In just over ten days’ time some more of the intriguing plot details in the ex-Tekkie Town vs Star saga will be revealed. It involves a tale of several court cases, spiked with accusations of espionage, IP theft, sabotage, computer theft, bribery and corruption, incitement, back-stabbing, illegal occupation, deceit, possible perjury and a few other vices that would be the envy of the plot writers of The Game of Thrones. The only missing accusation is State Capture.

July 31st is the deadline for former Tekkie Town executives Braam van Huyssteen, Bernard Mostert, Willem Wait and Anton Roetz, plus various businesses owned by Van Huyssteen, to respond to the temporary interdict obtained against them by Steinhoff Africa Retail (Star) in the Western Cape High Court on July 6th.

Not only does Star want the respondents interdicted from accessing or interfering with Tekkie Town’s IT system, server, or network or any Tekkie Town hardware, software or data, nor make use of any data, intellectual property, cloned hard drives or copies of Tekkie Town staff emails – they also want the case referred to the prosecution authorities.

But, as everybody who enjoys a good court drama knows, there are always two sides to a story, which a judge will have the privilege to unravel, once all the facts are before him on July 31st.

Until the end of the month, the principal characters are refraining from commenting – except in lengthy affidavits filed in court. Other players have, however, been more forthcoming.

From the information currently available to us, we’ve assembled the following plot puzzle pieces (we won’t repeat the earlier chapters, covered here and here), except to clarify new information pertaining to the mass walkout of Tekkie Town staff on June 26th:

Early in June this year, following the removal of Tekkie Town founder Braam van Huyssteen as chairman of Star’s Speciality Footwear and Clothing division, 23 very angry Tekkie Town employees tendered their resignations. Former Speciality Footwear & Clothing (and Tekkie Town) CEO Bernard Mostert tried to convince them to stay, and even called an emergency meeting in George on June 18th, addressed by Star CEO Leon Lourens, to try and stop the resignations.

According to an eyewitness the employees told Lourens in fairly explicit terms how they felt about the treatment of Van Huyssteen; the refusal of Star to honour a bonus scheme agreed to when Steinhoff bought Tekkie Town; and the conflicting press statements regarding the resale of Tekkie Town to its former shareholders. It was not a polite meeting, but at its conclusion Mostert was given a week’s grace (until June 25th) to try and resolve the staff complaints.

According to an unconfirmed source, Lourens approached Mostert after Van Huyssteen had left, offering to sell Tekkie Town, as well as the other stores in the Speciality Division (including their assets and liabilities) to the former Tekkie Town shareholders. While negotiations were at an advanced stage, chairman Jayendra Naidoo took over as sole Star negotiator. According to a source, a press statement attributed to Naidoo, denying that there were talks under way to sell Tekkie Town back to its original owners, was one of the precipitating factors that led to the 23 staff resignations.

In the meantime, Mostert and his COO Dawie van Niekerk were themselves feeling increasingly isolated by what Mostert described in press interviews as “hostile actions” that “prevented them from performing their duties” and gave them the impression that they had lost the support of senior management – for example, increasing operational costs due to Star forcing them to use certain service providers, and various other issues that will, no doubt, be revealed in their responding affidavit. It certainly didn’t help that directors, who played a role in the acrimonious departure of Van Huyssteen, were appointed to the Speciality Retail board by Star.

The various factors, which led to a decision by Mostert and Van Niekerk on the evening of Sunday 24th June that they would resign, are discussed by Mostert in a video interview with CNB Africa.

But, as he explains in another video interview with Alida de Beer of the George Herald on June 29th, what they didn’t expect was the raging river of resignations that ensued. The more than 110 resignations that followed, took them completely by surprise, he said. They (the former Tekkie Town management) felt responsible for the people who had resigned in solidarity with them, as several employees confirm in a subsequent video posted on July 2.

Mostert also said that they had arranged support programmes to keep the former staff members who resigned during the week of 25-29 June constructively occupied. These included an information meeting about labour rights with attorney George Whitehead, a motivational talk on the Thursday by Ian Thomas, and a hike at Oubaai on the Friday. Before the hike, the staff members sang a song, Bye, bye Pepkor, bye, bye, which also became part of the Star interdict, submitted as alleged proof that the resignations were orchestrated.

