/ 11 December 2020

We need answers about the Vrede dairy project

Magashule Makes Spy Allegations Against Government
Deadly corruption: When Ace Magashule was the Free State premier, provincial money was allegedly diverted to the Guptas. Photo: Elizabeth Sejake/Rapport

While our country is caught in the grip of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, the ANC national executive committee (NEC) seems to be reeling with indecision when enforcing the critically important 54th National Conference resolution that those who are charged with corruption and serious crimes should step aside from their responsibilities in the movement

Perhaps the NEC should consider that corruption in the Free State has an extra burden, which is the revelations that there was not only rampant corruption, but also seemingly deadly corruption during Elias Ace Magashule’s reign as premier. 

That almost R1-billion was transferred from the province’s agriculture department is not just financial malfeasance or an indictment of the Free State. Could it be that corruption also used the hand of death in its ruthless execution?

This talk of death is not just a generalised perception about the demise of anybody who questioned the illicit flows. In particular, investigation teams must look into the murders of two people linked to whistleblowing about the Vrede dairy project

It has been reported that Moses Tshake, an auditor in the province’s agriculture department who questioned the payments flowing from the Vrede dairy project was kidnapped, tortured and ultimately died of his injuries in hospital. Shortly after Tshake’s death, his colleague Vuyisile Mlambo was also kidnapped. In both instances, no arrests have been made.

The department’s spokesperson at the time, Modiehi Tlhobelo, declined to comment on the cases, attributing them to personal issues on which the department could not have a view. 

This was regardless of the fact that Tshake was known to have raised serious concerns about the corruption that was becoming rampant in the department, particularly in the Estina Vrede Dairy farm project. Hence, one can assert that the corruption in the Free State during the reign of Magashule was deadly; as a result, many people who ought to have spoken out felt safer keeping silent and saving their own lives.

The body of Philemon Ngwenya, another whistleblower who was on the beneficiary list of the project, was found battered and wrapped in blankets in his shack. These deaths give an idea that the Vrede corruption couldn’t have been just a simple “oversight” or “dereliction of duty”. 

Instead, it was a meticulous plan to steal from the public purse, and that plan was meant to be ruthlessly pursued by all means, including death. Therefore, the fear experienced by dissenting voices was not based only on the potential loss of their livelihoods, but could also have been the fear of actual death.

Another bizarre case of murder, most probably linked to corruption in the Free State, is that of Igo Mpambani, who was shot dead in Sandton. Mpambani is linked to the asbestos case currently in court. 

The alleged corruption amounts to at least R255-million, and Magashule is accused number 13. Could it be that Mpambani’s murder was related to the asbestos corruption deal, or perhaps that was just a coincidence? 

The revelation at the Zondo commission — that cash from the Free State department of agriculture landed up in Dubai — demonstrates that money meant to alleviate the poverty of rural people and launch them into meaningful business activity, took on an agenda of its own, determined by the elite, to serve their own greed and extravagant desires. 

Now that we know that about R220-million went towards the Guptas’ wedding, it is important to know where the rest went. More than R500-million went elsewhere. Whose pockets did that money land in? 

It is rather curious that the premier and his agriculture department executive at the time, Mosebenzi Zwane, allowed money to flow from the department to the Guptas. What did the Guptas have on them or do with them to deserve such a huge favour at the expense of the constituency? 

Was the money flow an arrangement outside the prescripts of the Public Finance Management Act, and what instruments were used that such a huge amount left the shores of our country seemingly undetected? 

The ANC NEC should have been seized with the above questions, not debating over two days whether the resolution to step aside was judicious or not. It is a well-thought-out resolution of conference to deal with the scourge of greed and corruption, which is alienating the masses from their movement. The resolution was endorsed by the members of the ANC in the highest constitutionally convened gathering, empowered by the general membership to take decisions to be implemented by the NEC.   

As the community of the Free State, supporting the ANC and taking a firm stand against corruption, we trust our criminal justice system to ensure the conviction of the culprits. We must also emphasise that our society needs reassurance that our state is capable of protecting whistleblowers for the sake of our democracy which was attained through bitter struggles. 

Our state cannot be seen to allow deadly corruption to thrive. The people of Vrede, the Free State and our country must be rewarded with the punishing of those involved in the Estina corruption. But it also owes the families of Moses Tshake and Philemon Ngwenya answers. Who killed them? Is corruption in the Free State deadly — and why?