Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
13 Jul 2017
5:01 am

Guptas ‘milking’ taxpayers of millions through this dairy farm

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

‘Beneficiaries’ have been left destitute as project shows no profit in four years despite R570m being diverted from state funds.

File image: Dairy cows on the Vrede dairy farm in the Free State. Picture: Neil McCartney

This is the farm that the Guptas and their ANC associates allegedly radically economically transformed into a financial failure after apparently milking millions from taxpayers’ money from it.

One of the victims of this alleged state capture, 54-year-old subsistence farmer Eric Khubeka, is bitter that the community upliftment project has done the opposite for him – it’s left him in poverty.

He was one of 90 beneficiaries who were told they owned 51% of the project. But, he says, they have seen no profits since it started four years ago.

Yesterday, Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane led a visit to the dairy farm in Vrede in the Free State, established during the time when Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was the MEC for agriculture in the province.

The project has allegedly sucked up R570 million in taxpayers’ money.

Maimane described the farm as a “front” used by “captured” government officials to launder money to the Gupta family.

#GuptaLeaks revelations recently showed that the companies linked to the Gupta family, and working an intricate financial network stretching to Dubai, had been paid more than R100 million by the Free State government.

A Gupta company, Estina, had originally been given the contract to run the farm, while another Gupta-linked company in India had been awarded the contract to provide milking machinery.

Last month the amaBhungane journalism centre reported that of the money diverted from the project’s funds, R30 million came back to South Africa from Dubai to pay for the wedding of Vega Gupta that made headlines in 2013.

Currently, the farm is still apparently sucking up more than R22 million in government money which is being committed in an effort to keep the ailing farm going. That money goes towards milking just over 500 cows.

Maimane called for the farm to be closed or opened up to private investors because, although it was costing millions per year to run, it was not profitable.

Also brought into question was whether the community in Vrede was benefiting from the project. It employs 47 local residents to grow food for the cows and milk them daily.

The milk is sold to a dairy processing company in Harrismith because, while it has millions of rands’ worth of processing equipment, all the farm does at the moment is milk cows.

In 2015, a National Treasury report found that the R570 million dairy project was riddled with irregularities.

Khubeka described having to sell all his livestock to keep his head above water.

Chief financial officer at the Free State Development Corporation Shepherd Moyo was hard-pressed to explain whether government had given them financial targets to meet, except to keep the “business” afloat.

In September last year, Moyo said a tender was issued for a project management company to take care of daily operations after Estina allegedly bailed on the project.

The 400-hectare farm boasts state-of-the-art milking equipment, but the deserted processing facility has never been used because, according to Etsho Engineering and Project Management’s Ramohomane Mohole, it was not adequately equipped.

“They have been running this farm on an R800 000-per-month contract and yet we found animals lying (dead) on the side,” lamented Maimane. –