Johannesburg - Beneficiaries of the Vrede dairy project refused to be replaced and demanded that the Free State government provide them with documents proving they would benefit from the R570 million plan to uplift small scale farmers.
Ephraim Dhlamini, one of the beneficiaries of the controversial project in Vrede, Free State, detailed the involvement of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and former minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
After several meetings on the project, the beneficiaries were told that the Free State Development Corporation (FDC) would take over its running and would select new beneficiaries.
However, Dhlamini said they told the FDC not to select new beneficiaries as they were the existing ones and requested the corporation to bring documents that show they were beneficiaries.
At a later meeting, the beneficiaries were told by Alta Meyer, who was employed as acting director in the provincial department of agriculture and rural development, that she was working in then Free State premier Magashule’s office and had been sent by him.
He said Zwane was also present and that he (Zwane) and Magashule never spoke to the beneficiaries.
Dhlamini on Tuesday told the commission of inquiry probing allegations of state capture that he attended several meetings in which the project was discussed along with members of the African Farmers’ Association, which he heads in the small town.
Dhlamini said Zwane, a former mineral resources minister who is now the chairperson of the National Assembly’s portfolio committee on transport, drove into his hometown, Vrede, in 2012 when he was still Free State agriculture MEC to inform the community of Thembalihle township of the project meant to uplift black farmers.
“Mosebenzi Zwane, I know him, I even know his father,” Dhlamini told the commission chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
According to Dhlamini, he kept his livestock on a piece of land on which Zwane’s father once lived.
He said Zwane arrived with Phumelela Local Municipality mayor Tlokotsi Motaung and Zwane’s wife Roseline Zwane, who was the municipality’s speaker, along with other local and provincial government officials.
Zwane, according to Dhlamini, addressed the proposed beneficiaries of the project and asked them to group themselves in terms of which farming ventures they were interested in - pork, red meat, dairy products and poultry.
Zwane told the intended beneficiaries that he wanted the project to be successful and its dairy initiative to produce cheese and yoghurt, according to Dhlamini’s evidence.
“It sounded like a very good project but others were suspicious of Motaung’s involvement,” Dhlamini said.
Zwane then asked for reasons why the intended beneficiaries did not approve of Motaung.
“One of the reasons was that Motaung never responded to letters from farmers requesting access to land,” Dhlamini testified.
Zwane promised the farmers that they would receive training in India and 52% share of the project.
The remaining 48% would be split between the provincial government (28%) and 20% for building infrastructure and providing bursaries.
Estina, whose only director Kamal Vasram is a former employee of the Guptas’ Sahara Computers, planned to invest R228m in the dairy, while the provincial government would invest R342m.
Dhlamini will continue testifying on Wednesday while his deputy in the African Farmers’ Association’s Vrede chapter is also expected to give evidence.