Ralph Stanfield, the alleged head of South Africa’s notorious 28s organised crime gang, and his criminally co-accused wife Nicole Johnson have raked in millions of rands after becoming embedded in the construction of the strategic R3-billion King Air Industria project adjoining Cape Town International Airport.

An amaBhungane and Daily Maverick investigation reveals that Stanfield and Johnson’s construction and business empire became engaged with the King Air development through the Cape Flats Liberators (CFL), an obscure Cape Town entity styled as a community-based organisation.

At least one source with knowledge of police investigations into Stanfield and Johnson’s commercial endeavours claims that the multi-billion-rand development became one of their largest “legitimate revenue streams”.

The emergence of Stanfield and Johnson’s links to King Air’s construction has shone a light on their extensive commercial enterprise, which allegedly feeds from and into a broader landscape populated by allegations of murder, threats, extortion, police investigations and a lengthening list of arrests.

Read more: Spate of shootings in Cape Town linked to political, gang and construction mafia elements

Both Stanfield and Johnson have been detained without bail since September 2023 after their arrests for fraud and car theft.

The King Air project appears to be a significant step up for the couple, whose associated businesses had previously done work mainly for the City of Cape Town before being blacklisted by the metro.

It also represents a concerning mainstreaming of what the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime has dubbed Cape Town’s extortion economy, especially given that Stanfield and Johnson appear to have been onboarded without demur by Atterbury and Old Mutual because they can “deliver”.

Attorney Frans Mashele, who represents Stanfield and Johnson, declined to comment, stating that he did not have instructions to respond.

The 71-hectare King Air site is under development by international commercial property giant Atterbury Group and is financed by South Africa’s Old Mutual Property.

Atterbury Property, a subdivision of Atterbury Group, has a 99-year lease on the land it leases from the former King David Golf Club.

The King Air Industria business entity was created by Atterbury Property and Old Mutual when they formed an equal-share joint venture. Its directors are Atterbury Property’s Western Cape head of development Gerrit van den Berg and chief financial officer Dawid Kemp, along with Old Mutual Investment Group Property Investments deal originator Robin Patrick Bugler and strategic advisor Darryl Mayers.

amaBhungane and Daily Maverick have learned that Van den Berg and other executives met Stanfield and Johnson on several occasions over the years as part of the King Air development.

Now we can reveal that this construction is set to benefit the notorious couple thanks to the involvement of their various entities and associated companies, notably via CFL.

King Air is the Western Cape warehousing home of freight companies MorganCargo and the Courier Guy, as well as the retailer Truworths.

Construction began in earnest in January 2020. The site is located 2km from the Cape Town International Airport in Matroosfontein, parts of which are known 28s strongholds.

The overall construction is expected to be completed within the next seven years and Atterbury’s website states that King Air will eventually house 280 000m² of warehousing, logistics and distribution facilities.

Old Mutual’s spokesperson Nawhal Foster declined to comment for the article and referred all questions to Atterbury Group.

Threats – then, enter the Cape Flats Liberators

Atterbury Group founder and CEO Louis van der Watt told amaBhungane that when King Air’s construction commenced, local community members allegedly threatened the main contractor.

He said that the main contractor called police for assistance at the site a number of times but could not defuse the situation.As far as they knew, no formal cases were ever registered.

The disruptions were quickly quelled, however, after King Air appointed CFL as its community liaison.

According to sources with knowledge of the CFL, it is little more than a front for Stanfield, with its sole director being his sister Francisca Stanfield.

Francisca Stanfield failed to respond to questions which were Whatsapped to her.

Until his killing in Cape Town’s suburb of Belhar in March 2023, another man linked to Stanfield, Ernest McLaughlin, was also a CFL co-director.

A police investigator previously told the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court that McLaughlin had worked for Stanfield.

Read more: Murdered suspect’s signature suggests company ‘linked to 28s gang’ won defence contract

AmaBhungane and Daily Maverick can reveal that the CFL was hired to source unemployed workers and struggling businesses from surrounding communities for King Air’s construction and to identify a community social development organisation whose projects could be funded by Atterbury and Old Mutual.

Among those hired were businesses and associates linked to Stanfield and Johnson, including Johnson’s construction company Glomix House Brokers.

Van der Watt said that Glomix was appointed because it was the only community owned company at the time, “that we were aware of, that had the necessary skills and expertise to deliver”.

Charges

Stanfield and Johnson currently face an array of criminal charges.

Some stem from a 2014 case involving allegations that three (now former) police officers at the country’s Central Firearm Register created fraudulent gun licences for them and their associates. The other accused in the case include Francisca Stanfield and, until his murder, McLaughlin.

While out on bail in that matter, Stanfield and Johnson were arrested for fraud and car theft and have thus far been denied bail.