According to a source, Van Huyssteen, Mostert and Van Niekerk undertook to support needy staff members financially from a fund established from the proceeds of the Actis equity deal four years ago. Some of them (former Star Speciality staff members) had resigned, for example, before receiving their June salaries. But Mostert and Van Niekerk pleaded with staff members for the stream of resignations to stop at the end of June.

The computer saga

The George Campus, where the Tekkie Town head-office is housed, belongs to Van Huyssteen – more precisely, his company AJVH Holdings. It is a complex consisting of several buildings, including a café, with several tenants. Among them are other Van Huyssteen businesses like Swartvlei Equestrian Estate and Nunanda Property Investment (of which Mostert is also a director). Early in June Van Huyssteen had served an eviction notice on Star’s Speciality Retail division, claiming that the lease was signed with Steinhoff to house only Tekkie Town, and that other businesses may only operate from the premises with his written permission – which he did not give to Star Speciality. Not surprisingly, Star opposed the eviction order.

During the resignation week Nunanda and Swartvlei employees were allegedly barred from entering the campus premises and refused access to their computers, internet connections, etc. According to an uncollaborated source management asked an employee in the IT department, Werner de Bruin, to buy new computers for the Nunanda and Swartvlei employees and provide them access to their electronically stored information on the campus server so that they could continue with their work. Allegedly, some of the Nunanda information that was blocked is related to the eviction proceedings against Star Speciality.

Our source claims that De Bruin offered to set up these Nunanda computers, which were bought via EFT, not a credit card as was later claimed.

According to newspaper reports Tekkie Town’s Chief Information Officer, Willem Wait, went to De Bruin’s house over the weekend of 29 and 30 June to retrieve the above-mentioned computers and hard drives – unsuccessfully.

Now, this is where it becomes interesting and De Bruin assumes a starring role.

De Bruin’s tale

Unbeknown to Mostert et al, De Bruin contacted Star Speciality’s CFO Yolind Strydom on the Sunday (1 July) to confess a change of heart, reports Media 24, who claims to have seen the affidavits that form part of the Star interdict application.

Former colleagues, less kindly disposed to De Bruin, claim this change of heart occurred when he allegedly saw press reports that certain Tekkie Town employees had declined offers of big sums of money to withdraw their resignations, without informing other staff members of the offer on the table … and that he subsequently negotiated a very tidy sum for himself. But, this is hearsay, which will be proved or disproved when the court papers become public.

Star denies that they bribed De Bruin (or any staff member) with monetary incentives to return to the company but acknowledges that it appointed a body guard at his house for protection. This guard denied Wait access when he again tried to retrieve the Nunanda computers.

On the Monday (2 July), Van Huyssteen and Mostert obtained an interdict in the George Magistrate Court to force De Bruin to return the Nunanda etc computers and hardware – which he and Star executives did over the following two days.

Three days later, on Friday 6th July, Star delivered a shockwave to the industry, based on the startling tale De Bruin told Strydom, and subsequently, Star Speciality Retail director Corné Klem. According to press reports, De Bruin alleges in affidavits attached to the Star interdict lodged that day that:

  • Mostert and Van Huyssteen had instigated the mass resignations and contacted key staff members early in June with offers to pay their salaries if they resigned;
  • Before the mass resignations, they had instructed him, De Bruin, to buy laptops and hard drives and to make backups of mainframe databases in Tekkie Town to be taken off site. Apparently he claims that Mostert gave him a credit card to buy these.
  • In the most damning allegation, he also claims that another employee had ordered him to sabotage the Tekkie Town server to interfere with the point of sale systems of the 386 stores, to prevent access. His conscience, however, prevented him from doing this before he joined the resignation queue, he claims.

As part of their affidavits Star submitted recordings De Bruin allegedly made of cell phone conversations between himself and a person whom he claims was a former Tekkie Town manager about the purchase of computers, hard drives and ways in which emails could be cloned, or the server sabotaged.

The reason for the attempted sabotage, they claim, was to lower the value of Tekkie Town so that the former shareholders could buy it back at a low price.

What the former Tekkie Towners have to say about all this, will be revealed in court after 31 July.