YES, she has debts. Yes, she owes the bank money. And, yes, she’s still dealing with the fallout of going through a rough patch – but, Sophie Ndaba Lichaba says firmly, she’s nowhere near the kind of financial trouble that made tabloid headlines recently.
A recent report alleged the former Generations actress owes R150,000 on her overdraft facility and R100,000 for the vehicle she uses for her business. First National Bank has taken her to court because she failed to pay her overdraft, another bank wants to repossess one of her vehicles and she’s on the verge of losing her home after defaulting on bond payments, came the claims.
She doesn’t deny owing banks money but it’s not true she’s drowning in debt – and she’s far from homeless, the 45-year-old actress tells DRUM. In fact, she’s talking to us from the new house her businessman husband, Max Lichaba (38), bought for her two months ago. She prefers not to share its location.
“I have lots of properties across the country and I’m working very hard to pay what I owe,” Sophie says. “I love beautiful things but I had to learn how to save so I can pay my debt. I had to keep my head up high, pray and work damn hard.”
Sophie – who doesn’t bother to read tabloids anymore, as she did when she was still an up-and-coming actress – says she heard from a close friend about reports of her owing the bank R150 000.
“If only they knew,” she says. “R150 000 is nothing. Not so long ago I owed the bank millions. Right now, my business probably owes R75,000 here and a couple of thousand there but that’s old debt. Whoever dug up that information for the tabloids caught it too late because I am left with a few years of paying off what I owe,” she adds. “By the grace of God, that’s all in the past.”
HER financial troubles started when she fell ill with diabetes, Sophie says. “I couldn’t work or take care of my kids properly and my company had taken up a lot of contract work and tenders.” On top of doing weddings, Sophie branched out into tenders for government and corporate companies through her business, Sophla Events. “The wedding-planning business was straightforward,” she says. “I’d quote a person, they would pay and I would deliver. When I got into tenders with government departments and in the corporate space, I had contractors and sub-contractors who needed to be paid before I even got my payment.”
Often, she’d wait up to four months for payment and she attached her properties and cars as surety in her contracts. “When I fell ill for six months I wasn’t able to pay people or deliver on some promises made to my clients,” she says.
“I wasn’t able to pay my contractors and the people who worked for me and that’s how I got into so much debt.”
Her finances put strain on her business and her family. “My kids could see a change in lifestyle and I depended on the father of my kids and my husband to help me take care of them,” Sophie says.
She also learnt that when days are dark, friends are few. “There are people who I have lent thousands to. When I needed their help, they were nowhere to be seen,” she says.
Sophie has fallen on hard times but is getting back on track. “Through the grace of God I’m finding my feet again and nothing of mine will be repossessed,” she says.
“I’m not perfect. I took some risky business decisions and I have no regrets because it’s all part of being an entrepreneur,” Sophie adds. “I just need to make sure I work hard to pay back what I owe for my belongings to not be repossessed.”
She isn’t sure how much debt she’s in but Sophie says her credit record will be clean again within five years.
“I’m not reckless with money but as a businessperson you take risks and that’s what I did,” she says. “It’s been a long and bumpy ride but the lessons have made me a better businesswoman.”
SHE’S always been a glamour girl but Sophie has had to cut back on spending. She arranged to pay off her debt with the banks and also reassessed her budget. Gone are the days she’d shop overseas, vacations have been cut down and she no longer buys expensive brands.
The actress says she wouldn’t have been able to get back on track financially without the support of her husband. When she met Max her finances were already in bad shape and Sophie confided in him. “He loved me nonetheless,” she says.
She doesn’t want to get into the nitty gritty but says she and Max are doing just fine financially.
“Our marital contract isn’t affected by any of the debt. My company’s debt has nothing to do with our relationship and our marriage or the things we acquired together,” she says.
Max recently posted a picture of Sophie outside the new home he bought for her. “It’s such a great feeling as a man to buy your wife her dream home,” Max captioned the snap. “She said, ‘this is where I want to live, this is the house I want’ and I obliged. She deserves it. Anything for my amazing wife. She treats me like a king after all.”
Max has also gone into partnership with Sophie, opening a shisa nyama called Kwa Lichaba in Sebokeng Zone 14 in the Vaal Triangle. Their business was in the spotlight recently when Khuli Chana, who’d been booked to perform at the eatery, walked off stage after one song, complaining about the sound quality.
Coming close to losing everything she’s worked for has strengthened Sophie’s faith. “I was down, there was no hope for me. The only way out was to get closer to God” she says.
Things are looking up for Sophie, who is back on TV as the host of the talk show Hashtags on e.tv Extra. “I don’t regret a single decision I’ve made. It’s something I needed to go through and learn,” she says. “I’m happy and looking forward to learning from my mistakes.”