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The giant Mpumalanga land claims ‘scam’

Our Burning Planet

DM168 INVESTIGATION

Case number 35402/2010 – the Mabuzas and the giant Mpumalanga land claims ‘scam’

Illustrative image: Deputy President David Mabuza and his wife Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Lefty Shivambu) | Landscape of Barberton Mountain Lands. (Photo: Kevin Bloom)

In early February 2022, a witness statement was submitted to the North Gauteng High Court that alleged Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi, the wife of South Africa’s deputy president, had received “substantial commissions” on a sale of contested land in Badplaas. The witness, attorney Richard Spoor, was not led in oral testimony on the allegation, which kicked off an independent investigation by Daily Maverick. Following the trail led us back to 2004, to the core of the land claims scam itself. Along the way, we encountered a fake community trust, spurious land claims, brazen conmen and the involvement of Pam Golding Properties.

  • Deputy President David Mabuza’s wife, Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi, an estate agent, is named in high court papers as allegedly receiving “substantial commissions” on the sale of hotly contested Nkomazi Wilderness land in the Badplaas area.
  • The pattern of fake land claims and overvaluation of farm values is believed to have extended throughout Mpumalanga – a fraud estimated to have cost taxpayers R2-billion.
  • The Mpumalanga Land Claims Commissioner and a middleman local farmer were at the centre of land-sale “flips” that saw instant superprofits of tens of millions of rands – at the expense of South African taxpayers.
  • Campaigners against the illegal land grabs have been murdered. Conservationist Fred Daniel has faced harassment, arson, smear campaigns and death threats in his fight against false claims and blatant fraud.
  • Leading estate agency Pam Golding has been closely involved in some of the Nkomazi Wilderness deals – though it is highly unusual for a commercial property company to broker land under hereditary claim. CEO Andrew Golding did not respond to questions seeking clarity on the matter.
  • A 12,000ha swathe of a once-beautiful nature reserve, in the foothills of the Makhonjwa Mountains, is collapsing into obscurity and ruin – having been used since 2015 as a fattening kraal for cattle.

Mabuza is reforming himself before taking a tilt at the ANC presidency in 2027, but it’s worth remembering that he has perfected the system of provincial capture in ways that make the Gupta network look positively amateur. He is now the deputy president of South Africa. Ivor Chipkin and Mark Swilling, Shadow State

I. Paragraph 52

“I have had a look at the statement of Mr Spoor,” said advocate Mike Hellens, “and there are matters there that require consultation with the client that I represent.”

It was just past 10.30 on the morning of 10 February 2022, and nobody involved in case number 35402/2010 of the North Gauteng High Court was under any illusion about which client or “specific matter” Hellens was referring to. The R1-billion civil suit, brought by conservationist Fred Daniel against the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency and another 24 government entities in the long-distant past of July 2010, had reached a crux point. In the witness statement, as everybody knew, a devastating shot had been fired at the heart of the South African body politic.

Prepared by Richard Spoor, a public interest attorney with easily the strongest reputation in the country for defending the land rights of the marginalised, the document ran to 141 paragraphs over 23 pages. On the first page, with a slight tone of understatement, Spoor had noted his “extensive experience in the field of land reform and restitution”, adding over the course of his career he had “acted primarily for land claimants”.  

Given that the core of case number 35402/2010 was essentially about the largest alleged land claims fraud in post-apartheid history, it would have been a banner day in court even without the contents of paragraph 52. Spoor, who had represented Daniel and his various Nkomazi Wilderness holding companies from 1999 to 2008, had by all accounts been a front-row observer of the alleged fraud – not just as an expert on the relevant legislation, but as a hands-on defender of the personal rights of his client, who had endured death threats, smear campaigns and violent intimidation.  

True to form, as outlined in a previous piece in Daily Maverick’s long-running coverage of the case, Hellens was now leaning on the Stalingrad strategy to ensure that Spoor’s witness statement got thrown out. After returning from the requested consultation with his own client Deputy President David Dabede Mabuza it was more of the same.

“I want to address [the request of Hellens] that the defendants need more time to prepare,” objected Jacques Joubert, Daniel’s advocate. “The defendants have known for 12 years that Mr Spoor is a central part of this case.”

