The hard-luck R91 million lotto man who turns out to be a middle-class woman
The first reports were that the biggest lottery jackpot in South African history – the R91 million Powerball draw last Friday – had been won by a real charity case. The reality is somewhat less gripping: a middle-class couple, who run their own business, and plan to not out themselves even to their children. Maybe they’ll actually survive.
Photo: The first, purported ticket, as faxed to Gidani after enquiries. There are a couple of subtle clues that should have alerted the media who accepted it at face value, like the fact that it isn't a a Quick Pick ticket. There are also a couple of giant, unmissable clues, like the draw date at the top or the bought date at the bottom. If it is a fraud, it's not exactly a sophisticated one.
It was a story too good to be true, which should have been a major clue. But shucks, everybody loves the tale of the really, really poor guy who becomes an overnight millionaire, so we ate it up.
Too bad it turned out to be, at best, a hoax.
The deaf and possibly mute man, who lives in a backyard in the Western Cape with his equally deaf wife, did not in fact win a R91 million prize, lottery operator Gidani said on Tuesday. The ticket held by that family was bought at 8am the morning after the draw in question, once the winning numbers (and the fact that there had been a single winning ticket) had been publicised.
The actual winner was not identified, but Gidani presented a slightly concerning amount of information about her, considering her wish to remain anonymous. She is a married woman, mother to two teenagers (the eldest of which is going to university next year), who runs a medium-sized business with her husband, presumably based in or near Cape Town. She was playing Powerball for the first time, and spent R70 to buy a random selection of numbers.
Whether or not the first, claimed winner was committing a hoax, or was the butt of a cruel joke, or made an honest mistake, he’s probably better off. Statistics from all over the world show that lottery winners, especially ones that start poor, have a remarkably short life expectancy after getting the cash. They die in accidents (often in fast cars), in not-so-accidents (often involving close family members), and sometimes due to the sheer stress of having to beat off fortune hunters with a stick. The first family identified as the winners seemed to be going down that track quickly. The last reported sighting was when the entire family was apparently spirited away by Gidani officials. But Gidani knows absolutely nothing about that.
“No Gidani employee or Gidani associate has been in contact, either telephonically, physically or in any other way,” said the chairman and chief executive of the operator, Bongani Khumalo. “There has been no interaction or support because they have not presented themselves to us for anything.”
There couldn’t be a greater difference between that and the real winners. They decided to not even tell their children of the windfall, Gidani says, and plan to buy a new house and a car for one of the kids, and then keep the rest in the bank. Maybe take a holiday.
“They sound as if they are mature, stable people that can make use of the advice that we provide,” Khumalo said. “[After speaking with them on the phone] I was left with a sense of comfort that this huge amount of money was left tin the hands of people who will make good use of it.”
History shows that if they stay level-headed, continue to work for a living and generally pretend that nothing ever happened, they could live to a ripe old age. Which does rather spoil the popular fantasy of women in bikinis lounging in pools of champagne while stiff-collared waiters serve caviar. But then, you can’t take it with you.