South Africa

DAYS OF ZONDO: NEWSFLASH

Key evidence of Free State agriculture finance head postponed due to Covid-19

Cows at the Estina dairy farm project on July 12, 2017 in Vrede, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Rapport / Deon Raath)

A key official whose evidence of the Free State department of Agriculture would have been heard at the State Capture Commission on Friday was postponed due to a possible exposure to Covid-19, making her unable to appear before Judge Raymond Zondo.

The evidence of Seipati Dlamini, who was the Free State department of Agriculture’s Chief Financial Officer under the then MEC, Mosebenzi Zwane, was postponed at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture . 

According to her legal representative, Dlamini was exposed to Covid-19 while at a funeral on the weekend of 8 and 9 August. A relative informed her about a confirmed Covid-19 case and that she needed to see a doctor. The Commission was then provided with a medical certificate by her doctor, who said she needed to quarantine until the 23 August. 

According to previous testimony before the Commission, Dlamini refused to provide reasons why a payment needed to be made towards the Vrede dairy project while work had not yet been done on it. 

The dairy project, which was aimed at providing emerging poor rural farmers with assistance, was riddled with corruption and became a key point in the investigation of the Gupta family, which a majority of the money went to. 

Dlamini appeared in court in February 2018 and was accused of money laundering and other financial crimes, alongside seven other people. She was implicated due to her involvement in the Vrede Dairy project. Read in Daily Maverick: Explainer: The eight Gupta-linked suspects who appeared in court

By November 2018, these charges were provisionally withdrawn, reported the Mail and Guardian

At Friday’s hearing, Chairperson of the Commission, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo questioned whether she would be able to give evidence via video link such as Zoom, if she was not sick, as it shouldn’t take “too long before we have her evidence”. Zondo said she was one of the last witnesses in the Estina matter – the Vrede Dairy project. “We are about to wrap up… wrap up as soon as possible,” said Zondo. 

Read in Daily Maverick: Public Protector hears of failed promises in Estina dairy scandal

Advocate Leah Gcabashe, who was due to lead the evidence of Dlamini, said the legal team was ready for Dlamini and her evidence. She told  the chairperson of the Commission that she did not mind the postponement due to the exposure but suggested Dlamini get tested. Gcabashe informed the Commission that she needed a full day for Dlamini’s evidence. This could either be over two-night sessions or even on a Saturday session, she said

Covid-19’s impact on the inquiry has been felt through the months of the pandemic. Previously, both Captain Edward Zuma and Brigadier Nyameko Xaba of the Hawks did not show up at the Commission as both had family members who were confirmed Covid-19 cases, thus they could not attend for testimony, TimesLive  reported on 30 July 2020. On 31 July, News24 reported Hawks anti-corruption head Major-General Zinhle Mnonopi did not arrive for her testimony, as she had also had Covid-19 and had depression. Earlier in July,  Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe was also expected to testify at the Commission, but had tested positive for Covid-19. He was admitted to hospital on doctors orders, therefore his testimony also had to be moved.  

At Friday’s sitting Zondo granted the postponement to a date that is yet to be determined. The Commission will continue on Monday with former Prasa interim board chairperson Judge Tintswalo Annah Nana Makhubele expected to give evidence of her time at the board. DM

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