At 11.30am, by which time Hellens appeared to realise that he was getting nowhere with the “preparation time” argument, it was back to the apparent inadmissibility of Spoor’s document. According to the counsel for Mabuza, it was contrary to the principles of evidence that a witness be allowed to read from a prepared statement. Joubert, for his part, insisted that he would lead the witness orally all he was requesting from Judge Cassim Sardiwalla, he said, was that Spoor be permitted to confirm the statement under oath.

“Call your witness and let’s get on,” said the judge, once he had satisfied himself that there was no legal prejudice to the defendants.

At 11.43am, via Microsoft Teams, Spoor took the virtual stand. “If I could just record,” said Hellens, “he’s about to put a witness statement before the court. It’s a pre-prepared statement; it’s inadmissible and irregular.”

The back-and-forth continued for a few minutes longer. “Once he confirms the statement,” noted Judge Sardiwalla, “that statement then becomes part of the evidence. What’s the problem?”

The problem, of course, was the contents of paragraph 52. This was why, at 12.04pm, when the witness statement finally appeared on screen, Hellens began to sound a little shrill. “This may be the point at which this trial becomes irregular!” he shouted.

But it was too late, the evidence had been admitted. There, for all to see, as Joubert conducted a quick scroll through the pages, was the explosive paragraph in all its glory:

“To the best of my recall substantial sale commissions were paid to Premier DD Mabuza’s wife, who was a Pam Golding estate agent.”

LR Spoor Witness Statement

 

II. Hijacked trust

For the remainder of Thursday afternoon, 10 February 2022, and into Friday morning, Spoor was led methodically through the attorney’s letters and documents that backed up his testimony. Early on, he was asked by Joubert whether he knew a gentleman by the name of Pieter Visagie. 

“Yes,” testified Spoor, before detailing Visagie’s role as a middleman in the alleged land claims fraud. “It was a scam designed to rip off the state, and principles of land reform and land redistribution did not feature highly at all.”

In Spoor’s witness statement, the paragraph that referred to “DD Mabuza’s wife” namely, Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi had been buttressed on both sides by paragraphs that referred to Visagie. But Joubert, for whatever reason, did not ask Spoor to elaborate on the “substantial sale commissions” that Mnisi had purportedly received.  

For Daily Maverick, then, establishing what Mnisi’s involvement was would entail an independent investigation. After gathering a set of documents that filled three lever arch files, the full scale of the alleged fraud that had been committed on South Africa’s citizens began to emerge. 

From the perspective of the South African public, the alleged fraud had first come to light in early September 2004, when both Daniel and Spoor had featured in a City Press exposé entitled “SA’s own land grab”. Written by investigative reporter Justin Arenstein, the piece divulged that Mpumalanga’s then land claims commissioner, Nceba Nqana, had spent R25,7-million on six farms in the Badplaas district, despite the fact that these farms had originally been bought for a combined price of R4,3-million.

“This is not a good situation for anyone other than the profiteers,” Spoor had noted, referring to the R21,4-million in estimated profit that the speculators had milked.

In that first exposé, Visagie’s name had not been mentioned. But less than two weeks later, after the national government had ordered an investigation into 14 contentious deals in Mpumalanga that cost the taxpayer R72,1-million very quickly, it appeared, the scope of the investigation had extended wider than the original six farms the Badplaas farmer was outed.

“The deals have primarily benefited prominent local land speculator and farmer Pieter Visagie, who is chairperson of the local land reform and development forum that advises the government,” Arenstein noted in a follow-up piece for the Mail & Guardian in mid-September 2004. 

“He is also tipped to help the Ndwandwa communities take over commercial farming enterprises on their new land as part of an R8,8-milllion additional support contract signed by Nqana and supported by community leaders.”

A few days later the third exposé dropped, in which Arenstein revealed that another seven farms had been added to the government investigation and that Visagie, who had been coming up with the wildly inflated prices and then selling the farms to the land claims commission, actually “managed” the Ndwandwa Community Trust. In the same piece, Daniel was named as the scam’s “chief whistle-blower”. 

What was not revealed, however, was that the Ndwandwa Community Trust was about to be hijacked and here, it so happened, was where the trail that would eventually lead to Mnisi appeared to begin (due to the sheer size and complexity of the alleged scam, the endpoint of the trail will be arrived at in section V below).

