News / South Africa / State Capture

Makhosandile Zulu
3 minute read
15 Aug 2019
1:57 pm

Zondo grills former Free State department of agriculture HOD over Estina

Makhosandile Zulu

The witness says that although he has been implicated, he is willing to assist the commission.

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

The former Free State department of agriculture head of department, Peter Mbana Thabede, on Thursday took the stand at the commission of inquiry into state capture.

Thabede has been implicated in previous testimony related to the Vrede Dairy Farm project in the Free State.

The commission is focusing on evidence relating to the failed project, which involved Gupta-linked Estina Pty Ltd.

Evidence leader at the commission, advocate Leah Gcabashe told the inquiry’s chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that though Thabede had been implicated in previous testimony, he had indicated that he was willing to assist the commission.

The commission previously heard testimony that Thabede had made a presentation to the council of the Phumelela Municipality on the proposal of the project.

Furthermore, it heard that he had allegedly duped the former Phumelela Municipal Manager, Moses Moremi, into signing the cession of land rights from the local municipality to the province, which later resulted in the provincial government granting Estina a 99-year lease agreement.

These were among issues Thabede is expected to respond to while on the witness stand at the commission on Thursday.

Thabede told the commission that he was suspended on April 25 following the public protector’s investigation into the project.

During his suspension, however, his contract came to an end and there had been no indication whether it would be terminated or extended, which led to him applying for his pension benefits, the commission heard.

Thabede also told the commission that prior to his appointment as the head of the department of rural development in the Free State – before it was merged with the department of agriculture – he had met the province’s former premier, Ace Magashule, at different gatherings and ANC meetings.

He said he only met former Free State agriculture and rural development MEC Mosebenzi Zwane during his interview for the position as head of rural development in the province.

Thabede was appointed the head of Free State rural development in 2011.

At the end of the 2011/2012 financial year, Thabede was moved to head the department of agriculture, assuming his duties on April 1, 2012, the same day he signed off on the department’s supply chain management policy document.

Gcabashe questioned whether when he signed this document he understood its importance, which he said he did as it had been “developed” for both the departments of agriculture and the one he had headed, rural development.

The commission’s chair, evidence leader, and Thabede dealt at length with certain clauses within the policy document, including that competitive bids should be put out for the procurement of goods and services exceeding R500,000 and that in urgent and emergency situations a request may be made to deviate from this process and such a request must be accompanied with a motivation and approved by the accounting officer – the head of the department.

The commission adjourned for lunch at 1pm and is expected to resume at 2pm.

(Additional reporting, Brian Sokutu)

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