Estina-linked politicians brought into Zondo commission’s crosshairs

Ephraim Dhlamini was applauded for appearing before the commission, despite threats on his life (Enca)

Ephraim Dhlamini was applauded for appearing before the commission, despite threats on his life (Enca)

The Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture has set its sights on the politicians allegedly behind the Gupta-linked Estina dairy project in the Free State.

At the end of Ephraim Dhlamini’s evidence on Wednesday, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo thanked the intended beneficiary of the failed project for appearing before the commission, despite threats on his life.

READ MORE: Free State dairy project damned in treasury investigation

Zondo criticised those in government who have withheld evidence related to state capture even though “they would all pretend and like everybody to believe that they support the work of the commission”.

Zondo’s words capped off what had been a sombre retelling of how small-scale farmers from Thembalihle township in Vrede were allegedly promised a lifeline by politicians, only to be abandoned and threatened with death if they spoke out.

READ MORE: Zondo commission: There is a culture of fear in the Free State govt

Dhlamini’s appearance before the commission, attended by only a few members of the public, was in stark contrast to the week before when former president Jacob Zuma was welcomed with applause by the crowd.

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who was the Free State premier when the dairy project was initiated, was at Zuma’s hearing.

On Monday, Free State legislature member Roy Jankielsohn accused Magashule of being aware of irregularities relating to the project, initiated by the Free State government in 2012 as part of its efforts to boost the province’s agricultural economy.

Dhlamini’s evidence, backed up by fellow intended beneficiary Meshack Ncongwane, addressed a gap in previous investigations into how Estina allegedly benefited from a project paid for by the Free State government — the role played by politicians.

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s 2018 report and the National Prosecuting Authority’s provisionally withdrawn case failed to move on former Free State Agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane or Magashule.

Her report was set aside by the high court in May. She has lodged an appeal against the ruling.

Dhlamini said that Zwane advocated for the project from the get-go.

He recounted a 2012 meeting in Thembalihle during which Zwane said the dairy project “would bring jobs to the impoverished, help build a clinic and fix the roads”.

Mkhwebane has started a second investigation focusing on the role of politicians in the Estina matter. This report is due at the end of August.

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Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law. Read more from Sarah Smit

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