Zondo commission hears how MEC Qabathe insulted Vrede Dairy Farm beneficiaries

Johannesburg  – Free State social development MEC Mamiki Qabathe hurled insults at aggrieved Vrede Dairy Farm beneficiaries for speaking to media on the botched project that saw more than R200 million allegedly looted by provincial officials and the fugitive Gupta family.

The state capture commission on Tuesday heard evidence from one of the intended beneficiaries Ephraim Dhlamini, a resident at Thembalihle township in Vrede. He told the commission about several meetings held with officials that yielded nothing for Vrede’s emerging black farmers. 

The failed project was cancelled in 2014 and the Free State development Corporation (FDC) took over running the farm.

Qabathe, who had taken over as agriculture MEC from Mosebenzi Zwane, went to Vrede to confront beneficiaries who spoke to media complaining about the project that never benefited residents and black farmers as it was initially intended, Dhlamini said.

"She called us to a meeting to confront us for speaking to newspapers … that was the reason she came. She said nothing good but went on telling us about how she got her position [as MEC] and that she had been in the organisation [African National Congress] for a very long time," Dhlamini said.

"She just insulted us, referring to me and [fellow beneficiary] Mr Ncongwane. We were the ones who approached media. The purpose of that meeting was not really clear."

Qabathe’s meeting happened shortly after the project was shut down. Attending the meeting were local Phumelela municipality mayor Tlokotsi Motaung and councillors who said nothing but laughed as Qabathe scoffed at the farmers, Dhlamini said.

He testified on how the Free State government promised emerging farmers a thriving dairy farm and shares in it. They were told by Zwane that profits from the farm would be ploughed into the Vrede community to build roads and establish a bursary fund. 

Zwane’s promises to the farmers back in 2012 yielded nothing until the botched project was cancelled and the farm handed over to the FDC. 

The destitute black farmers later learned that the Free State government had partnered with Gupta-linked Estina company in the project, allegedly benefiting the now fugitive family and provincial officials. 

Democratic Alliance member of the Free State legislature Roy Jankielsohn’s said in his evidence on Monday that Estina continued to receive R20 million a year from the provincial government, five years after the failed project was cancelled. 

African News Agency (ANA) 

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