It was a touching story, even inspiring; the sad part, most of it wasn’t true.
Thirty-year-old Thulani Khoza told FORBES AFRICA, plus a clutch of television shows, radio and national newspapers, his plausible story of building a smartphone in Africa. He even had a snappy name for it, T-Touch Mobile. His former partner alleged that he bought the phone at a shop in downtown Johannesburg.
At our offices in Sandton, Khoza said he would be on the cover of FORBES AFRICA one day.
Khoza told us of his transition from Bushbuckridge, a small town in Mpumalanga, to obtaining a degree in computer science from the University of the Witwatersrand in 2006 and earning honors in software engineering from the University of Nottingham, in Britain, and a master’s in business administration at Baker University in the United Sates.
“The university can find no record on its database of a Mr Thulani Khoza having graduated from the university with a BSc degree in 2006,”says Carol Crosley, the Registrar at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Emma Rayner, a Media Relations Manager at the University of Nottingham, said: “I can confirm that our alumni team and our student services department can find no record of Thulani Khoza ever being a student at the University of Nottingham.”
Khoza said he worked as a systems analyst for South Africa’s public broadcaster, the SABC. But the SABC’s human resources confirmed it doesn’t have a Thulani Khoza in its records as an employee or even a freelancer.
In his company profile Khoza claims to have registered with Neotel, a national operator for fixed-line telecommunication services.
“Neotel is unaware of, and cannot locate, any records relating to Thulani Khoza or the company, Thules Communications,” says Sandra Sowray of Neotel.
It also appears that Thules Telecoms, a company Khoza claims to be his, belongs to his ex-girlfriend Beatrice Mashego who grew up with him.
“We attended the same primary school in Bushbuckridge Shatale Township. In 1998, we were doing grade six, he left to stay with his mother in Vosloorus until he invited me on Facebook in November 2015.”
According to Mashego, the company was registered in September 2016, under her name, but no more.
“It was registered under my name until I approached the CIPC (Companies and Intellectual Property Commission) to deregister after hearing that he used me to get government funds.”
Mashego says the company wasn’t registered with any trademark association.
“I am not sure if the phone is there or not but I can confirm that there are no technicians whatsoever. I only know the one phone he’s been showing everyone.”
Khoza told us that he has 89 employees and has received orders from as far as the United States, Britain, Mexico, Portugal, and Ghana. His former business partner, Karabo Masenyadiloana, says no.
“He’s been promising jobs; that once this factory is up and running he’s going to employ 2,500 people. Thulani is too calculated to be mentally sick because someone who is mentally sick would have dropped the ball but this guy is always on his game. It is deliberate,” says Masenyadiloana.
According to Masenyadiloana, there is no such thing as T-Touch Mobile that was supposed to be registered with the regulator, the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA).
“I was submitting paperwork for my phone at ICASA, so I was having a conversation with the staff so I was like, ‘have you guys ever heard of T-Touch?’ They searched their system and there was no record of T-Touch. I then asked about Thulani Khoza, they searched again and there was no Thulani Khoza in their system. This guy doesn’t even know where ICASA is and what the paperwork looks like,” says Masenyadiloana.
“Thulani’s phone is cracked, don’t you think that if he really had a phone company he would have fixed that crack or got himself a new phone? …For him to go to a shop and buy a phone and tell media that he manufactured it himself shows that he has a skill in lying,” he says.
In November, Khoza received the government’s SA Man of the Year for Science & Technology award that “acknowledges an individual that has played a significant role in ensuring community development in science and technology”. Khoza was going to be handed a R15,000 ($1,100) cash prize, but not anymore.
“He did lie to us. We withdrew the award in December as he failed to come forward to explain himself. We have also decided not to act in a way that would destroy him but to rehabilitate him,” says Bongani Ngomane, Chairman of the awards.
When FORBES AFRICA called Khoza on January 12, he said: “I’m in Mpumalanga and I cannot respond to your questions right now because you’ve caught me off guard. I will ask my PR company to send a statement and I have addressed everything in the statement.”
We phoned him repeatedly and, at the time of going to press, nothing, not a call nor a statement.