Had it not been for an opposition party and whistleblowers, the Mpumalanga department of human settlements would have let politically connected officials off the hook for their alleged role in inflating land prices that have cost the taxpayer about R123.9 million.
Last week, the Hawks arrested 11 people – including the chairperson of the home affairs portfolio committee, Bongani Bongo – for allegedly inflating prices of three farms that the department purchased for township development.
The farms were earmarked on behalf of the Msukaligwa (Ermelo), Emalahleni and Nkomazi (Malalane) local municipalities.
The arrests came as the outcome of complaints laid by the DA and unknown whistleblowers.
It has emerged that the department’s officials did nothing about the malfeasance allegedly because those implicated were either ANC heavyweights or were associates of those politicians.
Its two former officials – Bongo (who was the department’s legal adviser) and former head of department David Dube (who was ANC provincial deputy chairperson) – allegedly benefited from luxury vehicles from the land transactions.
Mpumalanga DA leader Jane Sithole said that the involvement of ANC provincial executive committee (PEC) officials was a big deterrent for human settlement officials.
“The department was supposed to investigate but nothing was done. I think that’s because ANC politicians were involved and they always try to stifle investigations. It is often the case that the referee is also the player,” Sithole said.
“The system is also not doing justice because cases go to court after five or more years and by that time you and I would have grown grey hair. That MEC or head of a department would have long gone,” she added.
Mpumalanga human settlements spokesperson Freddy Ngobe confirmed that the department had not pursued an internal disciplinary or tried to stop the dodgy sales, or instituted any civil action to recoup whatever amount that might have been lost.
As the department’s legal advisor, Bongo oversaw the contracts of the purchases of the:
- 414-hectare Rietspruit farm in Ermelo at R36.4 million, which was valued at R11.9 million, in 2011. Rietfontein was bought from Fremax Farms by a company called Bongiveli CC owned by Vusi Magagula and Bongani Sibiya.
- 70-hectare Malelane farm at R50 million, which was valued at R41 million, in 2011. The farm was bought by Misty Sea Trading for R5.8-million and then sold to Bongiveli CC for R41-million; and
- 74.2-hectare Naauwpoort in Emalahleni that was valued at R16 million but sold for R37.5 million.
The department would have paid only R68.9 million for all three farms but ended up paying R55 million more because of the scheme that allegedly saw human settlement officials and private companies – some owned by politically-connected individuals – colluding to inflate the prices.
Involved in these deals were two town planners, Patrick Donald Chirwa and Harrington Sizwakhendaba Dhlamini, who were close associates of deputy president David Mabuza, and had benefitted other controversial deals in the province.
Mabuza, who was Mpumalanga premier when the deals were sealed, had since denied any involvement.
Bongo, Dube, Chirwa and Dhlamini were charged and appeared in the Nelspruit Regional Court alongside Bongo’s brother, Sipho, Robert Burwise, lawyer Mduduzi Singwane, Magagula, Sibiya, Elmon Mdaka and Sibongile Mdaka on 69 counts of fraud, money laundering and contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.
They were charged together with four companies – Little River Trading 156 (Pty) Ltd, Broad Market Trading 204 (Pty) Ltd, Bongiveli CC and Pfuka Afrika CC.
Ngobe said: “The department did not investigate any misconduct case(s) nor institute disciplinary actions on any official or former official(s) regarding these allegations owing to the fact that they were being handled by law enforcement agencies.”
Ngobe declined to explain why the department did not take any initiative to lay charges, subject its officials to disciplinary action or recoup the extra money paid through civil action.
When the scandal unfolded, Mabuza removed Bongo and Dube and other executives from the department of human settlements.
Then Mabuza, however, accused them of failing to deliver RDP houses and spending time politicking. Mabuza mentioned nothing about the land deals.
Bongo was redeployed to the Integrity Management Unit, which, ironically, had a responsibility to investigate corruption in the provincial government. Dube’s contract as head of department was due to expire and was not renewed.
He was deployed to be the deputy speaker in the provincial legislature.
According to the charge sheet, Bongo was the de facto owner of an Audi and a BMW X5 for which R900 000 was paid from money allegedly raised from land sales.
Dube, who had only declared his departmental salary as his source of income, allegedly had instalments paid for his Mercedes Benz and Lexus.
The case has been postponed until March next year.