South Africa: Many Estina Dairy Farm Beneficiaries Want the Project to Continue, Public Protector Hears

Many beneficiaries of the collapsed Gupta-linked Estina dairy farm project in Vrede are still expecting some compensation from government, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane heard on Thursday.

Mkhwebane heard testimony from some of the 80 farmers who stood to benefit from the project, which resulted in alleged theft of close to R240m.

The Public Protector is investigating political collusion in the collapse of the project. This, she said, was at the behest of the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice.

Those who testified told Mkhwebane of how they had been promised trips to India for dairy farm business training and cattle to start up the project.

Makhosini Dlamini, who was the first to testify, said the MEC for agriculture at the time, Mosebenzi Zwane, had made bold promises and had even tried to persuade beneficiaries to sell their cows.

"Only six of the beneficiaries wanted to farm dairy. The rest of us wanted to farm red meat. We knew dairy farming was difficult. Zwane told us to sell our cattle and government would buy us new livestock, but we refused," he said.

Dlamini then told Mkhwebane of how Zwane and his successor, Mamiki Qabathe, played key roles in trying to convince the community to be part of the project.

While several beneficiaries testified about Zwane and Qabathe's close involvement with the project, many said they only saw ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, who was then Free State premier.

Dlamini testified that, while the beneficiaries were still awaiting the many promises to start up the project, they heard that the funding had been granted.

"It didn't make sense. How can funding for a project be approved when we have not done anything yet? As we were hearing this, the project started without us," he said

One man, who went by the name Nxumalo, said Magashule only came once to inspect the site.

Mkhwebane said she would call on Zwane and Qabathe to give their response. She added that she would also call on Magashule to testify if any new evidence surfaced from the beneficiary's testimonies.

"The feedback is that promises had been broken. They had high expectations. They were expecting to be employed in this project, and that it would benefit their families."

She said they were expecting to get returns, but that it was a good thing no one had lost any of the livestock they had already owned.

"A lot of them are saying let the project continue working. Its a good thing for black farmers to also benefit from that industry. They are also saying, let's be involved, let's benefit..."

Mkhwebane added that she expected to have the outcome of the report in the next three months.

Source: News24

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