Beneficiaries of collapsed Estina dairy farm project still sidelined, state capture inquiry hears

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Cows at the Estina dairy farm. The farm, which was a joint private-public project between the Free State Department of Agriculture and Gupta-controlled Company, Estina is now in the midst of controversy after allegations of corruption and money laundering by the Gupta family emerged. (Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)
Cows at the Estina dairy farm. The farm, which was a joint private-public project between the Free State Department of Agriculture and Gupta-controlled Company, Estina is now in the midst of controversy after allegations of corruption and money laundering by the Gupta family emerged. (Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)

A member of the Free State legislature, Roy Jankielsohn, has detailed how beneficiaries of the collapsed Gupta-linked Estina dairy farm project are still being sidelined.

Jankielsohn was testifying before the judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture on Monday.  

He told inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo the beneficiaries' exclusion was "very strange" to him, adding government projects should benefit beneficiaries on the ground.

"Many Vrede residents are poor, there's huge unemployment and people were hoping that this project would bring some relief to at least 80 people who were identified as beneficiaries, and unfortunately, they are still sidelined.

"Chairperson, the beneficiaries are the most important people in this project. They are the ones who are supposed to benefit from this project by receiving some sort of livelihood from it and meaningful employment.

"These beneficiaries should have been at the core of the implementation of this project and should have benefited from it."

Jankielsohn said the beneficiaries would have been given in-house training, adding they would also have been employed during the project's initial phase.

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, News24 previously reported.

The #GuptaLeaks revealed last year how at least R30m paid to the Guptas via the farm ended up funding the family's lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.

ALSO READ: Holy cow! Bank statements reveal how Free State government paid Guptas over R330m for Estina dairy farm

Between 2013 and 2016, Jankielsohn submitted three complaints to the Public Protector with regards to the project, calling on the role of the provincial government and then-Free State premier Ace Magashule to be probed.

"Chairperson, we were not happy with the manner in which the Public Protector dealt with the request for investigation.

"Even though she mentioned in her report that there were irregularities with procurement and financial issues relating to the project … she failed to deal with the details of the issue of the beneficiaries that we requested she look into. My third complaint, she ignored completely."

Jankielsohn said he was of the opinion the investigations should have been extended to look into politicians involved in the project as the architects and the individuals who implemented it.

"Throughout, we were informed the premier's office was aware of irregularities," he added.

In May, the DA claimed victory after the high court ruled that Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane had failed in her duty to investigate and report on the controversial project.

ALSO READ: Mkhwebane considers appealing ruling setting aside Estina report

In 2018, the DA and Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution applied to have Mkhwebane's report on the project declared unconstitutional, reviewed and set aside.

Judge Ronel Tolmay ruled in their favour.

Jankielsohn said he was aware the judgment was taken on appeal.

"The biggest crime that is committed is when politicians give people hope and dash those hopes and that is exactly what has happened in this project. I think the Public Protector's report contributed to that," he testified.

Jankielsohn told the commission there was a "culture of fear" within the Free State government and if people spoke out, they could "face consequences".  

He said the Free State agriculture and rural development department's chief auditor, Moses Tshake, was kidnapped, tortured and murdered in February 2013 for allegedly questioning some of the payments the department had made to the project.

In April this year, Mkhwebane was told by some of the beneficiaries they still expected some form of compensation from the government.

She heard testimony from some of the 80 farmers who stood to benefit from the project, which resulted in the alleged theft of about R240m.

Mkhwebane, who is investigating political collusion after the project collapsed, said this was at the behest of the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice.

Those who testified told her how they had been promised trips to India for training and cattle to kickstart the project.

The hearing continues.  

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