Section 194 Committee hears how Mkhwebane shielded Ace, Zwane during Vrede dairy farm probe

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Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane at the Section 194 Committee on Wednesday.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane at the Section 194 Committee on Wednesday.
Jan Gerber
  • Busisiwe Mkhwebane instructed investigators not to make any findings against Ace Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane.
  • She also refused to subpoena Magashule and Zwane.
  • This was the testimony of the Free State head of the Public Protector, Sphelo Samuel.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane instructed investigators, who were probing the Vrede dairy farm, not to implicate politicians Ace Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane, the Section 194 Committee heard.

Magashule is the former premier of the Free State. Zwane is the former Free State MEC for agriculture.

Sphelo Samuel, who was recently reinstated as the Free State head of the Public Protector, testified on Wednesday when the parliamentary impeachment proceedings against Mkhwebane resumed after a break. There had been a break last week to allow Mkhwebane and her legal team to prepare and participate in her court matter, which could scupper the proceedings.

READ | Mkhwebane impeachment: Taxpayers face paying R130 000 a day for legal team led by Mpofu

Samuel sent two affidavits to former National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise, to ask that Parliament investigate Mkhwebane, and also wrote a letter with a "friendly request" for Mkhwebane to resign. Days later, disciplinary proceedings against him were instituted.

Samuel is an admitted attorney, who joined the Public Protector's Office in 2000.

In 2015, he moved from Limpopo to the Free State, which is when he became involved in the Vrede dairy farm investigation.

Sphelo Samuel
Sphelo Samuel testifying before the Section 194 Committee at Parliament.
News24 Jan Gerber

He said the Public Protector at the time, Thuli Madonsela, repeatedly referred back a report on the Vrede matter because not enough attention was paid to politicians' roles. He was asked to take charge.

Samuel said Madonsela didn't sign off on a provisional report. She wasn't satisfied with the draft report because it didn't look at the role of politicians.

In October 2016, there was a changing of the guard at the Public Protector.

Madonsela's seven-year term had ended, and Mkhwebane took over.

READ | Public Protector ordered to pay R1.5m to official who was dismissed for calling for probe into Mkhwebane

In mid-March 2017, Mkhwebane visited the Free State - and Magashule wanted to speak to her before she visited the legislature.

Samuel's affidavit read:

As part of this stakeholder engagement, the PP was due to meet various members of the Free State provincial legislature. I met with her the day before, to brief her and assist with her itinerary. At that meeting, I conveyed the premier's request to meet with the PP before she attended the legislature for the stakeholder engagement. The request had been conveyed to me by officials from the premier's office.

Mkhwebane told Samuel she didn't take instructions from Magashule, didn't know him and would not meet with him.

A few minutes later, she received a call. On her return, she said she had changed her mind and she would meet the premier, Samuel testified.

They met for 15 to 20 minutes behind closed doors. Samuel did not know what was said.

In the days after the meeting, the investigation continued.

Samuel wanted to interview Magashule and Zwane, but they didn't cooperate. He then wanted to subpoena the duo.

Mkhwebane issued a directive that all subpoenas to politicians had to be cleared by her. She refused his request to subpoena Magashule and Zwane.

According to Samuel, Mkhwebane said she did not want findings against politicians.

READ | Mkhwebane impeachment: Public Protector mustn't put own interests ahead of the public's, committee hears

A revised report, in which Samuel was involved, had not been limited to the politicians only failing to take disciplinary action.

They were implicated in the transactions and Samuel concluded that they were "culpable". He made findings that Magashule and Zwane should be held liable because they had overall responsibility.

Ace Magashule.

"In that report, I basically disobeyed the directive of the Public Protector that we should not make findings against politicians," said Samuel. He strongly felt there should be findings against them.

The Office of the Public Protector made serious findings against Zwane and Magashule, but it never made it into Mkhwebane's final report.

The disciplinary proceedings against Samuel were recently resolved after the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) ruled against the Public Protector, ordered it to reinstate Samuel, and to back-pay him R1.5 million.

At the start of Wednesday's proceedings, advocate Dali Mpofu SC, acting for Mkhwebane, informed the committee that he wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa to invite him to testify before the committee, but Ramaphosa declined. 

His testimony continues into the afternoon.

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