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Potchefstroom - At least 24 state-owned cattle have disappeared from a facility in North West, supposedly to benefit people attending President Jacob Zuma’s imbizo, which never took place.
In September last year, the cattle were taken from the Potchefstroom Agriculture College, where they were used to help students with their practical training. The college is owned by the North West Department of Agriculture, Conservation, Environment and Rural Development.
Unionists and other insiders said the dairy cattle were valued at about R300 000.
According to a report compiled by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), the cattle were snatched by corrupt government officials as part of a multimillion-rand corruption scheme that has been running in the department since 1994.
The scandal involved the theft of government-owned farms and other assets by officials who used relatives and third parties to buy them at heavily reduced prices.
Official correspondence between Nehawu, the department and the North West legislature’s agriculture portfolio committee shows authorities and politicians in the province have been aware of the problem since at least August 2010.
An affidavit dated August 8, 2010, from Klerksdorp police’s Warrant Officer Samuel Bokgolowane Pitso said he was forced to abandon Nehawu’s corruption case involving cattle theft because college authorities failed to co-operate.
According to the Nehawu report, Potchefstroom Agriculture College principal Richard Dipepenene Serage authorised the release of the 24 cattle for the imbizo in Taung.
He had earlier authorised the transfer of 20 cattle to the Taung College of Agriculture, but “those cattle never reached their destination”.
The report added: “Lastly, on the 25th September, 2012 a batch of 24 cattle he (Serage) authorised were those that they said are meant for President Zuma’s imbizo at Taung, which never reached there and which never served the purpose thereof. Those cattle never returned to Potchefstroom College of Agriculture. All these cattle were meant for students’ practicals.”
Zuma’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, did not respond to written questions.
Serage confirmed on Wednesday that he authorised the slaughter of 24 cattle for Zuma’s imbizo, and that they were not returned after it was cancelled.
However, he denied corruption allegations, saying Nehawu was running a malicious campaign against him.
“When (the imbizo) was cancelled, we could not slaughter them any more and the government decided to use them for something else. If you want us to account for each of those cattle, we have records,” he said.
He refused to reveal what he meant by “something else”, saying: “I need to do it in writing because this is government information.”
He said the cattle had been disposed of, but refused to say who benefited. “ ‘Dispose of’ means you slaughter them, or you sell them or do something. It can mean anything. But they were disposed of following correct government procedure.”
Serage would not reveal the cattle’s value, saying only that each one weighed between 450kg and 600kg.
He dismissed Nehawu’s corruption claims as malicious, saying if anyone had evidence of corruption, that person should open a case with the police.
When it was put to him that the police said they were forced to close the docket because the college failed to co-operate, Serage said: “Who failed to co-operate? That person is not me.
“I have given them my number… They can get me 24/7 on this number.”