Former minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane dismissed claims that beneficiaries who were part of the botched Vrede farm dairy project were promised training in India.
In 2019, Ephraim Dhlamini, a resident of Thembalihle township in Vrede, Free State, testified at the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture how the farming project, also referred to as the Estina Dairy project, was initiated by Zwane who was MEC of agriculture at the time.
Dhlamini told commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that Zwane also took members of the gospel choir from his home town of Vrede in the Free State on an all expenses paid trip to India in October 2012 instead of emerging farmers meant to receive training on dairy farming and milk processing.
India is the world’s second-biggest milk producer after the US.
Responding to Dhlamini’s evidence during proceedings on Thursday, Zwane said no farmer or beneficiary of the Vrede project was promised to go to India.
“I have read this affidavit by Mr Dhlamini. I would have loved if Mr Dhlamini was asked by this commission to give evidence in terms of that accession because to the best of my recollection, my knowledge and my belief… there was never a stage where I was present as the MEC of agriculture were promised to go to India. To do what?” he said.
Zwane said it did not made sense why the farmers would be sent to India for basic training.
“There were beneficiaries of the project that would have been trained in South Africa mainly because they were farmers who would have known in the course of them doing their business simple facts about farming. It boggles my mind. Why would we then have taken people to India for simple training. By whom? Who was supposed to train them in India?” he added.
Zwane said it took some time before beneficiaries were organised into a unit, adding he had left his department by the time committees were formed to overlook the project.
“This trip was around October in 2012 and if you look at your details in terms of what was happening during that time… it was the time when the department was still bringing the beneficiaries together and trying to get into contracts with them. I don’t think there is an issue or any matter that was raised of people being trained in India,” he said.
Estina was identified in early 2012 as the company that would partner with the Free State government in a dairy project.
At the time, the plan was for Estina and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development to inject R500 million into the project.
The department then kick-started the project with R30 million to Estina, but money continued to flow into Estina’s coffers, it was previously reported. The contract was cancelled in August 2014.
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