DAYS OF ZONDO

Money from dodgy Prasa deal went to ANC, commission told

By Suné Payne 1 July 2020
Caption
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, left, and former Prasa board chairperson Popo Molefe. (Photos: Gallo Images / Veli Nhlapo) | Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

South Africans need officials – whether in political parties or in government – who put the country and the Constitution first. This was said at the Zondo Commission where there were allegations of parliamentary and law-enforcement officials turning a blind eye to issues of corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa.

In the old Johannesburg City Council Chambers on Tuesday 30 June, one could hear a pin drop as Popo Molefe and Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo spoke on what they deemed frustration at the lack of will to follow up on cases given from the former board of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) to the Hawks and other organs of state that are supposed to put the country first. 

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On Tuesday at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Molefe continued to testify on his struggle to get law enforcement agencies to investigate corruption at the agency. Molefe, who was chairperson of the board of the rail agency between 2014 and 2017, continued his testimony on his difficulties in getting help from Parliament, two transport ministers, even the ANC top six, to get rid of corruption at the entity. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Where was Parliament when the wheels came off at Prasa, asks Judge Zondo

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Molefe continued where he left off on Monday afternoon, talking about the infamous Swifambo deal – the corruption-riddled deal that gave South Africa trains that were “too tall”.  

Molefe said that at a meeting with Swifambo Rail Leasing director Auswell Mashaba, the director claimed money from the deal went to “the movement” – the ANC. 

Molefe said Mashaba wanted to speak to him about an investigation that Molefe and his board were conducting into contracts and corruption at the entity, and the two met at a restaurant in Sandton. 

Molefe said the meeting was about how the investigation would affect Mashaba and his assets, which included stakes in a wine and olive farm. According to Molefe’s version of events, Mashaba said Molefe would notice there were payments made to the “movement” – the ANC, of which Mashaba had been a member, but Molefe did not know this. 

At the same meeting, Molefe said, Mashaba mentioned that he had sent money to Maria Gomes, who was then a director of Similex, a company that did not do any business with Prasa. In 2016, it was revealed that Gomes, an Angolan-born businesswoman, who had been a friend of former president Jacob Zuma, benefited from Prasa. Read in City Press: Zuma buddies score R80 million

Molefe said, “According to Mashaba, Ms Gomes presents herself as a fundraiser for the ANC.” Deputy Chief Justice Zondo interrupted with: “If what you are telling me is correct, I would be very concerned.”

Molefe said, “Not only was it an irrational contract Prasa entered into, but we also know now that the funds were being diverted to somebody else, which turned out to be for the movement.” 

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Zondo interrupted: “I just want to say, at this stage, we don’t know if money from Swifambo went to the ANC”. He said if allegations of this nature were to be made, they needed to be probed. 

Evidence leader, advocate Vas Soni said, “Clearly, what we need now is the evidence of Mr Mashaba and Ms Gomes”, and this was agreed to by Zondo. 

When asked by Soni if he had contacted anybody in the ANC about these allegations, Molefe said no and: “I recall this matter being raised pertinently by the gentleman who later became Minister of Transport, Mr [Joe] Maswanganyi, saying that I have accused the ANC of receiving money from Swifambo and that I haven’t even produced evidence on this matter. But nobody from the headquarters of the ANC raised this matter with me.” 

Zondo said that as much as he had concerns about the role of Parliament in its oversight function, the problem was the relationship between officials in the governing party who often turned a blind eye to wrongdoing because of various factors such as fear of being victimised within the party, or needing individuals’ help for political or career gain. 

Molefe went to the Hawks to follow up on cases that had been previously reported about alleged corruption at Prasa, but had no success even though they were “very serious allegations of the law and criminal activity”. 

Zondo intervened: “It must have been frustrating to you and the board to have to remind law enforcement agencies about what the Constitution says about their responsibilities – to try and get them to do their jobs.”

Molefe said it was “frustrating, it was explicable how it was dealt with” and that political interference was undeniable in this case – as the board had given law enforcement agencies many files of information to work with. 

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On allegations of corruption at the entity, Zondo asked: “Why is there no clear action that is known in the public domain that is being pursued to get back the money, because this is taxpayers’ money?”

Molefe responded: “If there are good people out there they are overwhelmed by the bad apples so much so that the bad apples have more power than them and therefore they are unable to assert their authority over the bad apples.”

After speaking about how State Capture had been allowed to thrive by the governing party, Molefe said, “It needs to be said, we have allowed things to happen, expecting people to act in a manner that is ethical, that reflects courage by those put in office to lead, that places the interest of the people and the country first rather than sectarian interests of little groups in the country – the interests of the Constitution first. We’re trying to get that done first – and it’s not happening. So we need to have a crescendo of voices now that say, ‘act’.”

Zondo replied, “A lot of things you said need to be said and in the eyes of those who put the country first and in the eyes of those who are really committed to serving the public, serving the poor, some of the things you have said make them very happy.” 

Zondo said that as much as he had concerns about the role of Parliament in its oversight function, the problem was the relationship between officials in the governing party who often turned a blind eye to wrongdoing because of various factors such as fear of being victimised within the party, or needing individuals’ help for political or career gain. 

Speaking on political pressure, Zondo said: “And if I am the president and I see a certain department is not run properly and that minister is not doing a proper job maybe I won’t fire them because they have a constituency that I am going to need.

“We need somebody who is going to say, ‘Let’s do the right thing’, the country comes first.” 

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Advocate Soni described this as “rousing” and then addressed Molefe, saying, “True patriotism is speaking truth to power in the most difficult of circumstances.” Soni thanked Molefe, who was then released from his testimony. 

After Molefe’s testimony, Martha Ngoye, head of Legal, Risk and Compliance testified. She spoke about the time she was suspended in 2019: “chairperson, I’ve lost count of the suspensions”, which she said was because she simply did her job and did what was right for the rail agency and its commuters. 

She tried to find out why certain contracts were stopped, she raised her voice when there were issues of contention, and she even went to the Hawks to give information about corruption and criminal activity at the entity. She had been suspended, fired, got her job back, threatened with suspension and then placed on special leave, which she is still on. 

Because of the suspensions she had faced, she said, “My name was out there, tainted… that I was corrupt”. 

Zondo told her that she had been given the same treatment as other officials including Nhlanhla Nene, Pravin Gordhan and Ipid executives such as Robert McBride “when they stood up for what was right”. These individuals had previously testified before the commission. 

Zondo said, “All of these things, they seem to create a pattern of what was happening, and all around the same time.” 

“For me, it’s always been about the commuter. I always ask myself why I am still at Prasa” said Ngoye. “For me, the plight of the commuter… somehow some of us will remain to get this organisation right for the sake of our people because nobody speaks for them.” 

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The chairperson of the commission said he would need evidence from the Hawks on claims made by Ngoye and Molefe. The commission continues on Wednesday morning with testimony on Prasa-related evidence from an advocate, an estate agent, an attorney and a property owner. DM 

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