Chief Douglas Vusi Zondo of the Mpangisweni clan near Vryheid inspects the irrigation system on the farm on which his clan will plant barley on a 360ha portion, after securing a multimillion-rand deal with SAB Miller. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya

The public protector and the Department of Agriculture are investigating a tribal chief in rural KZN who has bagged lucrative farming tenders from the government worth more than R56 million.

Chief Douglas Vusi Zondo, through his business Sokotshane Mthiya Construction and Civils CC, has secured multimillion-rand contracts.

Zondo, of the Abaqulusi tribe in Vryheid, is at the centre of the investigation into a R56m tender that was awarded in 2011 to Sokotshane by the KZN Department of Agriculture to deliver and incorporate lime and fertiliser in the south region of KZN.

According to minutes of a departmental adjudication committee, the approved project budget was R40m, but the tender was awarded at a substantially higher cost.

Just how the 39.9 percent higher cost was authorised is now under question.

On Friday, the office of the public protector confirmed its investigation.

“The public protector has learnt the KZN office has since closed the file and has directed that the file be forwarded to the national office for review,” spokesman Kgalalelo Masibi said.

This follows a report by a Hillcrest businessman and Agri tender adviser, Gregg Clarke.

Clarke was an advisory consultant to one of 11 bidders for the December 2010 tender and wrote to the public protector in May last year, requesting that they look into allegations that the Department of Agriculture had acted improperly, irregularly and/or unfairly in awarding the tender to Sokotshane.

He complained that the KZN Bid Appeals Tribunal “suspiciously” dismissed the appeal.

Clarke said: “We lodged a formal appeal in February 2011 after conducting preliminary investigations into Sokotshane and Zondo, because we considered the amount of the award and the information we had discovered to be very suspicious. These suspicions rose to another level when, at the March 29 2011 tribunal hearing, advocate Dali Mpofu, a leading national figure, appeared on behalf of Sokotshane/Zondo.

“We could not understand, and also did not accept it a co-incidence, how a man of his legal stature would be required to appear in this matter, particularly given the Department of Agriculture had informed us that they had nothing to hide and that the award had been made to Sokotshane legitimately.”

Documents provided at the tribunal proved unequivocally that the bid of Sokotshane did not in fact meet some critical conditions.

Clarke claims that upon presentation of evidence both the state attorney, representing the Department of Agriculture, and the legal team representing Sokotshane/Zondo, were “speechless” and could not offer an explanation.

“The evidence was damning, so naturally we left the tribunal confident that the bid of Sokotshane could only be disqualified and the decision to award would therefore be cancelled. Unbelievably, the tribunal dismissed our appeal. It’s a travesty of justice, makes a mockery of the tribunal.”

Clarke said the Sokotshane tender documents show the company did not comply with tender requirements and wasn’t capable of doing the work.

Sokotshane attached a comprehensive list of project work by the company between 2005 and 2008. However, according to Clarke and confirmed by a company search this week, the Sunday Tribune discovered that Sokotshane Construction and Civil CC was only formed in February 2010.

Clarke said the tribunal’s decision smacked of political interference.

A businessman who asked not to be named, said: “The truth is that Zondo keeps getting all of the tenders and it is not fair.”

Responding to the allegations, Zondo said: “People are jealous because I am a successful black man. They even took me to the appeals tribunal where the matter was dismissed. Other farmers told me that a black man would never be able to do the job.”

He rejected the allegations as a “blatant lie”. “It is not true: I have not received all the tenders. I only got one tender.”