New mineral resources minister and his links to the Guptas

Johannesburg - New Mineral Resources Minister Free State MP Mosebenzi Zwane, who was said to have ties to the Gupta family, was sworn in at the Union Buildings on Wednesday.

The surprise appointment came on Tuesday night, after months of speculation regarding a Cabinet reshuffle, when President Jacob Zuma announced a replacement for Public service and Administration minister Collins Chabane.

Zuma announced that Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramathlodi would replace Chabane and Zwane would move into his position.

But who is Zwane?

Zwane, who is said to be close to Free State premier Ace Magashule, is the ANC's provincial treasurer and a former agriculture MEC.

However, his term as a Free State MEC has been marred by controversies said to involve the politically connected Gupta family.

Zwane reportedly played a role in the private jet carrying guests for a Gupta wedding in Sun City, landing at Waterkloof Airforce Base in 2013.

The investigation report into the landing at the military base revealed that Zwane had written a letter to an Indian minister three days before guests arrived for the wedding, inviting him to visit the Free State.

The Indian minister was a guest at the wedding, as was Magashule, who is also understood to be close with the family.

In 2013, Zwane's department reportedly introduced a multimillion-rand dairy project in the Free State, also with ties to the Gupta family.

The department at the time denied that there was any link between the deal and the Guptas, but the family's spokesperson Gary Naidoo reportedly admitted that one of the companies involved in the project, Linkway, was a subsidiary company of the Gupta empire.

In 2014, an investigation by the national Treasury found there were irregularities involving the R570m project.

The Mail & Guardian reported at the time that it had exclusive material from the investigation of the Estina dairy.

The reports suggested that Estina, a company which reportedly had no agricultural experience and was led by a computer sales manager, flouted treasury rules and was designed to milk provincial government coffers.

Allegations of the Gupta family’s proximity to the project and several of the role players was also flagged in the articles.

No confidence in appointment

There does not seem to be much confidence from opposition parties in Zwane's appointment as mineral resource minister.

The DA's shadow minister of mineral resources James Lorimer described his appointment as "inexplicable".

He questioned why weeks before the mining Phakisa, a conference aimed at fixing problems in the sector, Ramathlodi was removed from his position.

"This could mean one or two things... either that it signals a new approach by government or it signals that it doesn't matter who's minister because the decisions are not taken by the minister, they are taken by Luthuli House or Jacob Zuma," he told News24.

The DA in the Free State also described Zwane as a mediocre MEC who hardly attended meetings or answered questions in the legislature.

"So this would appear to be a move by Zuma to take mining in hand."

The bottom line however, was the change in minister was not going to help the mining industry, it said.

The EFF called Zwane "an extension of the Gupta family" and agreed with the DA that the new appointment will not help the industry.

"South Africa is currently undergoing a massive crisis in the minerals and mining sector, and the introduction of a possibly corrupt minister with no understanding of the mining sector and its global dynamics will only worsen the crisis for South Africa," spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said in a statement.

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