After ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was labelled a “blesser to many” because of money allegedly sourced through an asbestos project in the Free State during his tenure as premier, the Zondo commission summoned his personal assistant (PA) at the time to give evidence relating to this allegation.
Testifying at the commission in August, former Free State economic development MEC Mxolisi Dukwana said: “Mr Magashule was simply a blesser to many due to payments advanced by Mr [Ignatius] Mpambani from monies corruptly and fraudulently sourced from state coffers through the asbestos project.”
Dukwana alleged that Mpambani acceded to these requests by effecting payments using monies allegedly gained “fraudulently” through a contract his company scored from the Free State department of human settlements without it being put to tender.
Dukwana told the chairperson of the commission, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, of a number of “onerous requests” the office of the then-premier made to Phikolomzi Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani for funding, which included payments for travel costs and settling of student fees, among others.
Magashule’s PA at the time, Moroadi Cholota, on Friday said most of these “requests for funding” were not only directed to Mpambani but also to other businesspeople.
Cholota said most of these requests had been made to the office of the premier by the “needy” and that in instances when the office could not assist, aid would be sought from businesspeople.
Evidence leader at the commission Baitseng Rangata asked Cholota about an email dated January 28, 2016, which she sent from her official email to Mpambani requesting that he pay R250,000 to a travel agent and that he should provide proof of payment.
Cholota said she would need to see the document she had attached to the email to Mpambani to determine the exact details about the payment.
“I really don’t remember what it was for,” she said.
She told the commission that the premier’s travel costs were handled by the director-general and the chief financial officer in supply chain management, and that if the travelling costs were not for the premier but had been a request to the office of the premier to assist, then she would liaise with different business people seeking aid.
Cholota said such requests to the office of the premier would be made by a number of different people and groups, including musicians, artists, and athletes, but mostly students.
Zondo asked Choloto why such requests were not referred directly to the businesspeople or to government departments that would be relevant as per request.
“We would do that in most cases,” Cholota said, adding that the office of the premier would be approached once those seeking assistance had exhausted all other possible avenues, including government departments.
Cholota said in instances when students sought financial assistance, the office of the premier “would engage with the department of education” which would be sent a list of those seeking assistance and then the department would respond with a list of those it could assist.
For those the said department could not assist, the office of the premier would then approach business people for help, Cholota said.
Cholota said she used an existing database within the office of the premier to draw up a list of the business people she would approach for a request for financial assistance. She said the person(s) or entities she would approach would be determined by the type of request.
Rangata noted that out of the 13 or 14 emails before the commission, Mpambani seemed to be the most helpful.
“Mr Igo Mpambani was not the only business person I approached,” Cholota said, adding that in her official laptop, there were a number of lists the commission could obtain “of business people that I have contacted”.
Zondo asked Cholota to assist the commission’s legal team with obtaining those lists.
Zondo also asked Cholota if she would have any knowledge if the businesspeople she had approached had contracts with the Free State provincial government.
“I wouldn’t know, chair,” Cholota said.
Zondo said what concerned him was that some of the amounts the office of the premier had requested to be settled were quite high, pointing out a R500,000 payment made to a students’ representative council president in Cuba.
Cholota said that according to her recollection, she had been told that during a trip to Cuba, Mpambani had undertaken to purchase around 200 laptops for South African students from the province based in the country.
“That amount was sent to him based on his commitment,” Cholota said.
Zondo asked Cholota about another R30,000 paid by Mpambani to the SRC president in Cuba.
Cholota said the students in the country had approached the then-premier requesting for funding for an Africa Day celebration which resulted in the request to the late businessman.
Dukwana had previously told the commission that on July 17, 2015, suspended SA Revenue Service (Sars) executive Refiloe Mokoena sent an email to the office of the premier requesting the settlement of her daughter’s university fees and that the request was subsequently forwarded to Mpambani.
Cholota said poor and needy people were a priority and that those who could not afford or were in tight financial situations would also be helped.