Stanfield also faces an attempted murder charge relating to allegations that in 2022 there were plans to have an employee killed after he allegedly stole R1-million from Stanfield and Johnson.

Read more: ‘I want to empty a gun in his head’ – chilling affidavit about alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield’s ‘plans’

Together with three co-accused in their latest case, they are due back in the Cape Town Magistrate’s court on 27 June 2024.

In April 2024 Stanfield’s brother Kyle was arrested for defeating the ends of justice after Stanfield allegedly asked him to remove items – seen as potential evidence – that police planned to seize for their car theft and fraud investigation.

Read more: Nearly R5-million cash, luxury watches seized as 28s gang boss accused Ralph Stanfield’s brother arrested

The blacklisting of Glomix

Over the years Glomix has become increasingly controversial. Concerns first surfacing publicly nearly five years ago, when the company was awarded a City of Cape Town tender to build houses in the suburb of Valhalla Park.

Parts of the suburb, which borders King Air, are also known 28s strongholds.

In March this year, National Treasury blacklisted Glomix.

Read more: Glomix ban — Treasury blacklists 28s gang case accused Nicole Johnson’s company for 10 years

According to a Treasury document, the City of Cape Town Metropolitan Municipality authorised the blacklisting, which remains in effect until 27 March 2034.

In December 2023 the City of Cape Town confirmed that it had blacklisted seven companies linked to Johnson “based on the risk they pose to the city’s reputation”. This included Glomix.

Last year Daily Maverick reported that Glomix was still involved in building houses for the City.

Atterbury’s rationale for involving Stanfield in their R3bn project

Despite Stanfield and Johnson’s accumulating criminal accusations and the controversy around Glomix, Van der Watt remains unfazed.

In interviews and in written responses, he has confirmed that Stanfield, Johnson, their businesses, associations and associates have been involved in the development.

“While I do not approve of what Stanfield is allegedly doing, it is something for the police and the Western Cape government to sort out. It is the job of the police to investigate, arrest and put people in jail, not mine. If that happens then I will work with whoever the next person is who the community elects to work on this project.

“I am not saying what we do is the right way, but working with community elected businesses and people is the only way we can operate in areas like these.

“Do I know that we work where there is a Ralph on the other side? Of course I do.

“Am I happy? Of course I am not.

“But, that is the representative the community has put forward, and as long as the community and the police do not do anything about it, I am not going to say that I am not going to work with this guy.

“To be honest I do not think it is my problem.

“As long as Ralph continues to represent the community and as long as I don’t have to pay over and above what I should be, then I will continue to work with him.”

Van der Watt said they always looked to involve a local community first.

“That has been a strategic decision of ours since 2010. It is what we did with this project when we involved the Matroosfontein community.”

He said Atterbury was one of the few companies in South Africa that managed to build in certain so-called mafia-controlled areas and did so by involving communities from the onset of their projects.

“We do this because we know the police will not help at all. The sad fact is that the police are simply not interested in sorting out the construction mafia so we are left with no other choice, but to adopt our community approach.”

Disappear?

“The only way to make the construction mafia disappear is if we ensure we work directly with the communities. The mafias disappear because communities get upset if they [the mafia] become involved in a project.”

He said their community approach involved allocating a portion of a project’s monies to local communities.

“We do this in two ways, by employing people and businesses from the community and by funding charities identified by the communities. This includes supporting feeding schemes and paying for children to go to school and university.”

He said that at the beginning of every development they identified who the community leaders were and engaged them.

“They [the leaders] then appoint a community liaison officer. In this case it was the CFL. We do not care who the liaison officer is as long as the community says that is their representative.

“We pay the liaison officer a salary. It is their job to identify people and businesses from their community who have the necessary skills which we need for a specific project. They also identify the charities which we fund.

“From the onset we ensure the liaison officers make it known that while we will employ people from the community first, we will not compromise on quality of work and will not pay a premium for work that is to be done.”

The ‘liberators’ playbook

Van der Watt’s breezy deference to “the community” appears to elide a more prosaic process.

A Special Investigating Unit statement issued in December 2023 flagged Stanfield and Johnson’s operation as part of the so-called “Construction Mafia”.

Referencing recent successes of the National Priority Committee on Extortion and Violence at Economic Sites, the statement lauded the “notable recent arrest… of alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield and his wife, Nicole Johnson”.

The SIU claimed that ”several Cape Town construction contractors had to abandon government housing construction sites following alleged acts of intimidation and violence. Thereafter, the Western Cape Government’s human settlements department awarded Johnson’s company, Glomix House Brokers, the contracts for completing these abandoned projects.”

This seems to be how Johnson and Stanfield managed to become involved in the King Air project.

Van der Watt said that after disruptions during the construction’s initial phase, local residents demanded they be hired.