In a series of affidavits obtained by Daily Maverick, Robert Nkosi, the undisputed founder of the trust, would provide concrete evidence that the original deed had been signed and executed on 5 February 2004, before being sent to the Master of the High Court for registration on 30 March of the same year. Nkosi, who would learn of the land claims scam through the media, would also provide testimony that he “came into conflict” with Visagie. This would result, ultimately, in the registration of a second “illegal” trust deed on 22 November 2006.

Illegal how?

Nkosi, again providing concrete evidence, would show that the original deed had been removed from the Master of the High Court’s file “under the pretence that the trust was to be amended”. This was done even though the original deed had stipulated that amendments could only be made “with the consent of the founder during his lifetime” Nkosi, needless to say, had given no such consent. 

 The Master of the High Court had apparently been “duped into issuing new letters of authority”, Nkosi would testify, because he believed that the originals had been stolen.    

“The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Ndwandwa Community Trust was hijacked as a vehicle to milk the land reform funds,” he would add, “and when I refused to be part of the scheme the [regional land claims commission] officials and other officials conspired with Mr Visagie, who wanted me out of the way”.

The upshot of it all, according to the evidence, was that Visagie would continue to run the Ndwandwa Community Trust without interference. Despite a report by Derrick Griffiths of the SA Institute of Valuers that the farms were “overvalued by at least R40-million”, plus another report by Ernst & Young also commissioned by the national government suggesting that criminal charges should be laid, Visagie was left in control of the trust.

In March 2005, the then minister of agriculture and land affairs, Thoko Didiza, had promised Parliament that her department would bring all the perpetrators to book, but her sole action in the end was the suspension of Nqana and a senior project manager at the regional land claims commission, Linda Mbatha. 

Almost a year later, in February 2006, President Thabo Mbeki would cite the Badplaas scam in his state of the nation address the scandal, he declared, proved that the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle of land reform was flawed. To speed up the process, Mbeki noted, the government would begin to consider “expropriation” as a more effective means of reform. 

As journalist Rehana Rossouw would point out in her seminal Predator Politics: Mabuza, Fred Daniel and the Great Land Scam, published in October 2020, his white neighbours in the Badplaas farming community would all blame Daniel for the threat. 

Asked by Daily Maverick to comment on his role in Mbeki’s sabre-rattling for this piece, Daniel was dismissive.

“It’s bullshit,” he told us, “they got it all wrong. The real problem was in the government and it still is.”

 III. Murder, Inc

As readers of this series will remember, Spoor’s testimony wasn’t the first time that Visagie’s name had been mentioned in the North Gauteng High Court. On 6 September 2021, during the final days of the first round of hearings in case number 35402/2010, forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan mentioned the Badplaas speculator too. O’Sullivan, who had been approached in 2014 by a member of the Economic Freedom Fighters to look into ongoing land claims fraud in Mpumalanga, had focused his attention on five randomly chosen farms in the Badplaas region.    

Conservationist vs David Mabuza: Court hears evidence of massive land claims fraud

On the basis of his investigation, O’Sullivan testified, which revealed the same pattern of fake land claims and extreme overvaluation of sale prices, he had concluded that the fraudulent practise extended throughout Mpumalanga, estimating the size of the loss to the South African taxpayer at “somewhere in the region of R2-billion”.   

Visagie, it transpired, was the primary middleman in O’Sullivan’s report he was the same individual who, in the mid- to late-2000s, was still approaching local Badplaas farmers, offering them a deal they couldn’t refuse as long as they didn’t dispute the land claim, and splitting the difference in the hugely inflated on-sale to the regional land claims commission. On the back of these findings, O’Sullivan testified, he had laid criminal charges against Visagie and “the former premier of Mpumalanga”, DD Mabuza.          

Nothing came of the charges, O’Sullivan testified, although there was another alleged fraud that he had uncovered. 

“What we found rather strange,” he told the court, “was that there were letters and memorandums being pushed around [the Mpumalanga provincial government’s department of agriculture and land reform] which were motivating cash payments to Mr Visagie… It was our conclusion that the payments in question amounted to further fraud and we requested the state to investigate that as well”.

“A police source involved in the investigation let slip to local journalists that the murder was potentially linked to Mpatlanyane’s refusal to award the tender to ‘a friend of a prominent ANC leader in the province’.

