ahead of him and gifted with knowledge of an intricate sport like cricket -- to gain such notoriety yet have little to nothing to show for it?
There can only be one logical explanation: his tricks have been laid bare before he got to his chief target, the affluent circles of South African cricket, communities with big-hearted figures ready to open arms to somebody like Mankunzini, an underprivileged but charming young black Zimbabwean with something to offer in a once elitist sport. Basically, preying on people's good intentions.
So the honest and hardworking black people Mankunzini has been fleecing out of their investments are just stepping stones to a good reputation, and image, a status with which he can then position himself to hopefully hit a jackpot.
By gaining the trust of the wealthy white South African cricket community -- attending their events in exclusive spots across the country, flying between the cities, coaching their kids for free and getting as close as possible to the parents -- Mankunzini has been probably hoping to strike gold one day.
And it does not appear to bother Mankunzini in the slightest that those people who painstakingly acquired financial savings he has swindled in order to achieve his ends are honest folk just trying to eke out a decent living.
Now regarded as something of a villainous figure in Zimbabwean cricket, what further infuriates the growing list of those hoodwinked by him is Mankunzini's arrogance and increasingly desperate attempt to portray himself as the victim.
His utterances, in social media posts, blame his woes on the mischief of destructors, or "haters", as he likes to call them.For example, in two recent media reports, Mankunzini hotly disputed being the source of an ICC payslip, dated December 15 last year, which reflects his income and bonuses from the world cricketing governing body as amounting to US$103 500 (R1,56 million).
In both newspaper articles, Mankunzini -- who is known to providing his benefactors with falsified documents to back his supposedly strong financial status -- denied any knowledge of the fake ICC payslip, saying it was a creation of his enemies hellbent on tarnishing his good name.
However, based on a dossier obtained this week, this newspaper can exclusively reveal that the counterfeit ICC payslip indeed originated from Mankunzini, to convince Nyoni that he could refund the R18 000 loan extended to him by the Johannesburg-based Zimbabwean last November.
The files in our possession show that on December 8, one Jackie Strydom, acting on behalf of ICC, emailed the payslip to Mankunzini, stating the next pay date as January 25, 2020.
Mankunzini proceeded to send screenshots of the ICC payslip to Nyoni, attesting his ability to make the long overdue payment. And then on December 15 -- apparently reacting to increased pressure for payment guarantee -- the email that had been sent to Mankunzini from ICC seven days earlier was simply forwarded to Nyoni from Strydom's email address.
"I loaned him some money when he claimed to be hospitalised so he (Mankunzini) sent me the ICC payslip as guarantee that he was able to pay me back," Nyoni said.
"I met him through a political platform that we are both in, so we started communicating. It was then announced in the group that he (Mankunzini) wasn't feeling well. That's when I came to assist him with the medical bills of R18 000, including my own money and separate funds he asked me to outsource. He was supposed to pay back the amount of R23 000, and ever since he has been playing hide-and-seek."
Nyoni said Mankunzini, boasting about his wealth, claimed he had bought a house in a Johannesburg suburb for R1,5 million and that a big paycheck of his from ICC, worth thousands of US dollars, had been frozen by Stanbic Bank in Zimbabwe due to some bank-card complications.
There was a constant supply of documents to Nyoni as Mankunzini sought to convince the increasingly desperate creditor of his impeccable financial condition.
Last year, Nyoni was shown a memo from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) clearing the passage for a couple which had allegedly been detained by immigration authorities in Bulawayo while travelling to South Africa in the possession of US$25 000 belonging to Mankunzini.
The letter, dated November 6, 2019, appears on a basic RBZ logo, and signed by a Mrs EB Kanogoiwa, an "Investigation Officer" of the central bank's "Exchange Control Division."
Under the subject "Authorisation for Faith James (Passport number given) and Brendon James (Passport number given) to travel to South Africa with USD25 000", the letter further reads: "Please be advised that following the tip off from your department and ensuing investigation by the Exchange Control Unit, in conjuction (sic) with CID Fraud it was concluded that the funds in the person of one Mr Brendon James an one Faith James have been cleared. Said funds are of known origin with satisfactory docentation (sic) having been supplied. Said funds are for one Dr. Dumisani Mankunzini for welfare and medication. Kindly release said person from detention and allow to travel to desired destination."
It also emerged that the $25 000 which was to be delivered to Mankunzini in South Africa had supposedly been withdrawn from his Stanbic Bank account in Bulawayo so that the Mpopoma-raised ex-player, who claimed to be in poor health, could undergo medical treatment and care in India for a cardiovascular disease.
Zimbabwe Cricket (ZC) - who Mankunzini claimed to be one of his employers - were said to be funding the trip.We also have been furnished with the forged medical referral letter, forwarded to Nyoni as further proof of Mankunzini's unquestionable reputation, and signed by a fictitious ZC official named Simon Shoniwa.
"It has come to our attention that you suffered cardiovascular complications whilst in South Africa," read the ZC letter, addressing Mankunzini. "In line with our employee health policy and the on-going doctors' strike in Zimbabwe we have found it prudent that you seek specialist treatment at Appolo Hospital in Dehli, India. Due to the serious nature of your condition, bookings have been made for Monday 25 November 2019. Upon recommendation from the hospital you shall be booking for observation until Friday 29 November 2019. A member of the consulate shall welcome you at the airport upon arrival. We do wish you speedy recovery so that you can resume development work."
A month later, after Mankunzini had complained of inconveniences with his Zimbabwean Stanbic Bank account, he sent Nyoni a fabricated proof of payment from one of his supposed employers, CricinGif (not to be confused with ESPNCricinfo.com), to the tune of R87 000.
"The amount shall take 48-72 working hours to reflect in your account," stated the December 13-dated proof of payment, which had Nyoni's FNB Bank account details.
"The fake proof of payment was sent to me by his boss from CricinGif saying it was Dumi's allowances," Nyoni said. "Since he (Mankunzini) had problems with his bank account, his boss said he was using my back account to deposit the allowances. And since Dumi owed me R23 000, I was hen supposed to recover my money and then sent him back the difference."
Like others who have fallen prey to the former Matabeleland Tuskers B player, Nyoni was never repaid by Mankunzini, who has either disappeared or keep offering an endless list of excuses.
At the time of writing, in an apparent effort to shield himself from being the source of the fake ICC payslip as well as the RBZ memo, Mankunzini had been calling Nyoni this week pleading with him not to "talk to anyone" about it.