Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. File photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA).

JOHANNESBURG - Beneficiaries of the botched Vrede dairy farm project lost trust in Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane as she never spoke to them during her probe of the botched project that saw over R200 million allegedly looted by Free State officials and the fugitive Gupta family, the state capture commission of inquiry heard on Wednesday.

The commission continued to hear evidence from one of the intended beneficiaries, Ephraim Dhlamini, a resident at Thembalihle township in Vrede, and one of the over 80 emerging black farmers who were identified as beneficiaries in the project back in 2012. 

Dhlamini told commission chairman, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that Mkhwebane was not trusted by beneficiaries because her February 2018 report on the dairy farm project was completed without talking to the aggrieved beneficiaries. Mkhwebane only went to Vrede in May this year to speak to beneficiaries, he said.

"Where did she get information in her report? How did she investigate and who she spoke to? She never spoke to us, the beneficiaries. She only decided to come to us this year, even though we traveled to her office in Pretoria before she released her report last year. Fifteen of us traveled to see her and we met her with [DA leader] Maimane," he said.

During the meeting, Dhlamini said he asked Mkhwebane to inform beneficiaries as to when she would visit Vrede to speak to them and gather more information for her investigation. He said Mhkwebane told them she was done with the investigation and that Maimane can opt to open a case if he saw fit.

Zondo asked Dhlamini if the mistrust emanated from how she conducted the Vrede investigation.

Said Dhlamini: "Yes. She went to Vrede dairy farm but she never came to see us beneficiaries...we were perturbed and asked ourselves why she didn't come to us? Why visit the project without speaking to us?"

Mkhwebane took over the dairy farm investigation from her predecessor Thuli Madonsela. Her probe did not find any wrongdoing by provincial politicians such as then provincial premier Ace Magashule and former agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane, and instead laid the blame on senior officials in the provincial agriculture department. 

The highly criticised report was declared invalid and was set aside by the Pretoria High Court in May. An email trove dubbed GuptaLeaks showed that at least R30 million of public funds for the project was used to pay for the Gupta family's extravagant wedding in Sun City resort in 2013.

Mkhwebane is challenging the high court ruling in the Constitutional Court. She has since launched a fresh investigation into the dairy farm project and told Parliament's justice committee that she hopes to have the new report released by end August.

African News Agency (ANA)