There was one specific letter that Joubert, Daniel’s advocate, focused upon. It was dated 9 December 2008, when Mabuza was still the MEC for agriculture and land affairs in Mpumalanga. According to this letter, Visagie was owed a further R3,3-million, on top of the R18-million that the department had already paid him which, as O’Sullivan stated, was on top of “the monies that were paid in respect of those five farms”.  

Less than a month later, as evidence submitted before the court, Mabuza would sign off on another letter that effectively authorised payment of the R3,3-million to Visagie. By May 2009, Mabuza would beat off all contenders to assume the province’s most powerful political seat.       

It was the year before the Fifa World Cup, when massive tenders were up for grabs. Back in January 2009, when Mabuza was still the MEC, speaker of the Mbombela council Jimmy Mohlala had been shot dead in his home, following which his widow and children had been interrogated and tortured. Mohlala’s “mistake”, it was reported in the press, was to actively oppose the illegal eviction of the Matsefeni community from their land, which had been identified as the site of the new Mbombela soccer stadium.

Regardless of the fact that the Matsefeni community had successfully applied to the Mbombela High Court for an urgent interdict, with the judge declaring that certain elements within the provincial legislature had been acting like colonialist-era “land grabbing politicians”, Mabuza, in his dual role as ANC provincial chairperson, had openly called for disciplinary measures against Mohlala.

Like the Visagie matter, the murder of Mohlala would never arrive at closure in criminal prosecution. Neither would the murders of Sammy Mpatlanyane, James Nkambule and about a dozen other senior ANC politicians who had been assassinated in the province since 1998. But, as Daily Maverick recently reported, the long-held suspicions that linked Mabuza to these murders would not fade away. 

In December 2021, Mabuza’s attorneys would submit a 60-page application to the Mbombela High Court, demanding that Mpumalanga political activist Joel Pompie Letwaba refrain from alleging on national TV that their client was “responsible for ordering the killing of people”. Letwaba, we noted, had retained the services of an advocate to oppose the application.

So what did all of this have to do with Mnisi?

In part, the answer to the question could be located in a report that had been authored by renowned academic and activist Dale McKinley. Dated September 2011 and published on the website of the South African Civil Society Information Service, the report focused near its end on the murder of Mpatlanyane, who had been gunned down outside his home almost a year to the day after Mohlala was murdered. This time, according to McKinley, it was “the outrageous R20-million tender for Mbombela’s 2010 World Cup fan park that provided the context and cause”.

McKinley continued:

“A police source involved in the investigation let slip to local journalists that the murder was potentially linked to Mpatlanyane’s refusal to award the tender to ‘a friend of a prominent ANC leader in the province’. In the event, the tender went to Pasqa Africa whose director, Izak van der Walt, was a long-time close business associate of Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi, the wife of new Mpumalanga premier, David Mabuza.” 

IV. The conman and the sale

While this was going on, out in Badplaas the new owners of Nkomazi Wilderness were looking to dispose of their non-core asset, into which they had sunk R340-million since buying the remaining 50% from Daniel in September 2008. As part of the deal, Daniel had retained 2,000 hectares of his original 39,000-hectare reserve, in the hopes that the government would take action against the fake land claimants and he could then raise the capital to refinance his dream. But the new owners of Nkomazi, the Emirati state-owned company Dubai World, were not nearly as opposed to the land scam as Daniel himself.  

In December 2010, Daniel was approached by the local director of Dubai World, Willem Dreyer, to ask if he was interested in buying back Nkomazi. At the same time, it turned out, Dreyer was also attempting to sell the reserve to the regional land claims commission. 

Into the breach stepped a man by the name of Gustav de Waal, who had, according to the affidavits obtained by Daily Maverick, been a key player alongside Visagie in the hijacking of the Ndwandwa Community Trust. As reported by The Namibian newspaper in June 2010, De Waal had also been accused by his partners of “double-dealing” in a failed N$3-billion biofuel project in that country, with one of his former employees describing him as “the sweetest conman you will ever meet”.

For this specific “con” an epithet that would soon be confirmed by the evidence De Waal had registered a South African company under the grandiose name of Investment for Agricultural Sustainability in Africa, or Ifasa. In early 2010, Ifasa had partnered with the Ndwandwa Community Trust, knowing that its letters of authority were fake (see above). The aim of the partnership was to purchase Nkomazi Wilderness, with government backing, on behalf of the Badplaas land claimants. De Waal claimed to have R2,5-billion on hand for just such an investment. 