He said the residents then nominated the CFL as their representative whose responsibility was to help find, among the unemployed local residents and struggling businesses, correctly skilled people who could work on the site.

Van der Watt said that the CFL, which stopped the disruptions, was hired, and was paid R75 000 a month for its services.

He stressed that payments were only made while construction activities were taking place on the site.

“No payments have been made since Aug 2023, due to no services rendered.”

By amaBhungane and Daily Maverick’s calculations, the CFL would have been paid nearly R3-million for the services it delivered between January 2020 and August 2023.

Asked for a copy of the CFL agreement, including how many local community members and businesses were employed and how much CFL was paid in total, Van der Watt declined to comment and said the agreement was confidential.

amaBhungane and Daily Maverick have established that among those who were hired thanks to the CFL were Glomix and GParm Protection Services.

Last year this security company found itself caught up in a vicious spat involving Stanfield and Johnson and the then owners of a controversial Cape Town nightclub and eatery in which Johnson’s mother Barbara is a 50% shareholder.

Hopenest

Information uncovered during this investigation shows that as well as the CFL bringing Glomix onto the King Air project, it was also instrumental in linking Nicole Johnson’s Hopenest Foundation to the development by ensuring it became the preferred “community upliftment partner”.

On its website, Hopenest markets itself as an organisation working in disadvantaged communities running feeding schemes and skills development initiatives while helping to establish community safety programs.

Van der Watt confirmed that CFL had introduced Hopenest.

Hopenest, according to CIPC records, was established as a non-profit company in December 2020 with Johnson, her mother Barbara and associate Rachel Samantha Abrahams appointed as directors.

Abrahams is also an accused in the fraudulent firearm licences case against Stanfield and Johnson.

Barbara Johnson resigned in September 2023 shortly after Suraya Manuel, who is an accountant, was appointed co-director. Both were arrested in May, along with Glomix’s quantity surveyor Phakamisa Nondabula.

Their arrests are linked to Kyle Stanfield’s April arrest for defeating the ends of justice charges which relate to his alleged attempts to remove evidence linked to his brother’s case.

Manuel, Nondabula, Kyle and Barbara Johnson, were released on R10 000 bail each and are due back in court on July 26.

Approached for comment, Manuel’s lawyer Bruce Hendricks said he had been instructed not to.

How the money flowed to Stanfield, Johnson and co.

Calculations by amaBhungane and Daily Maverick, based on an analysis of data as well as information provided by Atterbury and other sources, suggests that to date Stanfield and Johnson have directly and indirectly earned over R52,2-million from the King Air development.

The direct payments were to Glomix for the work it did on-site.

The indirect payment sources come from the R210-million the project’s main construction contractor, Abbeydale Cape, paid to the 37 local Matroosfontein-based subcontractors it hired.

Citing confidentiality agreements, Abbeydale Cape’s managing director Pierre Rousseau refused to reveal how much the company itself was paid, the identity of its subcontractors or how much these subcontractors were paid.

However, information amaBhungane and Daily Maverick have seen shows that the company received some R300-million for its work on the project.

Information also suggests that after paying its subcontractors the R210-million, Abbeydale Cape then split the remaining R90-million in half, paying R45-million to Glomix, while keeping the other R45-million.

It is not known what agreement led Abbeydale Cape to pay Glomix this R45-million.

Rousseau described it as “normal practice” for Abbeydale Cape to subcontract 75% of the value of a project’s work. Subcontractors were drawn from a list jointly prepared by their employer’s quantity surveyor.

“Abbeydale Cape has worked with several of these subcontractors before. Local community subcontractors made up a portion of the employed subcontractors.

“The subcontractors in turn subcontracted other subcontractors. Abbeydale Cape’s subcontractors are not required to share the details of the subcontractors they contracted with.”

Rousseau said it was a requirement that their subcontractors were registered with all of the necessary regulatory bodies that allowed them to qualify for specific work.

He also confirmed that they had interacted with Ralph Stanfield, Kyle Stanfield, Nicole Johnson and her mother after they subcontracted Glomix onto the project.

“Glomix was subcontracted because it is registered with the Construction Industry Development Board (CIDB). A company’s registration and grade with the CIBD is regarded as a licence to trade with the government and as such carries the credibility we require during our screening process.”

amaBhungane and Daily Maverick have learnt from Van der Watt that Glomix was directly paid R7.2-million for constructing the site’s main gatehouse, irrigation pump room, centralised sprinkler pumps, tanks and electrical substation.

“This is a market related price for the work done. To be honest we are very happy with the work, and the fact that we did not overpay for the work that was done.”

But wait, there’s more

AmaBhungane and Daily Maverick have established that there were also other payments, with more allegedly still to come.

These payments were via associates, including the CFL and Hopenest, which King Air has signed agreements with.

