The Ntwana family struggled for years to keep their mother in the home she had bought five years before she retired as a nurse. They could not keep up the repayments on her behalf. Mrs Ntwana lost her house and still owes the bank a great deal of money.
Dora Ntwana worked as a nurse at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town for most of her life. Five years before she could retire, she decided to use the housing subsidy which she qualified for, and applied for a bond with Absa Bank. She bought her family’s first home in 1992 for R60 000.
Although the house was old and had been vandalized, it was worth every cent to the Ntwana family. The children had grown up the hard way, having to live with various relatives as they grew up because they did not have their own home. To finally have a place they could call home was a huge accomplishment for Ntwana, and it gave her children that much more pride as they walked home after school.
In a letter to Personal Finance, Ntwana’s daughter, Thenji, says: “Only a person who has gone to school without shoes in winter and on an empty stomach will understand what we went through. Our childhood was really tough. I don’t want to think about it. So you can imagine how it felt when she managed to get a home for us. It meant for the very first time we were going to stay together as a family, something we never knew. It was a feeling I can never be able to explain. We had a HOME!”
In 1997, Dora Ntwana retired. She received a lump sum pension amount of R12 000, which she paid straight into her bond account. However, she soon found that the meager pension of R720 she received every month was not enough to meet her bond repayment and other expenses.
She went to the bank to declare that she was now a pensioner and could not afford her full bond repayments every month. The bank consultant dealing with the case, a Mrs Hanson, arranged for Dora Ntwana to pay a reduced instalment of R700, which left her R20 to live on for the rest of the month. At this stage, Dora’s older children decided to try to help their mother.
Thenji Ntwana contacted Mrs Hanson to inform her that she (Thenji) would be taking over the bond repayments. Mrs Hanson informed Thenji that the account was in arrears due to the reduced repayments and that she should pay instalments of R1 281.97 a month. Mrs Hanson asked Thenji to tell her immediately if she had a problem making a payment. Thenji started paying instalments of R1 300 and agreed she would inform Mrs Hanson if she was going to pay late.
In December 2002, Thenji Ntwana’s own home was burgled. She was faced with repairs and found she could not meet her mother’s bond repayment that month. When she phoned Mrs Hanson, she was transferred to a Mrs Williams (at the Absa branch in Bellville), who was now handling the account.
Thenji says she was not given any prior indication that the account had been transferred to another department or account manager. Two months later, she paid R2 000 into the bond account in an attempt to make up for missing one month’s instalment.
Then she was burgled a second time in May 2003. Thenji now had to seriously look at increasing security at her own home. She informed Mrs Williams that she would not be able to meet the bond repayments on her monther’s home for a few months. Shortly after Thenji resumed repayments, Dora Ntwana was shocked to receive a letter from Absa that informed her the house was to be sold by auction. Thenji immediately went to Absa Bellville to discuss the matter with Mrs Williams.
“It was then that Mrs Williams explained that an arrear amount had accumulated because of the previous reduced repayment arrangement and told me the arrears were R17 000,” she says. At this stage, Thenji was referred to Absa’s lawyers, who referred her back to Absa. The bank again referred her to the lawyers. The fate of her mother’s home was in the balance and she could not get a straight answer from the bank as to what she should do.
Scramble for funds
Eventually a Mrs Bailey, who worked for Absa’s lawyers, told Thenji to write a letter and said she would try to sort out the problem. This was in September 2003 and the house was to be auctioned on November 2, 2003. Thenji made numerous unsuccessful attempts to talk to Mrs Bailey over the next few weeks.
Eventually, she called Mrs Bailey in the last week of October 2003 and left a message for her. On October 31, Thenji repeatedly called Mrs Bailey’s office and finally got through to her that afternoon. At about 4pm, Thenji was told she could save the house if she paid R10 000 into the bond by 9am the following morning.
Thenji frantically called friends and family to beg for a loan. Her brother and a family friend decided to put up the funds using money borrowed through their credit cards. The next morning, Thenji’s brother and the friend went to an Absa branch in Cape Town to pay the money directly into Dora’s bond account.
Meanwhile Thenji went to the Absa branch in Bellville to tell Mrs Williams she had the funds to put off the auction of the house. However, her brother phoned to tell her that a teller at the Absa branch in Cape Town had just informed him that the bond account was already closed.
Mrs Williams confirmed with Thenji that the bond account number was still valid and said she could not see a problem. However, she refused to telephone the Absa branch in Cape Town to verify the account. She told Thenji to wait, went upstairs and returned to say the house had been sold for R63 000.
“I sat there in floods of tears. Everything was falling down around me. How was I going to tell my mother that her house had been sold?” she recalls. Mrs Williams referred her to the new owner, Patricia Arendse, and advised her to ask Arendse to withdraw her offer to buy the house. On hearing that there were two pensioners, both in ill health, living in the house, Arendse agreed that she would withdraw.
But Arendse’s lawyers informed her that she would forfeit her money if she did so. She then approached Thenji with an offer to sell the house to the family for R200 000. The Ntwanas were unable to buy the house back. They have since been evicted twice and the stress damaged the health of Dora and her husband, Hendson Mandini. The couple was arrested for trespassing and, in February this year, Dora won the trespassing case as the court found that the house was still registered in her name when she was arrested.
The stress of being two old pensioners with nowhere to go, not knowing when they would be kicked out of their house, finally killed Mandini, Thenji says. He died in October last year, aged 72. “All he wanted to talk about was what was happening with the house,” she says.
Absa has continued to send statements to Dora Ntwana, because she still owes the bank the arrears on the property. However, this served only to confuse Dora further because she took the statements to mean that she still owned the house. The house has been sold twice more and each new owner offers to sell it back to the Ntwanas for a higher price. They were offered the house at the end of 2007 for R300 000.
Arrears still owed
Dora Ntwana turned 70 this year. She is still staying in her modest home in Mandalay, Cape Town next to Mitchell’s Plain but fears she will soon be evicted. Although she cannot afford it, Thenji is paying the rent to avoid Dora being evicted. She has paid for the first few months of 2008 by dipping into the money she has saved for her son’s education.
Absa spokesperson, Deon Oosthuizen says the Ntwana account accumulated arrears of R26 990, 78 over a period of seven years and the bank had no option but to repossess the property. When Personal Finance asked Absa for more comment, we were told that “unfortunately, due to the unavailability of key spokespeople, we can not grant your request for such an interview”.
This article was first published in Personal Finance newspaper on 10 May 2008.