Dreyer, meanwhile, would admit the following to Daniel via email in January 2011, after he had been confronted by the conservationist with what he knew: 

“The reason we embarked on this route [with Ifasa] is that relying on the court process proved to be tedious with a long and protracted timeframe. Legal counsel opinion supports our view that these claims are spurious in nature; however, they remain a land claim until proven to be spurious in the Land Claims Court or de-gazetted.”

As proof of the government’s involvement, amongst the trove of documents obtained by Daily Maverick was an email from Lucas Mufamadi, operations director of the regional land claims commission, to Dreyer. Dated 18 January 2011 and cc’d to Tumi Seboka, former head of the regional land claims commission who according to Rossouw in Predator Politics was about to act as a “facilitator” for both Ifasa and Mabuza at a meeting in Badplaas, the email referred to a memorandum of understanding that had been negotiated between the parties the previous year. 

“Which of the two options reflected in the memorandum of understanding do you prefer?” Mufamadi asked Dreyer in the email. 

The options, as reflected on page 9 of the MoU, were either that the entirety of the property would be purchased for R350-million, or that just the properties in the “south” would be purchased for R60-million. 

Daniel and his business partner John Allen would scupper the plans of Dubai World, Ifasa, the Ndwandwa Community Trust and the provincial government. In an urgent application to the North Gauteng High Court in June 2011, Daniel would provide evidence that Ifasa was a front for the land claimants, that “the whole transaction was dependent upon the obtaining of a state-issued guarantee somewhere in the region of R350-million”, and that the company had every intention of changing the land use from conservation to agriculture as soon as they had control. Separately, Daniel was able to confirm via Ifasa’s lawyer, who claimed that De Waal owed him money, that the promise of a R2,5-billion investment was false. 

In tandem with the application to interdict the sale, Ndwandwa Community Trust founder Robert Nkosi, backed and supported by Daniel, was preparing to lay criminal charges at the Badplaas police station the first against Visagie and the fake trustees, and the second against the three directors of Ifasa. At a meeting in Pretoria in September 2011, attended by Nkosi, Daniel, Allen and the Master of the High Court, proof was furnished that the trust had been hijacked. 

On 11 October 2011, the Master of the High Court pulled the trigger. In a letter to Nkosi on a Department of Justice letterhead, the Master noted that the trust’s letters of authority dated November 2006 were to be “revoked with immediate effect” and that the letters of authority dated May 2004 were henceforth considered “valid”. Within less than a month, on 4 November 2011, Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann issued a court order that the fake trustees should resign and that Nkosi should be reinstated.

As for the urgent interdict that Daniel had brought back in June, the scam had now collapsed along with the deal. But importantly, before Deputy Judge President Willem van der Merwe on 4 October 2011, Dubai World’s counsel had provided an undertaking to Daniel’s counsel that the company would not sell Nkomazi until all of the disputes in the interdict proceedings had been resolved. Given that he was still a partial landowner with “full traversing rights”, Daniel’s argument was that it would be catastrophic to sell to the fake land claimants and to change the land use. 

After the court order of Judge Bertelsmann, the interdict had become moot. Still, Dubai World, who now couldn’t get their R350-million bank guarantee from the government, remained tied up with Daniel on the issue of partial ownership and traversing rights – and so the company’s undertaking not to sell would remain in place, subject to arbitration. 

In late June 2015, while the matter was still under arbitration, Daniel took a phone-call from Spoor. His former attorney, who had since 2008 been proffering his land rights expertise to Dubai World, informed the conservationist that the south of the nature reserve had just been sold. Daniel, shocked, asked Spoor to verify the sale. A few days later, he received a print-out from the deeds office

The new owner of a consolidated 12,000 hectares in the south of Nkomazi, as per the printout, was the national government of the Republic of South Africa. The purchase price was listed as R45-million. 

The consolidated properties, when broken up by Daily Maverick into their original component farms, were practically identical to the farms listed in the scuppered MoU between Dubai World, the regional land claims commission, the fake Ndwandwa Community Trust and the disgraced Ifasa.   

