NOMPU SIZIBA: The former owners and management of Tekkie Town, which is owned by Pepkor, formerly known as Steinhoff Africa Retail, launched an urgent interdict yesterday in the Western Cape High Court against Steinhoff International and its subsidiary, Pepkor. The application sought to stop the respondents from dealing in Tekkie Town shares, the actual stores and Tekkie Town’s business. The reason for this approach is that the former owners of Tekkie Town are hopeful that their legal action to allow them to be restored as the rightful owners of Tekkie Town would ultimately succeed. So why take the latest action now?
Well, to update us on this story, as he always does, is Bernard Mostert, the former CEO of Tekkie Town. Thanks very much for joining us, Bernard. I tried my best to explain in the intro what the story is about, but perhaps you can just take us through what transpired in the court yesterday, and what was ruled?
BERNARD MOSTERT: Nompu, good evening. Yesterday we brought an application that will be heard on April 25, which is really an interim step for us to protect our right to reclaim our business, as Steinhoff continues to unravel. So what we are seeking is protection to ensure that what we lost, through what the company has now admitted are fraudulent activities and very gross misrepresentations, can actually be restored to us at the time when a court so rules.
NOMPU SIZIBA: We know that Steinhoff International has been on a major selling spree of late, to raise funds to deal with its debt situation. Are you concerned that it may contemplate Tekkie Town being next on the list?
BERNARD MOSTERT: Very much so. And of course Pepkor, because I think it’s common cause that Pepkor is continually trying to distance itself from Steinhoff, despite the fact that it is 71% owned by Steinhoff. Last year there were reports of an approach to buy it, or buy into the group. So for us it is a concern. Another exchange of the assets would cause further frustration in our journey of getting our business back. So this is really just an interim step to make sure that the Steinhoff delay and the delays that continue to happen don’t cause us to move further away from our goal [of reclaiming the business].
NOMPU SIZIBA: PwC’s report has come out fingering Markus Jooste and some of his associates for having fudged Steinhoff figures as far back as 2009 – isn’t it that report which has emboldened you guys even further in hoping that you will be restored as the rightful owners of Tekkie Town, because you were essentially sold a lie?
BERNARD MOSTERT: Absolutely. You couldn’t have put it any better. You used the term “fudged” – that fudge was R106 billion worth of fudge.
NOMPU SIZIBA: [Chuckling] A big fudge. The last time I spoke to you, you indicated that you and your colleagues go way back in terms of having established the Tekkie Town business. You left Tekkie Town when Pepkor took over, and it was an ugly mess. But the last time I spoke to you, you indicated that you guys were going to be setting up your own business that would also be selling shoes and sportswear and so on. Did that project succeed? Did it get off the ground?
BERNARD MOSTERT: Nompu, yes. It got off the ground despite very aggressive and sinister attempts by Pepkor to prevent us from doing so. But I’m very proud to say that we have 23 Mr Tekkie stores today. We got those in the space of three months, and the business is trading very nicely despite the tough economy. We are managing it in a way that is complementary to Tekkie Town. When we get it back we will have a bigger business to run, and we can see that customers respond very well to customer service and to the selection that we’ve put together in this new business of ours.
NOMPU SIZIBA: I hear a lot of confidence there. You said the hearing is happening on April 25, but how soon are you hoping that the business can be restored to you – or is it a very complex issue?
BERNARD MOSTERT: Ultimately a court will decide. It is not a simple explanation, but we exchanged our business for Steinhoff shares that were clearly marked what they were purported to be. We got them in a restricted fashion because we were required to turn around the basket of speciality stores within Pepkor that had been loss-making for a large number of years, and they required us to address that business.
So, when we were forced out of Pepkor, and after we had lost the value that we had created in building our own business, that led us to the logical path, which is that we need to use the systems that are available to us, the court, to address this restitution – which we’ve done. And we are very confident that we will succeed because it is very clear that Steinhoff was an elaborate fraud, and the company has acknowledged that. That’s not our statement; the company itself has referred to unlawful activities and is pursuing people in this regard.
NOMPU SIZIBA: Alright, Bernard, we’ll speak to you at the next juncture of your story, which continues to unfold. Thank you so much for your time, as always.