A week ago, one of the intended beneficiaries of the Free State provincial government’s Estina Dairy Farm project, Sibusiso Dhlamini, was on the stand at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. He testified about how he and other small-scale dairy farmers were promised a stake in the project.
Dhlamini detailed how former Free State MEC for agriculture Mosebenzi Zwane made promises that each small-scale farmer would receive a stake in the project, leading to some of the farmers selling off some of their own cattle in anticipation of the help from government. Zwane’s promises came to zero.
The farmers watched how funds intended for them ended up funding a Gupta wedding at Sun City. Closer to home, they could only stare in disbelief as Zwane took a kids’ church choir to India using the funds from the project.
If ever the looting that went on in the Free State and the rest of the country during state capture needed a face, Dhlamini and his fellow small-scale farmers are the faces of the victims who suffered directly from state capture.
They were lied to, made empty promises to and then had their names used to get millions of rands worth of funds released to the Free State government, only to watch helplessly as Zwane and his department diverted the funds away from them, with less than 1% ending up in the doomed project. The farmers also had to watch as the NPA botched the case in court, with those who siphoned off funds walking away scot-free.
New National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shamila Batohi is said to be still getting her ducks in a row before proceeding with any charges related to state capture.
That is admirable, but it is of the utmost importance that the NPA is now the only body that can get the likes of Dhlamini and his colleagues the justice they need after the cruel treatment meted out to them by the Zwane-led Free State agriculture department.
Batohi is at the centre of the battle for the soul of South Africa. Hers is the only body that gives real teeth to the state capture inquiry but, most importantly, makes people like Dhlamini believe in the rule of law again.
The public protector’s whitewash report that exonerated those involved in the Estina dairy farm project has been further exposed as a monumental cover-up through Dhlamini’s testimony at the commission.
The public doesn’t get any more public than Dhlamini and his colleagues. “She never spoke to the beneficiaries. The first time we saw her was this year,” Dhlamini told the commission about Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
The NPA must always be free of the politics of the day but it is important for the head to realise that political stability for the entire nation depends on the office being effective.
They should take a leaf from the Commission of Inquiry into Tax Administration and Governance by Sars that got rid of Tom Moyane. Retired Judge Robert Nugent did not wait until the commission’s work was done before recommending that Moyane be sacked. Batohi and her team must not wait until the Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s work is done before charging those responsible for the Estina Dairy Farm grand looting.
To restore the country’s faith in the NPA they must act now, and decisively.