Whistle-blowers targeted

2014-11-01 00:00

WHISTLE-BLOWERS who gave evidence in an investigation into “irregular transactions” in a mega northern KZN farming project claim they are being victimised — even threatened with death.

And an internal forensic report into Mjindi Farming Pty Ltd in the Makhathini Flats, Jozini — completed in February (and started in 2012) — has still not been released, increasing concern among opposition parties that the findings are being swept beneath the carpet.

Agriculture MEC Cyril Xaba said while he was not immediately aware of staff being victimised, he “would launch an investigation” if the allegations were true.

“It undermines the entire notion of people coming forward to give evidence,” he said.

But Xaba defended the delay in releasing the report, claiming steps had already been taken to recover R9,3 million from one service provider believed to have colluded with officials at the farm.

According to a question put to Xaba by the DA, the investigation — which cost the department R955 000 — was instituted to probe “procurement of agricultural and infrastructure inputs” by the department.

It probed “irregular transactions” in the delivery and distribution of seeds, fertiliser, chemicals and irrigation equipment; collusion with suppliers; and nepotism.

“We will be disciplining staff and recouping funds from suppliers who were enriched due to a collusive relationship. They will also be reported to the police,” said Xaba.

The report, according to his reply, was expected to be fully analysed by the end of last month before coming to the legislature.

One of the whistle-blowers, Lihlithemba Sosibo, who has since left Mjindi, citing victimisation, said staff who were interviewed during the probe have been harassed since.

“Staff who were co-operative and vocal on issues that affected them were victimised and some were fired. That victimisation continues today,” she said.

A current employee at Mjindi, who asked not to be named over concerns for her safety, said she was threatened and told she “would leave Jozini in a coffin”.

Other former and current staff said they found some of their duties “were removed”, or they were placed in junior positions after giving evidence.

Leanne Govindsamy of Corruption Watch said whistle-blowers faced significant problems and were often subjected to threats and victimisation.

The CEO of Mjindi, Mfanzile Sifundza, was unavailable for comment.

• jonathan.erasmus@witness.co.za

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