Monday’s announcement by the Hawk’s Serious Corruption Investigation team that further arrests have been made relating to corruption in the Free State suggests that the noose is tightening around those responsible for the looting of the province under the premiership of current ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule.
It has emerged that it was the practice of the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development during Magashule’s tenure to award large contracts to “implementing agents” – companies tasked with carrying out projects on behalf of the provincial department. At the time, the MEC of agriculture in the Free State was former Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
These implementation contracts became an opportunity for massive enrichment on the part of both the companies involved and officials in the Free State agriculture department.
The DA has previously described agricultural projects in the province as “short-term financial candy bars for implementing agents and officials with few long-term benefits for beneficiaries or the economy of the province”.
In the case of the most recent arrests, the company involved – Rekgonne Community Projects, also known as Superior Quality Trading – is reported by the Hawks to have been paid over R244-million from January 2012 to December 2016.
Department officials appear to have handsomely benefited from the arrangement, which the Hawks previously described as an “elaborate fraudulent scheme”.
The five individuals arrested on 17 August 2020 appeared in the Bloemfontein Regional Court charges of corruption, fraud and money-laundering on Tuesday. Lerato Mngomezulu, 39, Disebo Masiteng, 59, Mokemane Ndumo, 52, Mahlomola Mofokeng, 55, and Mbana Thabetha, 54 were granted bail of R10 000 each. The first four were members of the bid evaluation committee while Thabetha was head of the agriculture department.
According to a statement from the NPA, irregularities and disguised payments to one of the officials was discovered during an analysis of the financial flows of the bank accounts in the Estina matter.
In July 2020, the Hawks made their first two arrests in the same case. Former Free State Agriculture Chief Financial Officer Sylvia “Seipati” Dlamini and Rekgonne Community Projects’ Malikomo “Peggy” Mohapi are currently out on bail, awaiting their next court appearance in September 2020.
Dlamini was reported by the Hawks at the time of the arrests to have allegedly netted at least R260,000 in bribes from the company. She has emerged as a key figure in corruption allegations relating to the Free State agriculture department: A long-time ally of Zwane, Dlamini was among the eight Gupta-linked suspects arrested by the Hawks in February 2018 to face charges related to the Vrede dairy farm investigation.
Those charges were provisionally withdrawn by the NPA nine months later due to lack of evidence, but the Hawks have stated that Dlamini’s July 2020 arrest arose from an analysis of bank accounts linked to the Vrede investigation.
Monday’s five arrests have been confirmed as stemming from the same investigation.
Dlamini was due to give testimony about the Vrede dairy farm at the Zondo Commission on 14 August 2020, but postponed her appearance due to possible Covid-19 exposure.
While the apparent seniority of the former and current government officials arrested on Monday may be a welcome sign of the heat being dialled up on those responsible for Free State looting, neither Zwane nor Magashule has yet faced charges for the provincial plunder which took place on their watch. DM
"Five exclamation marks - the sure sign of an insane mind." ~ Terry Pratchett