The commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Tuesday that the botched Vrede Dairy Farm project was “a very good idea”.
The commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, was hearing testimony on the Vrede Dairy Farm project which saw more than R200 million meant for emerging black farmers allegedly looted by officials and the fugitive Gupta family.
Albertus Venter, the deputy director-general of corporate administration and coordination in the Free State Premiers Office, on Tuesday concluded his testimony on the project.
Venter told the commission that when he initially heard about it, he thought it was “a very good idea” which had excited him.
“It sounded extremely good and I still think that if it was properly managed to its logical conclusion, it could still ascertain what was initially envisaged,” Venter told the commission.
The witness told the commission that he read on media reports that the price of milk which dairy farmers charged had “plummeted significantly” and that farmers in the area were unable to sell their milk to processing plants, which ultimately forced them to take their tankers to local townships so they could freely distribute their milk.
“It needs now some intervention and in terms of the court order – when the farm was forfeited from the state and handed back to the Free State provincial government – there needs to be a plan that looks at the diversification of farming operations on that farm to benefit the community, it could include dairy.
“The court order also provided that a mentor with the necessary skills should be appointed to develop that diversification plan, specifically to benefit the community,” Venter told the commission.
The project was touted as a flagship public-private partnership with Estina – a black economic empowerment company – to empower emerging black farmers and was based in the impoverished Free State town of Vrede.
It was established in 2012 by the department of agriculture on a 99-year lease.
On Monday, the commission heard testimony that the remedial action contained in Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s 2018 report on the failed Gupta-linked Estina dairy farm project in the Free State had allowed culprits to avoid accountability.
The commission also heard that the Free State government spent R2.3 million to buy two tractors for the botched Vrede Dairy Farm project, ignoring donated tractors by the national government which allegedly were kept at the Vrede town’s showgrounds.
One of the beneficiaries of the project, Ephraim Makhosino Dhlamini, took the witness stand at the commission following the tea adjournment on Tuesday.
Watch the proceedings live courtesy of the SABC:
(Additional reporting, Brian Sokutu and African News Agency)