A group of aggrieved umrah and haj pilgrims are taking legal action against travel operator Fazila Malek from New Heights Travel after the embattled travel agent defaulted on paying back refunds to travellers, whose umrah trips were cancelled in September this year. Malek blames changes in the visa system for the cancellation of the packages. Malek did not meet a deadline set by her attorneys to pay back the monies in November, which has angered scores of travellers.
Following an interview on VOC this week with Malek, more discontented clients have come forward to expose the operator and have lobbied together to take legal action. It‘s alleged that loans were also taken from some clients to pay off the company’s debt.
On 18 October 2019, a letter by the company’s attorneys was circulated on social media, essentially apologising for the delay in refunds to clients of the travel agency. The letter issued states that the delay in providing refunds is due to reasons “beyond our control”.
The deadline for refunds has long since passed and some clients feel they have no substantial answer on when their monies will be reimbursed. The South African Hajj and Umrah Council (Sahuc) has since issued a travel advisory cautioning people from booking with New Heights Travel and Tours.
Representing the disgruntled mu’tamireen, Muhammad Mayet from Johannesburg alleged she owes monies to the tune of R2 million. He said criminal charges have been laid and the group are meeting their attorneys in the next few days. According to Mayet, Malek still owes his family R80 000 for money she borrowed and unfortunately gave her the loan “purely based on trust”.
“While she was on Hajj this year, she called my wife crying and requesting a loan of R80 000…after some consideration, in the interest of the Hujaj, I decided to give her the loan and transferred it into her account via EFT,” said Mayet.
“She said to my wife that she’d repay the loan within one week but to date nothing has come about.”
According to Mayet, many others have given Malek loans as well, with amounts given by different individuals ranging from R52 800, R400 000 and R350 000 to name but a few.
He says he doesn’t believe all the excuses Malek gives the media and clients waiting on refunds.
“When my wife questioned her about the repayment of the loan, she said the money was stuck in the Saudi Kingdom [but] I find that very hard to understand and believe simply because if you’re a tour operator or an importer of goods or services from any country outside of South Africa you have to apply to your bank to allow you to make a payment through your account to an overseas business. Certainly, you have to provide an invoice for that kind of payment you are requesting your bank to make on your behalf [and] surely her bank would’ve only transferred the amount of money for which she had presented an invoice – not over and above that.
The reason that she ‘has money stuck in the Kingdom and cannot get it out’ simply holds no water. That was the first lie that she told, not only my wife, but many people, I have come to realise. She also says that she has pieces of land she needs to sell in order to repay people that she owes [and yet] nothing happened with that. The third lie is that she is now going to bond her properties in order to pay her debt…
That has changed in this week to her now requesting her family members to assist her with loans so that she can repay people.”
“If you’re bringing about so many different excuses as to why you’re not paying people, how do you expect people to believe what you are saying is true?” said Mayet with disapproval.
Mayet last spoke to Malek approximately two weeks ago and now says that members of a ‘victims group’ who have been affected by the New Heights Travel conundrum have consulted with attorneys and have laid criminal charges against Malek with the South African Police Services.
“It is unfortunate that we had to go this route but what people must understand is that people have tried numerous times [to engage with Malek and receive their monies owed to them]…Unfortunately this is the stage people have reached and it’s a point of no return now.”