The Winning Ticket to trouble: what not to do if you win big

By Gen Terblanche12 April 2024

The Winning Ticket to trouble: what not to do if you win big

Caroline Kganyago (The River, Abomkhulu, Goodbye Gogo), writer of the Showmax Original movie The Winning Ticket, sends a guardian angel (Tinah Mnumzana) to help lottery winning couple Zanele (Simphiwe Ngema) and Thabang (Lerato Makhetha), and their kids (Amina Jack and Quinton Madlala). They’ll certainly need divine intervention! You can’t just win the lotto, sit back and never have to worry about money again. You’ve just landed a new job, and that job is “money”.

In South Africa anyone who wins over R50 000 on the lotto gets free financial counselling along with trauma counselling. Coming into that much money unexpectedly could cost you everything, including your life. Without naming names, here are just five ways that local lottery winners have turned into big losers….

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More money, less love

Nothing exposes the differences in a couple’s attitudes to money than suddenly having lots of it. While one partner decides it’s party time, another might sound the alarm over the money gushing out of their account, and split while there’s still enough left to split. The wife of a KZN man who won more than R10 million soon called for divorce over the husband’s hard partying and spending sprees on cars. When the then-divorced husband wound up flat broke, he had to rent a property owned by his ex-wife and earn that rent by managing the two video shops that she owned. 


In 2009, one of South Africa’s youngest-ever lotto winners was sentenced to 33 years behind bars for murder. The press nicknamed him the Lotto Killer. He was just 19 years old when he won R6.7 million in 2003, but he blew through the cash and started up as a drug dealer in the Kuils River underground. He was arrested after he and two of his gang members executed one of their runners in the winner’s own home, and buried him in the backyard. Another former winner quit his job as a policeman when he scored more than R10 million in a lotto jackpot in 2009, but was arrested for stealing R250 in 2014. On top of that, he (along with a co-accused) was charged with impersonating a police officer. 

Kidnapping and murder

While lotto kidnapping is one of the curses that comes with the win, all over the world, when South Africa had its own lotto-napping case, the victims weren’t even winners! In 2005, kidnappers snatched a month-old baby near Pietermaritzburg, demanding R350 000 in ransom because a relative of the family had told them (incorrectly) that the baby’s grandmother had just won. They kept the baby for 10 days before abandoning him (still alive) on top of a rubbish bin. The baby was luckier than an eight-year-old Australian boy who was kidnapped, ransomed and murdered in 1960 after his parents won the lottery.

New cash car crash

The dream car is at the top of many lotto winners’ list of must-haves. A fleet of luxury sports cars, even, if they win big enough. But lotto wheels aren’t just expensive and fragile, they can also be deadly. A local shisanyama worker who won R18 million in 2014 bought his dream car … and then died in it when he crashed his V8 Mercedes Benz into a bakkie outside Empangeni in 2016. And in 2000, a teacher who walked away with R7.45-million didn’t get far. Less than two months later, just as he and his family were about to move into their new house, he died when his new Toyota Corolla collided with a taxi in Avoca Hills. 

Business bombs

So after all that you want to be responsible? Surely the best way to invest the money is in your own business. Well, no. Lotto winners who start their own business are taking a huge gamble: 70-80% of small and medium enterprises fail within their first five years in South Africa. And many of those business owners came into it with their eyes open and the hard-won experience that comes with growing a business from the ground up. One local R25 million jackpot winner went from having a mansion with a butler and owning his own record label, to working as an attendant at a car wash when the music stopped. 

Want to keep the cash?

Winning the lotto seems like hard work. Here are 10 things that winners have done to make their millions work for them, while enjoying the soft life. 

  1. The number one rule on everyone’s list: no name with your claim. Keep your win confidential. 
  2. Consult with professionals like tax and estate lawyers, accountants and investment brokers even before you take the money. 
  3. Take your time. You might have mixed emotions to work through, especially if you’ve lost a loved one and the money could have helped them. 
  4. Understand what your money is worth. If you have nothing, R1 million sounds like it could buy a lifetime of ease, but it’ll take clever work to keep the value intact if you want to “live off” it. With basic bank interest on R1 million you’d get around R6 600 per month. To keep the value of your nest egg despite inflation, though, you’d have to be happy with half of that. And then SARS would like a word.
  5. Get tax savvy. Money that you give to friends and family (aside from your spouse) is subject to donations tax. And if you’re on any government assistance, there’s a legal maze ahead. 
  6. Pay your “bad” debts immediately (traffic fines, child support arrears, etc). But consider keeping the “good” debts like a home loan if you have other goals you want to meet. 
  7. Set up plans to cover your and your loved ones’ futures including trust funds, pensions, retirement, medical aid, and education plans. 
  8. Set a budget and include what you’re willing to lend people. Don’t plan on anyone repaying you.
  9. Whether you have a dream sports car or a dream house,be  prepared to have your eyes peeled back by the upkeep costs. And in the case of the car, get comfortable with the idea of someone destroying it in a hit-and-run. It happens. A lot. 
  10. Take time to dream. Maybe you don’t vibe with designer clothes. Maybe what would make you really happy is new window frames or teeth?

PS: Choosing help from a financial adviser isn’t without its pitfalls, either. One broker from a reputable South African bank broke the bank’s regulations to invest R27 million from two lotto winners in shares in a Kimberly-based diamond mining company, while claiming 10% commission for himself in a shady web of deals. So, you know, thatha ma chance. And before you bet your numbers, watch The Winning Ticket.

Also watch: Get more real-life tales of how South Africans won big only to lose it all in doccie-reality series I Blew It Season 1-5 on Showmax now. And try lotto-winning sitcom series One in a Million

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