The buck starts here
20 February 2018 15:34 (South Africa)
South Africa

amaBhungane: Telling the truth punishable by death

  • AMABHUNGANE
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    AMABHUNGANE
  • South Africa
Photo: Mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane (GCIS)

Without whistle-blowers, the scandal of the Guptas and the Vrede dairy farm would never have come to light. But one whistle-blower, Moses Chaka, appears to have paid with his life. Another, Doctor Radebe, suffered ostracism, threats and shots allegedly fired at his vehicle by police. In both cases, the investigations have ground to a halt. Tabelo Timse of AMABHUNGANE reports.

Moses Chaka, an auditor in the Free State department of agriculture, was investigating provincial projects, including the controversial Gupta-linked Vrede dairy farm, when he was hijacked and deliberately maimed in February 2013. He died after three agonising months in hospital.

Five years later his murder remains a mystery and his case has been referred to an inquest court after the police failed to make progress in the investigation.

In the second case, in June 2014 Doctor Radebe was driving through the gate of his house late one evening when police allegedly fired three bullets at his car and drove off.

Radebe is a former councillor in Vrede who first blew the whistle on the controversial dairy project.

Radebe claims he was also physically assaulted on more than one occasion by the project’s supporters and labelled an “enemy of employment” in Vrede.

The cases involving him have never been properly investigated, he says.

Now Radebe and the Chaka family are hoping that the developments around the Vrede scheme will bring fresh impetus and evidence to their cases.

Last month the Hawks raided Free State premier Ace Magashule’s office and the provincial department of agriculture, seizing documents and computers relating to the Vrede project.

The swoop followed a Free State High Court order to freeze assets amounting to R220-million‚ including Krynaauwslust farm in Vrede, where the project was situated.

Atul Gupta is one of the individuals affected by the order. The court papers contain allegations that R10-million of the funds paid to Estina – the Gupta front company purporting to run the dairy farm – was paid into Atul’s personal bank account.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s asset forfeiture unit told the court that most of the R220-million given to Estina for the project was siphoned off to other Gupta entities.

In June last year #GuptaLeaks reported that R30-million of the Estina cash went towards paying for the Guptas’ Sun City lavish wedding extravaganza.

In the early hours of February 22 2013, Moses Chaka was hijacked, brutally assaulted and left for dead.

Five years after his subsequent death in hospital, his family are still in the dark.

Police spokesperson Brigadier Sam Makhele told amaBhungane the case was referred to an inquest court in July last year:

It came back with some further investigations to be conducted, and again this week it came back with requests from the court for some statements to be obtained as part of further investigations,” Makhele said.

But the family say they were not informed about the inquest until amaBhungane gave them the news last week.

Chaka’s 70-year-old father, David, said the family was unaware of the latest developments in the case.

Makhele claimed the investigating officer, Detective Warrant Officer Khaile Mathibe, had been in touch with Chaka’s former girlfriend.

Even a week back she was engaged (by Mathibe), as the investigating officer was looking for some documents to assist him in this investigation,” he said.

However, David Chaka told amaBhungane he did not understand why Mathibe was speaking to his son’s girlfriend and excluding the family.

What kinds of documents would he still be looking for? He has been on this case for five years,” Chaka said. “He was communicating with us from the beginning. We were the ones who went to his flat and collected his belongings. Why would he update the girlfriend and not me, his father?”

At the time of his death Chaka was the Free State department of agriculture’s chief auditor, and was investigating the department’s Mohoma-Mobung project, which included the dairy farm.

According to a 2013 News24 report, Chaka raised the ire of senior officials when he asked questions about the allocation of millions of rands for controversial government projects.

Known for his tough anti-corruption stance, in 2012 Chaka was given credit for his efforts to restore financial order at the Setsoto municipality, which came under the spotlight after the death of service delivery activist Andries Tatane a year earlier.

Chaka was the municipal audit committee chairperson, responsible for helping restore fiscal discipline. Asked by the former Free State MEC for co-operative governance, Mamiki Qabathe, to probe the municipality’s affairs, he produced a damning forensic report.

He then took up employment at the department of agriculture in late 2012.

Mosebenzi Zwane, then the Free State MEC for agriculture, drove the provincial government to adopt the Vrede project in June 2012.

In October that year, the Guptas took him and his gospel choir on an all-expenses-paid Indian tour.

In December that year the Guptas’ front company, Estina, obtained a rent-free 99-year lease on the 4,400-hectare Krynaauwslust farm outside Vrede, Zwane’s home town.

amaBhungane visited Chaka’s family in Mafikeng in 2014 and spoke to his father David Chaka, who expressed disappointment over how the police had handled the case.

Four years later, little seems to have changed.

Last week he told amaBhungane: “At the beginning the investigator was so promising, and he used to keep contact with us, updating us on the things he is discovering.

He seemed like someone who knows his job, but as time went on we started not hearing or receiving any update, like someone was tipped off or threatened.

When we called him, he kept telling us this case is complicated. It’s more than three years that we haven't heard anything,” Chaka said.

amaBhungane’s 2014 visit came after several tip-offs that there was a possible link between the Vrede dairy farm project and Chaka’s murder.

According to a statement in the docket that David Chaka has read, a witness said he had seen his son being dragged down the road tied to a bakkie – his own Corsa van – with his hands bound at around 3am.

