For 20 years Harold Manus saved his hard-earned money to ensure his family would be secure if anything happened to him.
He stored it underneath a pile of linen in a kist – a gift his wife received for her 21st birthday – in the bedroom of his Plattekloof home. Only he and his wife knew it was there.
Today, however, not a cent of his savings remains and Linda Mabhengu, his domestic worker of six years, has been accused of stealing it.
In papers before the Western Cape High Court, Manus claims there was R900 000 in the kist.
However, Mabhengu told police in a statement after her arrest that she stole only R150 000. She said she used it to buy a house in Delft and a red Fiat Uno.
She is on trial for theft and is expected to appear in in Bellville Regional Court again in May.
However, Mabhengu’s legal woes did not stop there.
Last year the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) obtained a Western Cape High Court order allowing it to attach the car and the house she bought.
The items are under the control of court-appointed curator, Quinton Joseph.
The AFU wants to return to the High Court to apply to have the items forfeited to the State, but could not proceed because the application has not been served on Mabhengu.
She no longer lives at the address provided and AFU investigators haven’t been able to find another address.
A tenant lives in the face-brick Delft house, which has a pool table and arcade game machines in the garage.
The tenant was reluctant to be named but confirmed that Mabhengu and her husband used to live in the house. He rented it through an agent but had heard that it might be auctioned off soon.
The court granted an order on Monday allowing the AFU to give Mabhengu notice of the application by publishing it in the newspaper.
Manus told the Cape Argus on Monday he was aware of the AFU application. He said he had already testified in the criminal trial and the incident had taught him a valuable lesson.
“I can assure you that there’s not half a cent in this place now… Since then I have never employed a domestic worker and I doubt that I ever will,” he said.
Manus said he had been saving for 20 years to ensure that his family would have money if he wasn’t able to take care of them financially.
“We are a tight family… my heart just said that, if something happens to me, make sure they’re okay,” he said.
Only he and his wife knew there was money inside the kist and it was buried underneath the linen the couple and their two children stored in it.
Manus explained that there was a television set on top of the kist and it was so heavy he never thought that anyone, including Mabhengu, would be able to lift it and discover his hidden treasure.
However, to his dismay, he received a telephone call on May 20, 2010, to say his savings were gone.
In an affidavit before the High Court, AFU financial investigator Robertha Ruiters said Manus received the call from someone who claimed to be Mabhengu’s husband, Mandlenkosi.
The caller told Manus that Mabhengu had stolen the money.
Manus initially didn’t believe the caller but soon realised it was possible when the caller started describing envelopes he kept in the kist, Ruiters said.
In a separate statement Manus gave police after the incident, he said: “(The caller) said to me to go to my TV and where the kist is. The money is in there.”
The caller told Manus he would provide a full explanation of how the money was spent, and asked to meet him.
After ending the call, Manus checked the kist and saw that the money was missing.
While still in his bedroom, he received another call from the same person, and asked him how he knew that Mabhengu had stolen the money.
The caller claimed that he had helped her count it and that she had used it to buy a car and a house.
The caller also asked Manus to meet him the next day and said he would give full details of the alleged theft in return for R5 000.
On May 25 that year, Manus took Mabhengu to Parow police station, where she was detained after he laid theft charges against her.
She made a statement in which she admitted stealing R150 000.
She said she used R19 000 to buy the Fiat Uno, and that she also bought a house in Delft and used some of the money for minor renovations.
Police also interviewed her husband, Mandlenkosi Alfred Mabhengu, who denied calling Manus.
In a statement, he said he thought she had bought the Uno with money she had obtained from a “money-saving organisation”.
She told him she bought the house with money she had received at work.
He said he thought her conduct was suspicious, but added that he did not want to ask any questions because it could have led to an argument.
Police later established that she bought the vehicle for cash at a service station in Mitchells Plain. It was registered in her maiden name, LP Salaze, in December 2010.
In addition, police obtained a statement from Nathan Stremmers – the seller of the Delft house – who said Mabhengu paid him R45 000 and they had a verbal agreement that the house would not be transferred to her until she paid another R40 000.