On Monday, the Pretoria high court declared Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s report on the Vrede dairy project unconstitutional and invalid.
Judge Ronel Tolmay ruled in favour of the Democratic Alliance and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) and set the report aside. Tolmay reserved judgment on costs.
This is the second report by Mkhwebane to be set aside. The first of her reports to be set aside is the one which dealt with an apartheid-era bailout to a bank later bought by Absa, Mkhwebane instructed Parliament to remove the Reserve Bank’s constitutional mandate to keep inflation in check. The Reserve Bank tore into Mkhwebane in response, calling her attempt to rewrite the Constitution “ill-informed and reckless”, and a threat to the poor.
The Estina dairy, a farm in Vrede in the Free State, has links to the Gupta family and their associates. As part of the Vrede project, one hundred black farmers were promised five cows each in the interests of empowerment, however they were never received. Instead, at least R200-million of public funds meant for the farmers was paid to the Gupta family via the farm, which in turn ended up contributing to funding the infamous family wedding held at Sun City in 2013.
Mkhwebane’s initial report on the farm — which Casac alleged in April last year was based on an altered version of a draft report compiled by Thuli Madonsela — provoked public outrage after it failed to make any findings against Ace Magashule, who was the Free State premier during the establishment of the farm, and Mosebenzi Zwane, the MEC of agriculture at that time.
In the application filed in October last year, the DA accused Mkhwebane of being “not prudent” in her report. “In the absence of any explanation from the public protector, Casac submits that the only possible inference, which the court should not hesitate to draw, is that she deliberately curtailed the report’s findings and remedial action in an effort to protect department officials and thereby acted for an improper purpose and in bad faith,” Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said in the supplementary affidavit filed in said at the time.
Both Naidoo and the public protector’s spokesperson Oupa Segalwe have reserved comment until they have completed reviewing the judgement themselves.