Bitter sweet in Kandyland

You can’t keep a good skellum down: Kandyland’s Pieter van der Watt is still at it. Jack Lundin tracks down the conman’s latest prey.

 Pieter van der Watt

They’re littered across a wide swathe of the country – brothers Denis and Themi Nasis in Germiston; 62-year-old Elayne Henderson in Kempton Park; Gerald Bullen, 76, and son Gavin, 43, in Nelspruit; 60-year-old Sarel Henderson in Meyerton; Jacqui Erasmus and her 23-year-old daughter Bodine in Pretoria. All promised the earth by Kandyland conman Pieter van der Watt and now seriously out of pocket, every one of them mad as a mongoose and baying for their nest eggs. 

The stories of Van der Watt’s latest victims make sombre reading. Let’s start with Denis and Themi Nasis, depleted this year by R340,000. For this considerable sum, plus R210,000 for stock, smooth-talking Van der Watt assured the brothers they would be in the big time, with exclusive rights to flog Kandyland’s line of 42 sweeties – including 32 different flavours of the amazing Rainbow Lollies – across the East Rand to top stores like Game, Pick n Pay, Woolworths and Ackermans.

Sales projections that Van der Watt gave them looked good:  R11,000/day, R2.97 million/year. Of that, the brothers’ slice would be 25%: R2,750-a-day, R742,500-a-year.

Noseweek began chronicling the antics of 53-year-old Pieter van der Watt in January 2007 (nose87). That cover story reported that SAPS detectives in Cape Town were investigating complaints from 340 Kandyland investors, who claimed to have lost between R60,000 and R450,000 apiece.

In January 2017 (nose207) we recounted the hazards of investing in one of Kandyland’s sweet-making factory franchises – and how Van der Watt was cashing in on President Mandela’s name by punting a line of Kandyland’s sugar-soaked confectionary as The Madiba Lolly, much to the annoyance of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, custodians of the Mandela trademark.

Denis and Themi Nasis

This time we’re only talking about distribution deals, known as “depot agreements”. The Nasis brothers’ deal this August for the East Rand rights was with a Kandyland spin-off, Novelty Candies. Their licence to distribute would give them exclusive access to 300-odd retailers apparently lining up to order the lollies.

Van der Watt’s blurb on the internet that suckered them in stated that the price of these “depot agreements” was R130,000. So why the R340,000 price tag now? “Van der Watt explained he had to buy back the area from the previous depot holder,” says Themi Nasis. (The previous East Rand depot licencee, Elayne Henderson, has something to say about that. (Read on).

Denis Nasis, 55, is the long-running franchise owner of Fego Caffé in Brakpan’s Carnival City. The Kandyland venture was to be for younger brother Themi, 50. They didn’t have the additional R210,000 for stock, so it was agreed that they would go out and get the orders, while Van der Watt’s own staff would handle deliveries and take the money – a service for which 5% would be deducted from the Nasis’s commission.

Before handing over their R340,000, the brothers wanted to do a due diligence and asked for the all-important Client List of 300 retailers. “Van der Watt held it up, he waved it, but refused to give it to us until we paid the money,” says Denis.

So they paid up and armed with the Client List Themi Nasis began his rounds of East Rand retailers. And received a rude shock. The big name stores that Van der Watt claimed as customers gave him the cold shoulder. “The stores on the List were terrible, in downmarket areas, worse than a spaza shop,” says Themi.

“It resembled a generic list that anyone could extract from the Yellow Pages. Some didn’t even exist, they had closed down. Others, like Glenacres Super Spar in Kempton Park, Karaglen Super Spar in Edenvale and West Pack Lifestyle, were just not interested. We’d get nowhere near Van der Watt’s sales projections.”

Adds Denis Nasis: “A lot of the stores were throwing us out because they had had previous bad service.

Kandyland stand

Also, the quality of the product (produced at Pieter Van der Watt’s factory unit in Cape Town’s Saxenburg Park) was not good. Out of ten Spars that my brother would visit, maybe two would buy. It was a litany of bad reputation. They didn’t want to deal with Van der Watt.”

After about six weeks the Nasis brothers decided it wasn’t working, and asked for their R340,000 back. Van der Watt responded with a demand for the additional R210,000 for stock – in cash.

Van der Watt is quick to remind disgruntled investors in Kandyland/Novelty Candies of reasons for termination in his voluminous 11-page depot agreement, one being clause 16.3: “If the Depot (the investor) fails to do sales to the value of RX per week for more than six weeks consecutively”. (The mandatory weekly target swings between R15,000 and R25,000). And clause 14.4: If the Depot “refuses to perform the marketing duties as per this agreement”.

It emerges that when they handed over their R340,000, the Nasis brothers never got round to signing the depot agreement. So after parting with R11,000 for three hours’ consultation with senior counsel they have instructed their attorney to apply to the high court to have their deal with Van der Watt declared to be a franchise agreement. An unsigned franchise agreement would not comply with the Consumer Protection Act, it will be argued, so Van der Watt must return their R340,000.

While this courtroom manoeuvre trundles into action, Elayne Henderson, a sales rep from Kempton Park who held the  East Rand depot licence for more than three years, splutters when she hears that Van der Watt had to “rebuy” the territory from her, thus justifying its increased price to the Nasis brother. She says Pieter van der Watt “never paid me a penny!” 

