Caution- readers should take note that Punchaat (talking ill of someone else) is detested in all religions. The only reason the Laudium Sun publishes the Punchaat column is to reflect one of the realities of our society, which is Punchaat, Punchaat and more Punchaat. People need to respect each other’s privacy, be it that of family members or friends. Let us as a society stop the Punchaat so that we the Laudium Sun, need no longer reflect this scourge.

This column is for readers who have issues that are of concern to them. If you have problems with your neighbour, your mother-in-law, your boss or even with the shopkeeper down the road, write to us. This column is for you. If you so desire, you need not give your name or any other personal details. Publication and editing is at the discretion of the editor.

In order to avoid innocent parties being mistakenly identified, the Laudium Sun has, where necessary and appropriate, replaced names or other identifiers in this column with symbols like Mr? or Mrs X or XXX.

Many a time in life we tend to be critical of certain things without taking into consideration the hidden, yet greater good of our object of criticism. I for one, find myself no exception. I have always been critical of any form of gossip and platforms which promote speaking ill of others. Therefore, it is no surprise that for many years, although I can’t wait to get my weekly dose of the Laudium Sun newspaper, I have always had an aversion to the monthly ‘Punchaat’ column.  However, in recent months ever since the lockdown, I have come across certain articles, which are very real pertinent issues, prevalent in our society, which we can relate to, where the victims however are not always able to openly confront their perpetrators. This platform allows them to have a ‘voice’ which I certainly believe provides some sort of relief to the aggrieved and at the same time, to make our community aware of problems that are usually swept under the rug. A friend of mine recently made me aware of one such incident in which a cousin of hers, who was afraid to tell her family of her marital problems, took to the ‘punchaat’ column, merely to pen down her feelings and surprisingly, received help from not only her own family, but her in-laws as well, who recognized her story after reading the article online and rushed to her aid.

Today, I find myself in a situation of writing to the column, perhaps selfishly, because I do not want to openly expose the guilty party concerned, as it would destroy innocent lives and break up a home. But at the same time, I strongly believe that I have an obligation to the community to somehow narrate the problem, so that readers are aware of the scams they could so easily fall prey to. In typical Punchaat style, I will partly introduce myself…

I am a 46-year-old female from LLL, married to MMM. My husband’s sister ZZZ, is married to YYY and they live in EEE. YYY comes from a renowned family who run a number of lucrative businesses in the Gauteng area. A few years back, YYY at the insistence of his wife, decided to leave the family business and start something new on his own. Although the business took off well, ZZZ often complained to us that they were unable to live the luxurious lifestyle they were used to while her husband was in the family business. As her hubby’s new business was just starting off, they had to cut back on a lot of expenses related to their previous extravagant lifestyle. My husband always encouraged his sister to be supportive of her husband and to be patient, as he explained to her that it takes time to build a new business. However, after two years due to a fluctuating and unstable economy, YYY’s business experienced many setbacks and he found himself in debt, being unable to pay many of his suppliers. YYY was too embarrassed to admit this to his family members as he was ashamed that he had failed at making it on his own and feared that he would be mocked by them. Instead, he approached my husband for financial advice and to assist him in securing a loan with some of my hubby’s business contacts. YYY was adamant that his financial position be kept as quiet as possible to save face and MMM naturally assisted him as his sister’s family name was at stake. YYY received a loan but he had to hand over his home as security and my sister-in-law had to sell most of her jewellery to assist with cash flow. MMM warned his brother-in-law and sister that finances were going to be very tight and that they would have to budget in order to live a simple life for the next five years, until the loan was paid-up. Both YYY and ZZZ were very depressed. However, they were left with no choice but to persevere with work. ZZZ ensured that she went in to help her husband with the business after she dropped the kids off at school every day.

Since both husband and wife were so busy with work, we hardly saw much of each other except on family occasions. After a year of struggling, YYY one day approached MMM to explain that he was part of an organization assisting in collecting funds for Syria and Palestine. MMM who knew the NGO’s good reputation, was extremely proud of his brother-in-law’s selfless act. However, three months later, we heard through the grapevine that YYY was doing the collections through his own registered NGO. Since YYY came from a wealthy family, he had no problem in collecting large sums of money from his immediate family and from all his previous business associates who were well acquainted with his family business. YYY had a ‘Moulana’ working for him who would travel to Syria and Palestine to distribute the collected funds. YYY still ran his business, but spent most of his time with collections for his NGO. After two years, ZZZ mentioned to her brother that the business had paid up their loan fully, which shocked my husband greatly as they still had about three years left on their loan term. However, he was relieved that his brother-in-law’s business was proving to be a success and put it down to their hard work paying off. From this point onwards, I started noticing that ZZZ began living it up so to say, once again. She could be seen sporting the latest fashion with designer clothing, handbags and shoes. YYY bought himself a brand new sports car, followed shortly by a new BMW for his wife. YYY also began to travel a lot with the family in tow. He claimed that he had to personally meet members of the organizations in the countries where the funds were being distributed, but this did not explain why his wife and kids went with. Shockingly, we found out after two such ‘business’ trips that ZZZ and YYY were seen holidaying in Dubai with the kids and staying at a seven star resort.

MMM began to suspect that something did not seem right as he was the only person who was fully aware of the extent of YYY’s previous financial problems. Since MMM had a vast knowledge of accountancy principles, as well as the market YYY was trading in, he could not fathom how YYY’s business could be bearing these lavish personal expenses. Furthermore, whenever he tried to bring the subject up with his brother-in-law, YYY seemed to tense up and gave him very vague answers. In the midst of all this speculation, we were suddenly hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the hard lockdown last March, during which all non-essential businesses were shut down, both our own as well as YYY’s business was shut down. 

