The African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general and former Free State premier Ace Magashule made his first appearance in court on Friday 10 November, after a warrant for his arrest was issued on Tuesday.
While Magashule appeared alone today, he will be joined in the dock by co-accused: Johannesburg businessman and owner of Blackhead Consulting, Pheagane Edwin Sodi; head of Free State’s human settlements department (FSDoHS), Nthimotse Mokhesi; director supply chain management at the FSDoHS, Mahlomola John Matlakala; Fourways businessman Sello Joseph Radebe; Pretoria businessman Abel Kgotso Manyeki; former DG of the national department of human settlements, Thabane Wiseman Zulu; and a former Free State MEC for human settlements and former mayor of Mangaung, Sarah Matawana Mlamleli.
The group is charged with fraud relating to a multimillion-rand asbestos contract.
In 2014, a joint venture between Sodi’s Blackhead Consulting and the late Igo Mpambani’s Diamond Hill Trading 74 clinched the lucrative asbestos audit contract from the Free State’s department of human settlements to identify and replace asbestos roofs in houses in the province.
To this day, the asbestos roofs have not been replaced.
According to the state’s indictment, various payments were made by FSDoHS to Diamond Hill Trading 71-Blackhead JV for which Phikolomzi Mpambani and Sodi were the account holders.
This is after the company was appointed by Nthimotse Mokhesi as a service provider on a contract worth R255-million. Mpambani, Sodi’s business partner, was murdered in Johannesburg in 2017.
“It is alleged that in August 2015, Magashule corruptly accepted gratification of R53,550, paid on his request towards the tuition fees of the daughter of a then acting judge from Mpambani.
“It is further alleged that in June 2015, Magashule accepted payment of R470,000, paid on his request to M-TAG Systems for the acquisition of 200 electronic tablets from Mpambani.
“Furthermore, it is alleged that in June 2015 Magashule accepted a payment of R30,000, paid on his request to SWC Nkate from Mpambani.
“Between November 2015 and January 2016, a payment of R250,000, on his request, was made by Mpambani to Astra Travel towards travel expenses of a delegation to Cuba.
“It is further alleged that Magashule failed to report corrupt transactions in contravention of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act 12 of 2004,” the National Prosecuting Authority contends.
Magashule’s bail was set at R200,000 despite his lawyer asking that it be set at R20,000 because his client was unable to afford any amount higher than that. The state initially asked that bail be put at R250,000.
During Magashule’s appearance, the magistrate questioned why the accused was not in shackles.
“The reason I ask is that it is normal practice for the accused to appear in shackles before this court,” he said.
In the state’s defence, the investigative officer said: “It is not in the question of, he is Ace Magashule, but rather because he complied with the officers and did not resist arrest.”
During proceedings it was revealed that Magashule’s former assistant during his term as Free State premier, Moroadi Cholota, had turned state witness.
Her testimony before the State Capture Commission in late 2019 revealed much about the intermediary role she played in requesting financial favours from people like the slain Igo Mpambani, on behalf of her boss.
Outside the court, several hundred Magashule supporters sang and danced. There was little evidence of mask-wearing and no physical distancing.
Zanele Twala said she was a supporter of Magashule.
“I love his leadership and honesty. I follow him more than I follow the ANC.
“He is a father to many, including me, so hands off Ace Magashule. He is not the only one facing criminal charges. Why must he be singled out?” she said.
Twala travelled from Pixley ka Seme in the Northern Cape and was ferried to Bloemfontein in a minibus taxi organised by a councillor from her district.
The majority of supporters were wearing ANC-branded regalia despite an instruction from the ANC not to do so.
A constituency from Mpumalanga heeded the call and wore white T-shirts printed with a message that read, “Hands off Cde Ace Magashule.”
“This man took so many of us to school so I could not see myself not showing support to him as he stands accused of a crime he might have not committed,” said Sicelo Nkambule from Mpumalanga.
Magashule’s case was postponed to 19 February 2021.
Three more accused will be added to the charge sheet and join the ANC leader, along with the rest of the co-accused.
Magashule’s bail conditions include that he may not apply for a new passport or travel outside the country without permission from the investigating officer.
He was warned not to attempt to make contact with witness Moroadi Cholota, who will be pivotal to the state’s case. DM