There is a first for everything, and today was the first time in a career of 25 years that I have been physically and forcefully prevented from attending a corporate event.
The incident occurred on Friday morning at the Nova Property Group’s annual general meeting (AGM), held at the five-star Menlyn Boutique Hotel in Pretoria. It was an important AGM as it was the first opportunity for Nova’s shareholders to engage Nova’s board about its dire financial position.
The most recent set of annual financial statements was for the 2020 financial year. It was the third consecutive set of financial statements that Nova’s auditors had qualified and expressed concerns that material uncertainty exists for the company to continue to operate as a going concern. The CIPC also served Nova with a compliance notice, and the board had to prove its solvency and ability to trade as a going concern.
This is concerning as Nova is due to start repaying debenture holders at the end of 2021, in terms of the original Schemes of Arrangement, which tasked Nova to repay the R4.6 billion around 18 700 investors invested in Sharemax. Nova’s dire financial position, as highlighted by its auditors, makes this unlikely.
Nova’s Connie Myburgh and Dominique Haese
Physically and forcefully prevented from entering a conference room
I arrived at the AGM with a proxy form signed by an existing Nova shareholder. The proxy allowed me to represent the particular shareholder at the AGM. On arrival, Nova personnel verified and accepted the proxy, and I was required to adhere to Covid-19 protocols. For all practical purposes, I was allowed to attend the meeting.
However, a few minutes before the AGM was due to start, Nova CEO Dominique Haese, approached me and informed me that I would not be allowed to attend the meeting.
She said the reason was that my “inaccurate and damaging reportage about the Nova group over ten years” caused the group great harm and that “they” could not allow me to attend. She said the reportage caused Nova to miss out on several opportunities.
I asked Haese what authority she had that could prevent me from attending the AGM if I had a valid proxy, but she declined to answer the question.
Shortly after that, I walked to the door of the conference room where the AGM was to take place.
At the door, an individual, whom I believe to be Corrie van Rooyen, a senior employee of the Nova group, stood in the doorway and prevented me from entering. A burly security guard also suddenly appeared at my side, and he said he was tasked to prevent me from entering the conference room.
I asked Van Rooyen to allow me to access the meeting and for Connie Myburgh, Nova’s chairman and the chair of the AGM, to address my attendance at the start of formal proceedings. I also requested to speak to Myburgh.
Van Rooyen denied both requests.
At least one other attendee openly supported this proposal.
The security guard then entered the fray and firmly took hold of my arm, and pulled me away. After objecting, he released my arm. After I repeated my request to Van Rooyen, the guard pushed me away from the door with his forearms.
The guard then escorted me out of the hotel.
I have been covering the developments at the Nova group for many years, and I believe the company’s dire financial position is not due to my reporting, which I believe to be accurate.
The Nova board has on several occasions said that my reporting resulted in some institutions, especially financial institutions, not wanting to do business with the company due to perceived “reputational risk”.
I am aware of two such examples.
The first was in 2014 when Absa and Grindrod withdrew funding lines and potential future funding to the group. Grindrod also approached the Reserve Bank to dispel the notion that it would suffer “reputational risk” if it conducted business with Nova. The Reserve Bank refused to do so.
The second played itself out in 2018 when Standard Bank closed all of Nova’s bank accounts at the bank.
Nova has also laid numerous complaints about my reporting at the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa and the Press Ombud. However, to date, every single substantive complaint was judged to be unfounded.
For example, Nova lodged more than 30 complaints with the Ombud last year, all of which were dismissed.
Apart from dismissing the complaints, the Ombud wrote a special addendum to summarise the rulings. The addendum states, among other things, that Moneyweb should be “congratulated on its fair and balanced reportage, and to be encouraged in its efforts to continue holding public figures accountable to society – which is the reason for the existence of the media in the first place.”
Read: ‘Moneyweb committed its duty as the Fourth Estate’ – Acting Assistant Press Ombud
The Press Ombud’s Special Addendum can be read here.