According to Van der Watt, Hopenest was to help identify community development projects to fund.

Asked for copies of the CFL and Hopenest agreements, Van der Watt declined “as they contain standard confidentiality provisions … [and] we are not able to make it available to third parties without consent …”.

He said that the Atterbury Trust, which is the social corporate responsibility arm of Atterbury Group, was holding R1.2-million for Hopenest.

“The payment agreement with Hopenest was that it would be paid R37 per m² of land constructed.

“To date R1,212m has been set aside for Hopenest. The calculation of this amount is that since the agreement was only concluded after certain buildings were complete, we agreed Hopenest would receive R300,000 in respect of those completed buildings. We have then further developed and sold land, which equates to R912,000.”

Given that King Air will eventually accommodate 280 000 m² of warehousing, the community projects identified by Hopenest should, once construction is completed, have received an estimated R10-million.

Asked why Atterbury Trust had not paid over any monies to Hopenest, Van der Watt said it  had been unable to provide proof that it was a registered non-profit welfare organisation and that it was tax compliant.

He said while some discussions were held on the funding of early childhood development, school upgrades and skills development programs, Hopenest had yet to identify specific projects for this funding.

“Hopenest has not provided reasons as to why it is not registered. There is no deadline for when it has to complete its registration.”

However, amaBhungane and Daily Maverick have learned that Hopenest’s tax issues were resolved last year.

It is not known whether the lack of government registration is now the only reason Atterbury Trust is not making the R1.2-million available.

Van der Watt stressed that “up to today not a cent has been allocated to Hopenest and will not be until proof is provided”.

“The money remains very much under Atterbury Trust’s control. The money will also not go directly to Hopenest. Rather it will go to identified projects which we will have vetted. Only once Atterbury Trust is happy will the funds be signed off.”

Stanfield’s links to King Air’s security provider

Stanfield and Johnsonalso have ambitions in the private security industry, apparently inter alia through GParm, which provides security at the King Air site.

GParm also provides security at the Ayepyep Lifestyle Lounge in Cape Town, a nightclub and restaurant that was previously at the centre of a controversy also involving Stanfield and Johnson.

Ayepyep’s former owner, Kagiso Setsetse, last year effectively accused Stanfield and Johnson of trying to dominate the business.

Stanfield then made counteraccusations.

The matter became a legal spat and in September 2023, shortly before Stanfield and Johnson were arrested in the fraud and car theft case, it emerged that a settlement had been reached with Setsetse, who sold his Ayepyep Cape Town shares to Johnson’s mother Barbara, giving her a 50% stake in the business

Read more: Legal settlement – Cape Town luxury venue Ayepyep to reopen after gang and extortion accusations spat

Van der Watt said that GParm was introduced to the King Air project through the CFL.

He emphasised that GParm was chosen from the list of companies residents provided to the CFL.

“Whether Ralph is involved in security has nothing to do with us,” Van Der Watt said.

“We were never threatened [to employ them]. I am happy with the price and with the quality of their work.”

Van Der Watt added that “GParm was subjected to due diligence prior to contract negotiations.

“It has been fulfilling the security at the park for the last three years, on market related terms and conditions.”

Approached for comment, GParm’s director Sigqibo Sithole said: “I am bound by confidentiality and non-disclosure agreement. The business is on sale. I am therefore not in a position to comment on any questions on this matter.”

Based on a 2022 report to the City of Cape Town’s human settlements portfolio committee, GParm was previously appointed, along with two companies including Glomix, on a housing project. 

The contact person on that report was Siphokazi September.

In January this year the City confirmed that September, its then housing director, had been dismissed.

This appears to be linked to allegations by City Manager Lungelo Mbandazayo that

officials were “tailor-making” tenders for “companies linked with the underworld”.

“The investigation also saw some of the officials from the Human Settlements Department being suspended and others are attending disciplinary hearings,” 

Mbandazayo reportedly told the Cape Argus.

Fueling ambitions

Atterbury’s Van der Watt also confirmed that “the community” had tabled the idea of  developing a bulk fuel depot but said the plans had fallen through.

“King Air Industria was approached to develop a bulk fuel depot by members of the community. These were high level initial discussions. These plans have since been rendered not financially feasible, have subsequently been cancelled and no future plans are in place to develop a fuel depot.”

Stanfield and Johnson co-own a petrol station in Bishop Lavis, Cape Town, and Johnson owns a company, NJ Diesel, which had a bulk supply contract with the City of Cape Town. Van der Watt would not say whether they were involved in the bulk fuel depot project, and the facts remain unclear.

What is clear is that Stanfield and Johnson have big ambitions to move into the formal economy and there are enablers on hand to help them do it.

AmaBhungane and Daily Maverick have tracked another major example of this.

Stay tuned.

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