Henderson had signed up in June 2014, paying a whopping R486,000 to Van der Watt for the East Rand. This included R100,000 for “goodwill and client base”.

“I battled, but never really made money,” says Elayne Henderson now. “He told me I was going to get 130 stores. It turned out only 30 were active. I never got my percentage of sales back from him, which threw my ledger completely out. Then he told me I still owed him a couple of hundred thousand!

“When it came to November 2017 he didn’t have the money to pay my R28,000 commission. I had to borrow money to pay my rep, pay for my van, for rent of my storage space and insurance. Altogether I lost about R600,000.

“Pieter van der Watt’s got a disgusting reputation, which I only found out afterwards. It was a terrible experience, especially at my age. You can’t afford to lose money like that when it’s part of your retirement. One day in a phone call Van der Watt lost his temper with me. I’ve never had a man talk to me like that. I had to restrain my husband, who wanted to go and beat him up. The whole family is mad with him. He’s a crook.”

Listen to extract of that phone call here.

Up in Nelspruit, retired businessman Gerald Bullen rues the day 17 months ago that he responded to Pieter van der Watt’s Kandyland ad in the local paper. “I thought it would be an opportunity for my son Gavin,” says Bullen. “I contacted Van der Watt and he told me how desperately he was looking for someone to do the Lowveld, and what a wonderful thing it was for anybody that went in with him.
“He was going to grow the business to such an extent that within a year or two he wanted to go public, and the people who joined up with him would get preferential shares. It sounded so good.”

Gavin Bullen and family

Van der Watt said in a note that the area had “over 106 clients on board”. National sales, he said, were up 95%, a new lollipop line was producing 750 lollipops/minute and there was a “possible buy out from BidVest”.

“Gavin (who’s 43) went up to see them on the Reef (Pieter van der Watt is to be found at a rented townhouse at 16 Goukamma Street in Pretoria’s Erasmuskloof) and wasn’t over-impressed,” says his father. “I asked Van der Watt for a list of his successful franchisees and he started his nonsense. He said ‘No, the List is secret information.’ He won’t give me that until I’ve paid the R82,000 for the Lowveld.

“We went ahead with the deal, but it was a disaster. We couldn’t sell the sweets and Gavin lost all his money. I’ve spoken to other people they’ve conned and they were all in the same boat as I was.”

Coming up for retirement, 60-year-old Sarel Henderson from Meyerton, invested R130,000 of his old age kitty to distribute Van der Watt’s lollies in the Vaal Triangle. He reckons the June 2017 venture cost him around R200,000.

“I put in my own money to keep the business running,” says Henderson. “In the end I just gave up. There was no backup and I never made money.

“Van der Watt’s List gave 182 customers in Bloemfontein. Several turned me away, some swore at me. They just didn’t want to buy. He (Van der Watt) speaks so nicely, but if you don’t perform after three months he takes your depot back – with no refund.”

“You want to know about the biggest con in South Africa?” asks Jacqui Erasmus , a 49-year-old insurance consultant who in mid 2016 paid R540,000 (R390,000 for the licence, R150,000 for “goodwill and client base”)  to distribute Kandyland lollies in Pretoria. “My daughter has just finished her BCom, so my thinking was starting a business for her.

“My money’s just gone,” says Erasmus. “If I think about it I’m physically ill. Nothing Pieter van der Watt promised ever actually realised, nothing he said was the truth.”

Kandyland swirls

Their agreement required mother and 23-year-old daughter Bodine to achieve sales of R25,000/week. “It was roughly R100,000 in sales per month and I could never achieve it,” says Jacqui. “Despite my exclusive contract, Pieter would go to big suppliers in my area, like ABC Sweets (the Centurion wholesaler) and supply to them. When I got there they’d say: ‘We got an order from Kandyland yesterday!’ He took my corporate sales out of my equation and still blamed me when I didn’t make the targets.

“He wasn’t happy with Bodine and said he didn’t have time for a BCom student buggering up his business. He swore at her and called her an imbecile and a windgat (smart-arse).” Noseweek has a picture of Bodine against a background of Kandyland goodies, but her mother’s fiancé appealed to us not to publish it as he considers the girl’s life is at risk.

“The VAT number that Pieter van der Watt was quoting on everything was non-existent, not even valid,” continues Jacqui Erasmus. “He would also use expired stuff, he just changed the expiry dates and redistributed it to us to sell.”

Early in 2017 Van der Watt informed Jacqui that her contract with Kandyland was terminated and she didn’t own the business anymore.

“He said he’d had enough of my shit,” says Jacqui. “The irony of it is that’s what he does with everybody. He just says he’s getting complaints, he’s not satisfied with how you’re distributing and representing his brand and he’s taking it back; that you’ve forfeited your money.

“None of my suppliers ever complained to him, he just falls back on that clause in his contract (the above-mentioned 14.4) which says if you don’t do the job he’ll take your franchise back. How can everybody not do it properly? I’m half-a-million out of pocket. My lawyer says his contract is airtight, but it’s also the stupidest contract he’s ever seen in his life.

“Pieter van der Watt takes from three or four people a year, for up to half a million from each. Then after a while he says: you’re not doing a sufficient job. Just think about it, it’s a lucrative business.”

Pieter van der Watt did not reply to a list of questions submitted by Noseweek.

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