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A BUSINESSWOMAN is set to take legal action against one of Africa’s biggest law firms, for allegedly agreeing to represent her company, taking her money and confidential information, and thereafter backing out while knowing it was on the panel of the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa) which was a respondent in the case.
Mendiswe Mzamane’s small black-owned business, Razoscan, was one of many approved loans for businesses from historically disadvantaged communities, but alleged corruption from Sefa left her with a major company loss when the entity allegedly gave her R3 million to a Greek national in 2015.
Mzamane said she was searching for trustworthy firms to assist her in retrieving her money from Sefa when she finally approached Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENSafrica) in December 2018 to represent her.
ENSafrica allegedly also failed to inform her that it was part of a group of 70 law firms on Sefa’s panel, until earlier this year after two other firms declined to represent her due to being on the same panel.
She said the sad part was that while she was in financial difficulties, she had to go through a fund-raising exercise to pay the firm R50 000.
In a January email sent to Mzamani by ENSafrica’s George van Niekerk, the latter argued that the matter had a long and tortuous history.
“Clearly there has been a complete breakdown in the relationship. It does not appear to me that it can be mended, and in these circumstances, I think your interests will be better served by appointing other attorneys. Having come to this view, we will refund your deposit of R50 000,” he said.
Even though ENSafrica has since reimbursed Mzamane, she said she was concerned that the firm could have played her in favour of Sefa and was sitting with her confidential information which could ruin her case in the Pretoria high court.
ENSafrica chief operating officer Lee Mendelsohn said: “You will no doubt appreciate that much of the detail which you are seeking from us is confidential and, as such, we are not permitted to share it with anybody. You are of course at liberty to request it directly from the persons/entities concerned, as you appear to have done.
“We can, however, confirm that we were on record for Mzamane in the matter to which you refer for some time, after which we ceased to act for her, for reasons entirely unrelated to those referred to by you.
“We can confirm that we are not and were not at any time relevant to Mzamane’s matter, on the legal panel of Sefa. We would caution you not to be drawn into publishing what are clearly false allegations,” he said.
However, Mzamane said the firm was lying, as they were in fact representing her at the same time as being on Sefa’s panel, as she made contact with ENSafrica only in December 2018, and finally made payment for services last year.
“They should have clearly known that they were on Sefa’s panel at that time before taking on my matter, as several other firms who I approached for help recently immediately declined me due to being on the panel. So, why did they choose to not warn me, like the others?” she asked.
ENSafrica was listed as the 70th service provider, one of the chosen legal entities on the panel of external legal attorneys for Sefa, for a period of three years, as published in 2018.
Mzamane said she was laying criminal charges against Sefa and ENSafrica over the matter. She had written to the Legal Practice Council (LPC) and Pretoria high court Judge President Dunstan Mlambo.
LPC communication manager Sthembiso Mnisi said Mzamane was within her rights to report the legal practitioners for misconduct.
Sefa did not respond to the questions pertaining to the matter after several calls and emails, and while ENSafrica had responded, at the time of publication they did not respond to questions around the allegations of a possible irregular bidding process.