Boer War events turn to farce

There is doubt about who really occupies supposed war graves at Brandfort in the Free State

Stefaans Brmmer

Leon de Beer, a former MP who was jailed for cheating his way to Parliament, has emerged as a central figure in a controversy undermining three years of planned Anglo-Boer South African War commemorations.

The centenary commemorations got off to a bad start when President Thabo Mbeki was led to honour “farm worker” graves as those of black war victims, and are now turning to farce as corruption allegations attach to central figures organising the events.

On October 9 last year, Mbeki unveiled a monument near Brandfort in the Free State to blacks’ role in the war. The monument honours adjacent graves – now suspected remnants of a farm cemetery – as those of war victims.

Three weeks before the occasion, University of the Free State archaeologist Cobus Dreyer informed the National Monuments Council (NMC), which oversaw the project, that he had found the real graves on an adjacent farm. The NMC pushed ahead regardless with the wrong graves.

Now questions are being asked about the whereabouts of a R1,8-million government allocation to upgrade the monument. Insiders claim massive discrepancies in the expenditure include R100 budgeted per square metre for paving, while the contractor received less than R50.

NMC director George Hofmeyr last week said the expenditure was subject to audit, which he thought safeguarded against irregularities: “I would say I think it is probably money well spent.”

He said the R1,8-million was disbursed via an organisation called the Anglo-Boer War Foundation to the private contractors. The foundation, a profit-making entity, received “a commission”.

Enter De Beer. After his successful bid for Parliament in 1987 as National Party candidate for Hillbrow, he drew an effective two-year jail sentence for electoral fraud. Now – after a stint on the African National Congress Southern Free State executive – he is chief executive of the Anglo-Boer War Foundation.

Contradicting Hofmeyr, De Beer said he was remunerated for facilitation work on the upgrade in his “personal capacity”, not on behalf of the foundation.

But it is De Beer and his foundation’s relationship with the Anglo-Boer War central organising committee which has wrong-footed the centenary.

The central committee represents regional and local committees organising events countrywide, and is chaired by Bloemfontein War Museum director Colonel Frik Jacobs.

Jacobs acknowledges he was a trustee of De Beer’s foundation, which bought merchandising rights from his central committee for a promised R1-million, intended to sustain commemoration events. It has not yet been paid.

On the face of it, by serving on both organisations Jacobs is involved in a gross conflict of interest. But Jacobs calls it “a problem of perceptions”, saying he resigned from the foundation in August; that he was never remunerated by the foundation; and that the only reason he became a trustee was to keep an eye on it.

The regional and local committees, however, have additional complaints. They say they have seen little of the money expected from Jacobs’s central committee, which would have come from the R1-million owed by De Beer’s foundation. They complain many commemorative events are threatened by a lack of funds.

Jacobs acknowledged De Beer’s foundation had not paid a cent in cash, missing deadlines to do so. But he defended the foundation, saying R600E000 or R700E000 in sponsorships for commemoration events had already been “brokered” by the foundation.

De Beer had the same story, but gave a different figure: about R870E000 in sponsorships “brokered” by his foundation.

He acknowledged the greatest portion of this was R567E000 the government allocated to the October event at Brandfort.

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