At about 7am Chaka knocked on the door of a nearby house. The person who opened the door recognised him as the man that the bakkie had dragged down the street, and called the police.

In 2014 Chaka's father restated what he could remember from the person’s statement: “He (Moses) was full of blood and had no shirt on; police came to that house and took him to the police station and my son told the officers that he was hijacked by two Sotho-speaking men. He had bruises on the side of his stomach and right arm. Police then took him to hospital,” he said.

A case of hijacking was opened at Parkweg police station on the same night. 

Chaka died three months later, on May 18 2013, apparently from continued bleeding.

According to a News24 report, a hospital employee with knowledge of his injuries said they “were indicative of torture”.

David Chaka recalled that the docket indicated that his son had received a phone call at 2am and that he was believed to have gone out to meet a mysterious person.

The father told us in 2014: “His cellphone was never found and we were told that a court order to get his phone records was being processed.

When we inquired about progress in the case, we were told police managed to track down the last number Moses called, but that the person denied knowing my son. At that stage the police claimed they didn't have the cell records, so how they tracked this guy down I don't know,’ Chaka said.

The police were also supposed to get CCTV footage from the places David was seen at that night, but we never heard anything about progress in this matter.”

The second case was that of Doctor Radebe, a DA councillor in 2012 at the Phumelela municipality, incorporating Vrede, when the idea of a dairy project was mooted.

From the get-go I knew something was amiss,” Radebe said last week. “Estina’s presentation did not make any sense and it was rushed, so we couldn’t even ask questions.”

His troubles started when he tried to get details of the project on several occasions. “When we started to see the Gupta brothers in tow, my suspicions were confirmed that this project would be a disaster,” said Radebe.

Radebe became a vocal critic of the dairy farm, but after his name appeared in a newspaper report he says supporters of the project began taunting him.

He said he noticed a pattern that whenever an article was published exposing the project, strange things would happen to him.

I was labelled the enemy of job creation and physically assaulted on several occasions by the members of ANC. When I went to the local police station, I was told I should go Bethlehem, as this was a political incident,” said Radebe.

In 2013, he said he received a call from someone who claimed to be from Premier Ace Magashule’s office and said he was investigating the dairy project after media reports.

I met this person and I told him all my suspicions about the project. He took notes and seemed to be genuinely interested in what I was saying.

However, at the end of the interview this person asked me if I knew anything about Moses Chaka’s murder and I said I hadn’t I read about it in the newspapers. This guy then warned me that I should be careful and always look over my shoulder,” said Radebe.

He took the “warning” as a threat and stopped the interview.

The following day the same man called him: “He said he was at Magashule’s office and was putting me on loudspeaker to confirm that he indeed spoke to me. After the phone call I did my own investigation and found out this guy was from state intelligence,” Radebe said.

Magashule’s spokesperson Tiisetso Makhele said Magashule denied sending an intelligence operative to confront Radebe or anyone else.

This is a fabrication and the Premier rejects these distortions with the contempt they deserve,” Makhele said.

Radebe also alleges that in late 2013 he attended a funeral where Magashule was among the speakers: “I remember in his speech he said that there was only one person in this town who was against the project and that person will not stop it. Everyone looked at me and I left.

From then onwards I stopped going to public events. I became an outsider.”

Makhele disputed these allegations, saying: “The Premier does not know the Radebe mentioned in your inquiry, neither does the Premier know about the funeral where the alleged 'intimidation' was made ...

Why has he waited so many years before lodging his complaint against the Premier, especially because he was intimidated? Why did he not approach the authorities?”

Finally, Radebe claims that in June 2014, police fired live ammunition at his car without provocation. He says he believes the incident was linked to his stance on the dairy project, because one of the police officers was the member of the ANC Youth League.

I was driving home one night and noticed a police car following me… When I got to the gate I noticed the police van had stopped behind me. Two officers got out and asked me why I didn’t stop when they asked me to.

When I asked if I had disobeyed their instructions and why they didn’t put their blue lights on, they told me the sirens were not working. The next thing I knew one of them shot at my car three times and then they left.

I went to the police station to open a case and they referred me to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. I opened a case with (the directorate), but till this day I haven’t received a call from them.”

Radebe said he kept on raising questions and awareness about the project because it was the right thing to do.

Seeing the latest developments round this project I feel vindicated, because for many years I lived in fear.”

The Public Protector, Busi Mkhwabane, is also investigating the Vrede project, but there are allegations that her office is delaying the release of the report.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) lodged a complaint in 2013.

Spokesperson for the office Cleo Mosana said the “report is at final stages, though we have not received input of beneficiaries, as promised by the DA”.

DA provincial leader Roy Jankielsohn denied that additional information was outstanding. “I submitted everything I have on this project, even the beneficiary list and contact numbers. I have made it clear on several occasions that there is no additional information.

I know for a fact the report is done and waiting for a signature (of the Public Protector). She must just sign and release it.”

Jankielsohn said the report was supposed to have been released last year June, but he was told that input from the implicated parties was outstanding.

Now she is blaming the DA. She is just passing the buck and using delaying tactics. As a complainant I am beginning to wonder what her motives are and whose interests she is serving,” Jankielsohn said. DM

Photo: Mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane (GCIS)

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