V. Agency of the year

In her profile on the website of Pam Golding Properties, South Africa’s leading real estate agency and the winner of Best International Real Estate Agency at the 2020/2021 International Property Awards, Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi opens with the fact that she has been employed by the company since 2012. “Granted,” she writes, “my name is Patience but I am not slow.” She casts herself as a “diligent, thorough and eager partner” in her clients’ real estate endeavours. Her “most notable sales were achieved in May 2015,” she goes on, “to the value of R5-million”.

Deputy President David Mabuza and his wife Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi during the inauguration of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa as head of state of the Republic of South Africa at Loftus Stadium on May 25, 2019 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images/Lefty Shivambu)

As it turns out, on a commission of “at least 7.5%” – which a blog on an industry website says all Pam Golding agents have “allegedly been taught to work on” – that would be the upper ballpark of her earnings if Mnisi was indeed the broker of the south of Nkomazi to the government. The timeline, also, would match. But it was the steps in the process leading up to winter 2015, as well as her betrothal to the provincial premier and the testimony of Spoor in February 2022 (again, Spoor was one of Dubai World’s attorneys at the time of the sale), that would serve as the ultimate smoking gun. 

Then there was the document, dated 29 June 2015, on the letterhead of the legal firm Du Toit-Smuts & Mathews Phosa. Addressed to the chief director of land restitution support in Mpumalanga, the subject line was “properties available for sale to the regional land claims commission”. In the body of the letter, the firm confirmed that they were acting as representatives of “Seldsaam Beleggings CC, trading as Pam Golding Properties Nkomazi”, the same branch in Badplaas for which Mnisi had been working since 2012. 

 

The attorneys further confirmed that Pam Golding Properties Nkomazi had been “appointed by Dubai World… to broker the sale of its properties”. Given that 12,000 hectares had already been sold in the south, the apparent purpose of the letter was to inform the regional land claims commission that the remainder of the reserve was up for sale.

Daniel had obtained the document from a source in the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. In the email, he had pointed out that Dubai World had “acceded to a court order not to alienate or sell any of their assets pending the finalisation of the litigation”.  

From around 2005, as Daily Maverick has reported at length, Daniel had endured ongoing violent protests at the gates of Nkomazi Wilderness, the first staged by the fake Ndwanda Community Trust in retaliation for exposing the land grabs and then later, when he refused to submit, staged by the so-called Greater Badplaas Land Claims Committee – the most notorious of which had been preceded by a hostage situation at the Badplaas police station. In 2008, according to Daniel, Mabuza had phoned him to persuade him to accept the fake land claims, failing which his safety could not be guaranteed.

It wasn’t in Daniel’s nature, then, to give up on the property now. In early August 2015, he fired off the next in a barrage of blunt and defiant emails, this one to Hamish Stuart, Dubai World’s international director of real estate. “Mabuza is under investigation as the mastermind behind the land fraud in Badplaas,” he wrote. “He is now linked to Visagie/Ifasa [Gustav de Waal] and Tumi Seboka. His wife Patience Mnisi, the Badplaas agent for Pam Golding, is behind the brokering of the Nkomazi farms this year.”    

To back up his contention that Mabuza was “under investigation”, Daniel provided a link to the lead story that appeared the same day in the Sunday Independent. Headlined “Probe puts politician in spotlight”, the report opened with the statement that the “biggest land restitution fraud case in South Africa, involving more than R70-million and a proposed R2,5-billion project, could return to haunt prominent Mpumalanga businessmen and politicians”. Based on the abovementioned report of O’Sullivan, the investigation into the Ifasa affair – which had been initiated by Nkosi’s charges in 2011, but had stalled in 2013 due to what the Hawks termed “a lack of evidence” – had apparently just been widened to include Mabuza and Mpumalanga’s former deputy director of land reform services, Sunnyboy Maphanga. 

By all accounts, it was due to Daniel’s consistent pressure that the sale of the rest of Nkomazi to the government did not go through. But the full and complex narrative had by then gathered an explosive head of steam – and the evidence, when it came to what the Hawks would do about it, appeared to fall once again into the void.

“I am unaware that my husband was a person of interest when the Hawks widened their investigation in August 2015,” Mnisi responded, when Daily Maverick put the question to her via email. “Please ask the Hawks what [the] outcome of the investigation [was].”