As the months progressed, although we were allowed to eventually re-open after two months of not trading, the weakening economy took a serious toll on our business. To date, many businesses including ours, as well as YYY’s business, had seen between a 30%-50% drop in turnover. Although YYY claimed that his business was negatively affected by the pandemic, he still managed to afford an expensive overseas holiday to Turkey, last December, when travelling was allowed. ZZZ hardly seemed phased by financial problems as she recently traded in her car for a newer model. Concurrently at the beginning of the virus, various NGO’s went into overdrive collecting funds to assist the disadvantaged in our community. From food hampers to vitamin supplements and oxygen concentrators, funds were being collected on a wide scale to combat some of the ill effects caused by Covid. YYY’s NGO was no exception and people donated generously, opening up their hearts and emptying their pockets to assist those in need. The recent crisis in Palestine also saw people selflessly donating cash to various organizations, including to YYY’s NGO. Many people seem to be selling something and claiming to be donating a portion of the funds to Palestine or other places, or for Covid relief. Incidentally, YYY was also involved in raising funds for the recent unrest and looting in KZN, claiming his organisation was involved with sending tons of groceries to the area. Nobody seemed to question the authenticity of any of these claims. Eventually, after much contemplation, MMM decided to meet his sister privately to question her regarding their new found wealth. MMM voiced his suspicions of YYY using money from the charitable collections for his personal use. Instead of denying the allegations, ZZZ defended her husband by stating that he was entitled to a wage and commission from these collections and expenses incurred by him, including travel expenses, which were all paid for from these funds. Totally shocked, my husband approached YYY, who repeated the same as his wife. MMM asked him if he could have a look at the financials to which YYY astounded him by admitting that he did not have any. YYY refused to admit what percentage of funds were reaching the intended recipients and what percentage was being used for so called ‘expenses’. YYY then told MMM to stay out of his business and if he felt that he was a thief, he was welcome to pick up his sister as he would willingly divorce her and place her in the care of her more ‘honest’ brother, if MMM felt that was best for her. MMM could not tell if YYY was making veiled threats, but he was not willing to risk breaking his sister’s home, so he left the matter as is. Since then, the family relations have been strained between my husband and his sister.

Although MMM and I are certain that YYY is using his NGO to fund his personal expenses, we have no proof as to what extent, other than him taking a commission salary (presumably for both husband and wife).  It is obvious should we make a public call for YYY to produce audited financials, which he does not have, it would certainly cause serious family problems and taint YYY’s extended family’s reputation, as certain members of his family serve on various but credible community and religious organizations. Since YYY comes from such a wealthy family, the community naturally assumes that he has enough of his own money and therefore trust him with their donations. At the same time, we are seeing more and more non-profit companies springing up and going about on collection drives, be it for Palestine or to buy PPE’s or Covid related medication and oxygen equipment. How many of us investigate these agencies before entrusting them with our donations?

How many ask to see yearly audited financials (not income & expenses statements) to ensure that these NGOs are not misusing entrusted funds? Many people who are blessed with wealth want to help those in need and the less fortunate, but in doing so, we all have a responsibility in ensuring that these distressed individuals actually receive these funds. It is not uncommon to hear of people being scammed out of their hard-earned money on a daily basis, so it is about time that we open our eyes and stop simply trusting people blindly. A cousin of mine who lives in a small town in KZN, recently informed me how a few community members had given money to an individual who claimed that he would be performing the rites of sacrificing cows and sheep for them in India during the Eid-ul-Adha festival, about a month back.

An individual who had donated his money and who had family members in India made a few enquiries and subsequently found out that no cows had been sacrificed in that particular village due to Covid and Hindu religious restrictions. Furthermore, he found out that it was impossible to buy a goat or sheep for about R200, which is what many organisations have claimed that they have been paying for slaughtering in India, although they sold it here at R300, sharing the profit of R100 between agents and the organisations. This just goes to show that some people will unashamedly use religion and take advantage of people’s compassionate nature to satisfy their greed. As I mentioned in the beginning, I am grateful for this platform, as I feel this is the only way in which I can reach out to the community and make them aware of this daylight robbery. Yes, I agree that the strongest of Imaan (faith), is to expose any person who is harming others and to not keep silent. Unfortunately, most of us were taught in our early days, that speaking ill of a fellow Muslim is like eating the flesh of a brother, clearly this saying is not applicable to those harming others. if it was, then a wife cannot expose her abusive husband in an open court or thieves or fraudsters cannot be reported to the police, etc. In conclusion, yes, both my hubby and I have a weak Imaan, instead of publically exposing YYY or reporting him to the police for investigation, we have chosen to write to this ‘Punchaat Column’, with the hope that my brother-in-law and his wife, or even with the help of his in-laws, (whom I believe are aware of his dishonest activities) will read the article and stop their wrong doing or someone else who knows them would warn them to stop their tricks. Unfortunately, for the sake of maintaining our family relationship, we are selfish, as we do not have the courage to expose them, since both of them do not see any wrong in their actions after talking to them. 

In conclusion, yes there are some excellent and credible Muslim organisations who have annual audited financials and have been long collecting funds for those in need, including Palestine or Syria or even assisting locally, for Covid relief, so be careful of the new ones springing up, before donating, as it is certainly your responsibility to check them out. 

   – Disappointed sister-in-law