EXCLUSIVE: Busisiwe Mkhwebane ordered senior investigator 'to remove information' on Ace, Zwane in Estina report

2019-12-15 09:59
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (File)

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (File)

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Whistleblower blows the lid on how the Public Protector allegedly cooked the Estina investigation.

Crucial information implicating ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and former minister Mosebenzi Zwane in the Vrede dairy farm scheme was removed from a Public Protector report on instruction from Busisiwe Mkhwebane, according to an explosive affidavit by a whistleblower.

The whistleblower has also alleged that information relating to the intended beneficiaries of the Gupta-linked scheme, which saw in excess of R250m in public funds funnelled through the farm's holding company, Estina, was removed at Mkhwebane's behest.

Mkhwebane, the Public Protector, allegedly instructed her investigators to not use information from the #GuptaLeaks and not to make any findings in the report against any politician.

The report was released in February 2018 and made no finding against Magashule, who was Free State premier at the time of the project, or Zwane, who was Free State MEC for agriculture.

Guptas' Vrede dairy

The key players in the Gupta-linked Vrede dairy farm scandal. (Supplied)

Magashule's son was employed by the Guptas, while Zwane visibly championed the Guptas' interests when he was former president Jacob Zuma's minister of mineral resources.

"We were accordingly forced to remove any adverse findings contained in the report against any politician, including Mr Ace Magashule, the Premier of the Free State at the relevant time, and Mr Mosebenzi Zwane, who was the MEC for the Free State department of agriculture at the time," the affidavit reads.

The affidavit was deposed to under the Protected Disclosures Act by a Public Protector staff member whose identity is known to News24 and amaBhungane. It was sent to the National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise and to President Cyril Ramaphosa's office on Friday.

Mkhwebane dismissed the whistleblower's allegations as "baseless claims and ramblings of disgruntled current and former employees".

Some of these employees she said, were facing disciplinary action.

"The intention is clear: to influence the mooted parliamentary process to remove me from office. I will respond substantively in due course."

Neither Zwane nor Magashule responded to texts seeking their comment sent on Saturday.

The whistleblower is a senior staff member in the office of the Public Protector who was involved in the Vrede investigation.

"On February 8, 2018, the investigation team was instructed to report to Adv Mkhwebane's boardroom for a meeting with her. During the investigation, Adv Mkhwebane instructed us to remove material information relating to the investigation, including information relating to the inflation of goods and information relating to beneficiaries," the affidavit continues.

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule

Former Free State premier and current ANC secretary general Ace Magashule. (GCIS)

The whistleblower claims that the senior manager for legal services, Ntsumbenzeni Nemasisi, at this point in the meeting warned Mkhwebane that the removal of vital information in the report could lead to it being taken on review.

"Adv Mkhwebane indicated that she did not care whether the report was reviewed or not."

Personal costs

Mkhwebane's report on the Vrede dairy farm scandal resulted in the DA, the original complainant, as well as the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution taking the report on review.

In subsequent court judgments, Mkhwebane was slammed by the courts for a lack of honesty in dealing with the case and the report was declared unconstitutional and set aside.

On Friday, Judge Ronel Tolmay of the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria dismissed an appeal against a personal cost order. Judge Tolmay had previously ordered against Mkhwebane.

Mkhwebane, in a statement, said she was not surprised, but indicated she would be approaching the Supreme Court of Appeal.

She took to Twitter, questioning the judgment later on Friday.

But the whistleblower has alleged damning conduct on her part during the investigation, contradicting her public protestations that she had acted in good faith.

News24 and AmaBhungane on Sunday reported how a State Security Agency official had provided the recommendation contained verbatim in Mkhwebane's CIEX report that Parliament amend the Constitution to nationalise the Reserve Bank.

Implicated

A separate source who previously worked at the Public Protector has also alleged to News24 that Zwane complained to Mkhwebane during a meeting on an unrelated matter over the fact he was issued a Section 7(9) notice related to the Vrede report.

In terms of Section 7(9) of the Public Protector Act, the Public Protector would issue a notice to implicated parties, providing them with the findings the office intended to make against them, and providing the implicated party with an opportunity to respond to the allegations and findings.

The source, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, told News24 that a similar notice had been issued to Magashule.

Magashule and Zwane have long been linked to the Gupta driven scheme to loot Free State public funds.

Reporting by Kyle Cowan, Sam Sole and Sarah Evans.

an amaBhungane investigation

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, an independent non-profit, co-produced this story. Like  it?  Be  an  amaB  Supporterto  help us do more. Sign up for our newsletter to get more.

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