By Farai Matiashe
Over 300 prospective students and professionals have allegedly been duped of thousands of dollars by a scholarship foundation which was promising them opportunities to study and work in Canada.
The James Matola Foundation, which is believed be owned by former footballer James Matola and his wife Ayanda Brown, was allegedly taking money from unsuspecting young Zimbabweans for the past four years.
James Matola Foundation acted as an agent to a white man in Canada, known as Brad Bino, and asked students and young professionals to deposit money in United States dollars into their bank account as registration fees to travel to South Africa for an indaba, get their visas processed, have flight tickets bought and fly to Canada thereafter.
“I joined James Matola Foundation last year. I was told to deposit US$175 as registration fee, considering I was promised to get a nursing job in Canada,” a sales representative of a Harare-based company, who preferred to speak on condition of anonymity, said.
He said they had promised to take him along with his family to Canada.
“I was so excited when I was told the arrangement was to take me along with my wife and children. Since I joined this foundation, they have been promising to hold a workshop with us firstly in Harare and then in Pretoria, and then leave for Canada. When they were not showing up, I began to suspect the foundation was not genuine,” the Harare man said.
The sales representative said the planned trip has cost him thousands of dollars, as he even went to the extent of selling his Mercedes-Benz vehicle to cover bus fares and accommodation.
“We were supposed to attend an indaba in SA, of which bus fares, meals and accommodation were not catered for. So, I thought it wise to sell my car to cover the costs. To date, that meeting has not been held and Ayanda has been giving excuses that the white man from Canada is not showing up,” he said.
Several young people were on Wednesday left stranded in Harare after they were invited for a meeting at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC), which never took place.
“Yesterday (Tuesday), Brown told us on WhatsApp that we were going to meet in Harare, but she did not divulge any information concerning the venue. It was not until in the morning (Wednesday) when she told us to converge at HICC for the meeting,” a young female, who was promised a scholarship, said.
“We tried to call them, but they were not reachable and unavailable on WhatsApp. To our surprise, there was no one from James Matola Foundation who showed up and the hotel staff chased us from the HICC. We requested to see the manager, who then told us that James Matola Foundation had not even booked for a conference room at HICC.”
A young man from Chitungwiza told NewsDay that he was promised greener pastures in Canada.
“I heard about the foundation and they told me to pay US$80, provide them with a police clearance and my passport details for me to grab an opportunity to go and work in Canada as a builder and I gave them,” he said. “They said they were looking for about 200 people, so they asked me to convince my friends and relatives to join the foundation, which I did.”
The Chitungwiza resident said over 400 had joined the foundation and they were separated into three WhatsApp groups.
Voice and text messages in possession of NewsDay from Brown addressed to students, general hand workers and young professionals, said everyone would be going to SA on Wednesday.
“Please note that all groups are going. Another group will spend six days in SA and leave for Canada on the seventh day. Nurse and construction people will spend three days in SA and leave on their fourth day,” Brown said.
NewsDay understands that some people had resigned from their work positions, while students were withdrawn from schools thinking they were leaving for Canada. Some had given notices to vacate their rented accommodation.
Both James and Ayanda were not reachable by the time of going to print last night and they have been offline on WhatsApp since Wednesday morning.