The Hawks, through spokesperson Brigadier Nomthandazo Mbambo, got back to us instantly. “This was O’Sullivan’s version,” Mbambo stated, adding that “the Hawks have no record of such an investigation”. 

As for the documentary evidence that Daily Maverick offered Mnisi for comment, specifically the deed of sale of 12,000 hectares in the south and the letter from the attorneys Du Toit-Smuts & Mathews Phosa, Mnisi once again denied any knowledge. Regarding the former, she stated that she had “nothing to do with the sale”, while her response to the latter was that “the lawyers did not write the letter under [her] instructions”. She claimed, even though she worked in Badplaas, never to have heard of Ifasa or the Ndwandwa Community Trust. Mnisi further denied that the citation of the R5-million figure on her profile had anything to do with commission, insisting that it was for “sales achieved”.

In general, Mnisi expressed her embarrassment and dismay that Spoor had included the allegation of “substantial sale commissions” in his witness statement, informing us that she had first learned of it in a report in City Press – an article, as she correctly stated, that had not presented the evidence or allowed for her comment. Her full response to Daily Maverick, was, she stated, a repetition of a rebuttal that she had placed in The Star.  

Why Iqbal Survé’s flagship newspaper would choose to rebut a lead story published in a rival company’s brand was – at that moment – the subject of a different discussion, but there was something else that Mnisi urged Daily Maverick to do: ask her superiors at Pam Golding Properties for their take on events.

We had done so already, in a ten-point questionnaire sent to the company’s CEO Andrew Golding, but received no reply. What we hoped to glean, aside from clarity on the documentary evidence as outlined above, was whether Golding believed it was irregular or illegal for a commercial property company to broker land under a series of claims – particularly when those claims had been acknowledged as “spurious” by his own client.

By our reckoning, Pam Golding’s work had always been to sign up sellers, advertise for buyers and take a cut of the sale. In this case, as evidenced by the history, the buyer was already locked in – it was the “national government of the Republic of South Africa”, which for more than a decade had been employing any means necessary to get its hands on Nkomazi Wilderness. 

Further, it had always been the primary job of the land claims commissioner to satisfy a “willing seller” on a property where a land claim had been deemed legitimate. Even if the claims weren’t spurious, would the involvement of a real estate agency not expose the system to abuse, with the taxpayer on the hook for potential fraud?

Failing an engagement with Pam Golding’s CEO on the issue, we put the question to Spoor. 

“At least 95% of land claims are settled outside the Land Claims Court,” he told us, “and 95% are over-inflated. But it is rare for estate agents to get involved. I’m not aware of any other case where estate agents were involved.”

VI. Putinesque projections

In March 2015, Judge Willem Heath concluded a report into the land claims scam in Badplaas, with a focus on the hijacking of the Ndwandwa Community Trust and its consequences. The dispute, Heath declared in the report’s opening, had been “created by greedy officials who abused their power and state process to mix politics, business and criminality for short-term material gain, at the expense of the public at large”. 

According to Heath, the actions were in violation of the Constitution, “at odds with the public servants’ administrative duty” and “to the detriment of service delivery”. As a result, he stated, its effects were “mostly impacting on the poorest of the poor”.   

Still, even more public funds had been wasted, Heath added, by the “subsequent covering up of the fraud and corruption to avoid prosecution”, which had included “an extensive dirty tricks campaign against the whistle-blowers”.   

It was the estimated scale of the loss to the people of Mpumalanga, therefore, that was the most disturbing part of the report: 

“These actions have destabilised the local rural economy, causing loss of investment confidence and damages which have been calculated to more than R35-billion [Heath’s emphasis] in lost investment and revenue, lost foreign exchange and taxes to the government and the loss of more than 6,000 local jobs. This is devastating in an area with an unemployment rate of 75%.”

Fast-forward to July 2017, when Mabuza was reportedly warned by former president Jacob Zuma’s supporters that he would “find himself behind bars” if he did not publicly back Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as ANC president at the next elective conference, scheduled for December at Nasrec in Gauteng. Aside from the overt implication that it had always been Zuma protecting Mabuza – a suspicion that had been accorded great weight in 2013, when Zuma refused Daniel’s request to appoint a commission of inquiry into corruption in Mpumalanga – this was also a covert acknowledgement of the behind-the-scenes sway of the provincial premier.

