Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Mmusi Maimane has written a statement calling the decision by the High Court in Pretoria to set aside Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s Vrede Dairy Project report a “victory in the fight against corruption”, but adding that he now wanted to see arrests of high profile politicians involved in the “theft of almost R200 million of public money”, such as ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule – who was premier of the Free State when the farm was established, and Mosebenzi Zwane, who was the province’s minister of agriculture at the time.
The setting aside of the report, which was declared unconstitutional and invalid, means South Africa is “now one step closer in seeking justice for the more than 100 intended beneficiaries of this sham empowerment scheme,” Maimane said.
“Instead of empowering those who are left out of the economy, over 100 black South Africans were used as a front for a calculated scheme of grand corruption and money laundering to benefit the Guptas and their friends in the ANC. Between the Guptas and the ANC, economic opportunity was stolen from black South Africans. This is a crime of the most reprehensible nature, and those responsible must face the full might of the law,” the DA leader continues in the statement, before detailing his and his party’s role in fighting for those involved to be held accountable.
Maimane said he met with the “intended beneficiaries” of the scheme almost two years ago, undertaking “to fight this matter on all fronts”.
“The DA laid the initial complaint with the public protector, and following the release of her report, we held the view that the report was a ‘whitewash’ as it failed to hold to account those responsible for the theft of almost R200 million of public money. Today, the North Gauteng High Court [in Pretoria] has vindicated our view, as it held this report to be unconstitutional and invalid.
“In July 2017, the DA laid criminal charges against those implicated in this act of corruption. These charges include money laundering, racketeering, assisting another to benefit from the proceeds of unlawful activities, and acquiring, possessing or using the proceeds of unlawful activities in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act 121 of 1998. A month later, I hand-delivered a legal indictment containing over 200 pages of prima facie evidence of these crimes to the Hawks.”
The next step, according to the DA leader, is to “urgently seek an update from National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) advocate Shamila Batohi, as to progress on this investigation”.
“It is high time that the criminal justice system does its job,” Maimane wrote. “It’s been almost one and a half years since Cyril Ramaphosa became president and vowed to fight corruption. Yet today, not a single person implicated in corruption has been held accountable and put behind bars. Instead, the chief architects of corruption – like Ace Magashule, Bathabile Dlamini, Nomvula Mokonyane, and Mosebenzi Zwane – remain in charge and occupy ANC benches in parliament.
“We believe that this is a clear-cut example of money-laundering and corruption. The charges have been laid, the evidence is clear and overwhelming, and now all that’s left to do is move forward with prosecution. It is unacceptable that the perpetrators of this crime have yet to be charged, and as such, this indictment serves to speed up the wheels of justice to ensure that those who stole the people’s money are prosecuted, and if found guilty by a court of law – are put behind bars.”
Maimane then turned his attention to the public protector, who he said “seems hellbent on wasting precious funds on spurious litigation”.
According to him, “a disproportionate amount of advocate Mkhwebane’s budget has been wasted on unsuccessful litigation when this money ought to be spent on protecting the interests the people of South Africa and holding the powerful to account. We urge her to accept this judgment and to go back to the drawing board. Her job is to protect the public, which includes the over 100 victims of the Vrede Dairy Project.”
The scandal around the Vrede Dairy Project involved at least R200 million in public funds meant for emerging black farmers in Vrede allegedly flowed to Estina, a company linked to the controversial Gupta family.
Some of the money was allegedly used to pay for the Guptas’ lavish family wedding at Sun City resort in 2013.
The DA, alongside the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac), argued in October last year that Mkhwebane had not acted prudently in her probe and had failed to investigate senior politicians implicated in corruption and money-laundering that sank the agriculture project.
The report evoked outrage for its failure to hold Magashule accountable, making no direct findings against him and instead, finding only that he should institute disciplinary action against officials who were involved in the project.
Mkhwebane rubbished claims that she sanitised a provisional report on the Estina project, compiled during the tenure of her predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, to protect Free State politicians from the ANC.
This marks the second report by the current public protector to be set aside, with one dealing with an apartheid-era bailout to a bank since bought by Absa set aside with costs in February last year.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)