Estina dairy project: State capture hears how Zwane took church choir to India instead of beneficiaries

2019-07-23 20:50
Mosebenzi Zwane. (Adrian de Kock, Netwerk24)

Mosebenzi Zwane. (Adrian de Kock, Netwerk24)

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The judicial commission of inquiry into state capture has heard how bold promises were made to beneficiaries of the collapsed Gupta-linked Vrede dairy project, but nothing ever materialised.

On Tuesday, Ephraim Dhlamini, one of the project's beneficiaries, told the Zondo commission farmers were promised trips to India for training and cattle to kickstart the project.

Instead, the former agriculture MEC in the Free State, Mosebenzi Zwane, sent members of his church choir for training, he claimed.

Dhlamini said Zwane's father was a pastor and in charge of the choir, adding it had to cut its trip short because its members all had diarrhoea while in India.

Speaking through an interpreter, Dhlamini told inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo he was there when the project was initiated and attended all the meetings. 

Dhlamini is the chairperson of the African Farmers Association, which represents small farmers in the Vrede area.  

Gifted to Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the provincial agriculture department, the farm has been one of the most controversial transactions between the Guptas and a government entity.

One hundred black emerging farmers were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme but never received them. 

Dhlamini said during the first meeting, Zwane was there with other senior government officials, including former Free State agriculture head Peter Thabethe and the executive mayor of Vrede, John Motaung.

"What Mr Zwane was saying was that these people were his eyes and ears since he is interested in the politics whenever he is not there, they will be there to listen to what people are saying."

Dhlamini said Zwane also told them when he initiated a project, he wanted it to be a success.

"He has a sense of humour, he was there cracking jokes and telling us that he knows us personally.

"Chair, it sounded like a very good project. We were happy with it because it would build good results, but others were suspicious because Mr Motaung was part of it," he said.

He claimed when they wanted land from Motaung, he had not responded.

Dhlamini said beneficiaries were promised 10 cows each and those who already owned cattle were told to sell them and replace them with dairy cows.

He added 4 400 hectares were purchased for the dairy farm, saying during follow-up meetings they were told to bring their IDs with them.

Dhlamini said before handing over their IDs, the farmers had a caucus meeting where they were requested not to hand them over.

But his advice was ignored, the farmers handed them over anyway, he said, adding then-regional agriculture chairperson Alta Meyer had overseen this process.   

Dhlamini said after their IDs and names had been taken, funds were released and they were told the project was operational but the beneficiaries did not get any money.

He added the promised trips to India also did not materialise, yet copies of their ID's were made.

Estina withdrew from the project in August 2014 and it was taken over by the Free State Development Corporation.

The commission earlier heard from a member of the Free State legislature, Roy Jankielsohn, the Free State government was still funding the project to the tune of R20m a year.

According to Jankielsohn, he presumed the department continued to allocate funding to ensure the project was not in vain and the remaining cattle were still being milked.

"If they were to shut down the project, it would be a huge acknowledgement that it has failed, and I don't think that the government wants to acknowledge that it has failed," he said on Monday.  

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