African National Congress (ANC) secretary-general Ace Magashule has denied any involvement in an agricultural project involving two agri-villages in the Free State while premier of the province.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) alleges the project has provided hardly any benefit to its beneficiaries, despite government allegedly spending almost R200 million.
“I was premier, I was never head of department (HOD),” Magashule told The Citizen.
“These were departmental projects,” he added, saying it was the department who should be contacted.
Several calls made to the Free State department of agriculture and rural development went unanswered on Tuesday.
Magashule asked if The Citizen had personally visited the agri-villages.
“Go see them yourself,” he advised.
This follows the DA releasing a statement on “another ailing land reform agri-village project in the Free State”, the province which brought us the Vrede Dairy Project, which was linked to the controversial Gupta family, with reports alleging that R30 million intended for the project was laundered and used for the 2013 wedding ceremony of Vega Gupta at Sun City, and that only 1% of the R220 million allocated to the dairy by government was spent on farming.
According to the DA, a visit to an agri-village at Wilhelmina outside Ficksburg “exposed yet another empty promise of a better life for the thirteen beneficiaries and their families who are living there”.
An earlier visit at another agri-village, Dityatalawa, “exposed a derelict dairy, apple orchards in ruins and little other activity for the 50 beneficiaries”. The project has cost R150 million so far, according to the DA.
Wilhelmina is a “government-owned farm has 35.8 hectares of peach and 8.5 hectares of cherry orchards. In addition, 25 dairy cattle, an apple orchard and vegetable production were later introduced”.
The DA said the project had cost a total of R48.404 million so far, but only generated R2.5 million in income between 2010 and 2018.
In addition, they said the projected had only allowed its beneficiaries an income of R5,000 per month, for only five months of the year, and that the rest of the time, “they are left to live very frugally”.
“It is clear that at both Diyatalawa (R150 million investment) and Wilhelmina (R48.4 million investment), the large investments by government have failed to bring about a sustainable income or improve the long term outlook for a better life among beneficiaries,” the DA said.
Both the Vrede Dairy Project and one involving the Dityatalawa and Wilhelmina agri-villages went ahead under Magashule’s watch. He hailed the agri-villages as important projects during various State of the Province Addresses, according to the DA.
“What is wrong with that?” he asked when confronted on his mention of the villages in speeches.
Magashule had his offices raided by the Hawks in 2018 over the Vrede project, although those charges were later dropped.
A report from Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane called for Magashule to institute disciplinary action against implicated officials, rather than finding him guilty of any wrongdoing. The report was slammed by the DA as a “whitewash” of corruption, as well as by the South African Federation of Trade Unions for its failure to hold those allegedly responsible for the scandal accountable – Magashule as well as the Guptas and former Free State agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.
The report was successfully set aside in May this year, following an application from the DA and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution.
Magashule denied any involvement in the Vrede Dairy Project when speaking to The Citizen on Tuesday. “I was never involved in any project and there was even a report during [former public protector Thuli] Madonsela’s term. It was final and I was never mentioned,” he said.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman)