South Africa: Estina Dairy Farm - I Was Approached Last Week to Help With Public Protector Probe, Says Ex-Agriculture Head

The former head of the Free State department of agriculture, Peter Thabethe, told the commission of inquiry into state capture on Thursday that he had been summoned by the Public Protector's office last week to give evidence about the Estina dairy farm case.

Thabethe said, other than this recent request, he had never been approached by anyone regarding his role in the Estina dairy farm project.

This was in relation to part two of the Public Protector's investigation into the Estina matter, spokesperson Oupa Segalwe confirmed.

"Mr Thabethe was at the office to answer questions in connection with part two of the Public Protector's investigation into the Estina dairy farm project. He had been subpoenaed to appear before the Public Protector.

"Part two of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's investigation into the Estina dairy farm is underway, concerning the role of politicians in the matter as well as those meant to benefit from the project," Segalwe said.

The initial investigation and provisional report on the case was handled by Mkhwebane's predecessor, Thuli Madonsela. When Mkhwebane assumed office in October 2016, she inherited the provisional report prepared by Madonsela.

Mkhwebane quietly released the report in 2018, highlighting procurement irregularities, "gross negligence" and maladministration related to the controversial project.She recommended as remedial action that former Free State premier Ace Magashule "initiate and institute disciplinary action against all implicated officials involved in the Vrede dairy project".However, the DA was of the view Mkhwebane was not "prudent" in her investigation and that senior politicians implicated in the project were not interviewed.

The report fuelled public outrage when it failed to make findings against Magashule and former Free State agriculture and rural development MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.

Speaking to News24 on Thursday, Segalwe said the second part of the investigation came about "at the insistence of the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services".

He added Magashule and Zwane had already been interviewed.

"To date, she has interviewed a number of politicians including Magashule and Zwane. More interviews are on the cards."

Segalwe added Mkhwebane had also held a public hearing in Vrede with those who were meant to benefit from the project in April this year.

"Dozens of people gave evidence under oath and several others deposed sworn statements on the prejudice they allegedly suffered."

Earlier on Thursday, the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled Mkhwebane had failed the people of South Africa with her first investigation into the Estina dairy farm, which had previously been set aside.

The court ruled Mkhwebane should be personally held liable for the legal costs in the case and that she should pay 7.5% of the DA's legal costs, as well as 7.5% of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution's (Casac) costs.

The court further ruled that the Public Protector should pay 85% of the DA's attorney's fees and 85% of Casac's in her official capacity.

On Thursday, News24 reported Judge Ronel Tolmay had lambasted Mkhwebane, saying she showed a "total disregard for the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill and flies in the face of her complaint about how financial constraints limited her ability to properly investigate...

"The failures and dereliction of duty by the Public Protector in the Estina matter are manifold. They speak to her failure to execute her duties in terms of the Constitution and the Public Protector Act" Judge Tolmay added.

News24 reported that Segalwe, at the time of the judgment, said it would be appealing the ruling.

"This particular investigation relating to Estina was completed in 2015, that is a year before advocate Mkhwebane came into office and at the time there was even a provisional report.

"If you study that provisional report, which the Public Protector has since published on her official website, you will see that there were no findings ... against any politician," he said.

The Estina dairy farm is believed to have links to the infamous Gupta family. After its establishment, 100 black emerging farmers were promised five cows each but never received them.

It is alleged that about R200m in taxpayers' money meant to go toward the farm and empowering rural farmers were instead funnelled to the Gupta family and their lavish 2013 Sun City wedding.

Source: News24

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