Back in January 2017, Mabuza had surprised party insiders when his name began to appear on different lists as the ANC’s next potential president or deputy president. The so-called “Premier League”, comprising Ace Magashule of the Free State,  Supra Mahumapelo of North West and Mabuza himself, had for years been perceived as Zuma’s power bloc in the ANC. But in September 2017, ever the strategist, Mabuza would deny in an exclusive interview on Power FM that there had ever been such a thing as a Premier League.

“It’s a new era,” he told presenter Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, after conceding (perhaps to throw his interlocutor off the scent) that he had been involved, like everyone else, in factionalist politics at the two previous elective conferences in Polokwane and Mangaung. “We’ve found one another, we’ve discussed and we’ve realised our differences.”   

Campaigning on this “unity” ticket, Mabuza would beat Lindiwe Sisulu – by a relatively comfortable margin of 2,538 votes to 2,159 votes, or 54% to 46% – to take the party’s second-highest position at Nasrec. To many observers, however, the real story was the pivotal role he had played in ensuring the election to the top spot of Cyril Ramaphosa. After all, as revealed in leaked documents in August 2019, one of the central pillars of the CR17 campaign had been to “break the spine of the Premier League and capitalise on garnering support of voting delegates in divided provinces”. 

In October 2019, soon after Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane had released her report into the CR17 campaign’s misuse of taxpayers’ funds, Mabuza – now the deputy president of the country – sprang to the defence of President Ramaphosa.

“Those who donated the money did nothing wrong,” he stated in the National Assembly, referring to the R500,000 contribution of Bosasa. “There is no element of corruption. The money was not stolen, it was donated.”

While Mkhwebane’s report would ultimately get invalidated by the Constitutional Court, the case against Mabuza would continue to slip through every prosecutorial net. A formal request from Daniel’s attorneys, in February 2019, to advocate Shamila Batohi of the National Prosecuting Authority to reinstate the charges against the Ifasa directors and the members of the fake Ndwandwa Community Trust (note: Daily Maverick found it impossible to disentangle the cross-over between the Hawks and the NPA on the matter) would go unanswered.

The only chance for justice, it seemed, remained case number 35402/2010 of the North Gauteng High Court, which was due to resume – for a third round of hearings – on 25 July 2022. But there was now an enormous question hanging over the trial: where would its outcome leave Ramaphosa? 

On 7 March 2022, Daily Maverick reported that the ANC branches in Mpumalanga were calling for Ramaphosa to make himself available for a second term. The call was “largely symbolic”, noted journalist Carien du Plessis, as nominations for the upcoming elective conference in December would only be accepted from August. Du Plessis also referred, however, to Mabuza’s “continued iron grip” on the province, noting that “he has a reputation as a micromanager with an eye for detail”.

Meanwhile, in the hinterlands of Mpumalanga, a 12,000-hectare swathe of land was collapsing into obscurity and ruin. Once part of a beautiful nature reserve in the foothills of the Makhonjwa Mountains, the land, according to Daily Maverick’s source, had since 2015 been used as a “fattening kraal for cattle”. 

Apparently, after the sale to the national government, there were “big gates, fences and new roads”. But lately, our source informed us, everything had “gone quiet”.  DM168/OBP

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Woolworths, Spar, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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All Comments 8

  • A Luta Continua (and the Putinesque reference is spot on !!)
    Is DD travelling to Mpumalanga soon, there are sooooo many car accidents in that province. Just saying….

  • Thanks Kevin. Keep the pressure on these gangsters. Here’s hoping the justice system can hopefully find its morals and start locking up some of these players.

  • Given that Mabuza is a heartbeat away from the presidency, this is an incredibly important story. The facts uncovered above need far more oxygen in the various SA news fora. The challenge is to present them to the average rural voters in a much more digestible format.

    I would not be surprised if Mabuza’s Russian visits tie in to Putin having “kompromat” information relating to the above report. Though SA is not a significant global player, Putin would love to have another leader of a country who, like Trump, does his bidding. Voters should make sure that never happens!

    I was told that Mabuza is the son of a fairly powerful and respected chief. This is probably a factor in his standing within the ANC.

  • Thanks, DM and Kevin, for a meticulous laying-out of the tangled skeins in this epic case. The introduction of a female protagonist adds spice to the political heavyweights in the action.

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