Days of Zondo

Mosebenzi Zwane points the finger of blame over R1-billion housing scheme he says was ‘pretty legal’

By Erin Bates 25 September 2020

Then Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane addresses the media during the release of the 2016 health and safety statistics in the mining sector on 19 January, 2017 in Randfontein, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Veli Nhlapo)

Mosebenzi Zwane implicated Free State housing officials in lawbreaking and, in moments, jabbed his index finger while shifting the blame during his testimony at the Zondo Commission on Friday. Zwane faces a slew of accusations aired during inquiry sittings over the past two years.

“I took it in good spirit,” ANC MP Mosebenzi Zwane told the chair of the State Capture Inquiry, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

Hours earlier, when Zwane raised his right hand on the morning of Friday, 25 September 2020 he undertook to tell the whole truth at the inquiry.

The raised hand was among Zwane’s many gestures during the day.

Point a finger, shift the blame

He implicated Free State housing officials in lawbreaking and, in moments, jabbed his index finger while shifting the blame.

Zwane faces a slew of accusations aired during inquiry sittings over the past two years.

At issue: his role in a R1-billion housing scheme in the Free State, the Vrede Dairy Project in the same province, and Tegeta’s acquisition of Optimum Coal Holdings.

Friday’s sitting focused exclusively on the R1-billion housing scheme of 2010-2011, which lined the pockets of contractors favoured by politicians. The contractors failed to deliver.

Zwane stands accused of hatching the brazen scheme in October 2010 and forcing officials into lawbreaking.

Live to serve

“My role is to take the needs of the majority of the people and serve,” he said. Apparently, such service excludes significant accountability.

Earlier this week, the current Head of Department (HOD) of Human Settlements, Nthimotse Mokhesi, reported a whopping R631-million was wasted on the housing scheme.

The Department of Human Settlements didn’t get anything in return, he said.

Mokhesi appeared to be a timid witness, who proved non-committal on a key point. He would not be drawn as to who masterminded the project, which predates his appointment.

Head of the legal team and evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius SC told Mokhesi “details at the highest levels were made by the MEC” Zwane.

“But it seems as far as our investigations have gone neither Mr Zwane, Mr Mmuso Tsoametsi or Mr Mokoena were not held to account in any way. Is that not strange?” said Pretorius.

“No, I appreciate and understand the concern of Mr Pretorius,” replied Mokhesi. 

Zondo asked, “Do you find it strange, or do you not find it strange?

The witness conceded, “Well, yes.”

Zondo continued, “At some stage did it appear to you that the then MEC Mr Zwane might have played a role in this whole project that was not proper, not acceptable, or is that something that didn’t appear to you to take place?

“Uh… Chairperson…”

Mokhesi ventured a reply littered with caveats. 

“With all the particular things that were said there – if indeed it did happen, I’m not saying that it did – if indeed it did happen one would conclude there was an overstep by… by…, by… the MEC, if indeed this did happen. So, that’s my response to this, if indeed this did happen.”

It is possible Mokhesi’s reserve stems from the culture of fear, which characterises politics in the Free State.

 A decade after the R1-billion housing scheme was developed no one has been arrested, criminally charged and sentenced in connection with the gargantuan theft. 

Bolder than Mokhesi was Mpho Mokoena, former HOD, who accused Zwane of concocting the housing scheme.

Close for comfort

Mokoena even roped the former Premier Ace Magashule, who is now Secretary-General of the ANC, into his claims.

He alleged Zwane relayed instructions from then Premier Ace Magashule. Mokoena claimed Zwane instructed him to ensure Rochelle Ells nabbed a housing contract in Kroonstad.

It is understood Ells and Magashule enjoyed a warm personal relationship.

“And when the projects had started running, when time comes for the claims to be submitted he would come and tell me to expedite the claims because the Premier wants those claims to be expedited,” said Mokoena.

 Zwane shielded himself from criticism, referring to rules about the liability of an accounting officer, namely then HOD Mokoena, as stipulated in the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). 

“In terms of where I’m sitting, I had gathered sufficient information to make me lead effectively and do what I was supposed to do,” said Zwane.

Zwane acknowledged however, he was not familiar with more laws and codes than the PFMA relevant to his role as MEC of Human Settlements.

“Would I be wrong, Chair, to presume I was sufficiently covered by the PFMA?” he asked. 

He swatted away any meaningful involvement or knowledge of the scheme. Instead, Zwane pointed fingers at housing officials (including Mokoena and then CFO Seipati Dlamini).

So we are told

Zwane was adamant he acted in good faith on bad advice from those around him. “The money was intended to benefit the poor, the disadvantaged, the homeless in the Free State,” he said.

Zwane’s version includes his (misinformed) understanding the housing scheme was proper and lawful, his heart was in the right place, and officials broke the law without his input.

The meek account is at odds with claims witnesses have laid against Zwane. One official accused Zwane of bullying him into executing the housing scheme by threatening his livelihood.

Another witness testified his opinion that Zwane dispatched a “personal force” to intimidate him, after he questioned the lawfulness of the Vrede Dairy Project.

Throughout Friday’s hearing Zwane’s go-to reply: “As I was told, Chair.” The refrain depicts a witless politician.

Zwane, who rose from provincial to national politics under former President Jacob Zuma and remains a member of the ANC’s caucus, is no fool. DM

 

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  • Unbelievable. The perfect storm of Arrogance, Ignorance and a predisposition to criminality. Even more unbelievable, is that this criminal looter is still employed in government.

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