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Zondo says charge former Free State agricultural department head over Vrede dairy project

Funds from the project, which was meant to uplift poor farmers, went towards Gupta family's Sun City wedding

Graeme Hosken Senior reporter
Peter Thabethe, former head of the department of agriculture in the Free State, in court in Bloemfontein in 2021. File photo.
Peter Thabethe, former head of the department of agriculture in the Free State, in court in Bloemfontein in 2021. File photo.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/The Sunday Times

Chief justice Raymond Zondo has slammed disgraced former Free State agricultural MEC Mosebenzi Zwane and called for criminal charges to be laid against the former Free State agricultural department head Peter Thabethe for his involvement in the Vrede dairy project.

Zondo made the comments and findings against Zwane and Thabethe in his final report which he handed over to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday night in Pretoria.

Zondo was scathing of the R37m project, which was designed and marketed as a means to develop indigent Free State farmers but saw a portion of the funds being used to sponsor the Gupta family’s lavish wedding in Sun City.  

“The project failed in its first two years of operation, not because of the media enquiries or the National Treasury investigation, as suggested by Thabethe, but because of Thabethe’s incompetence or because he was carrying out the agenda of the Guptas and cared less about the taxpayers’ money and the black farmers.

“Apart from anything else, Thabethe must be held both criminally and civilly liable for his role in causing the department to lose millions of rand in taxpayers' money,” said Zondo.

He recommended that law-enforcement agencies conduct further investigations into the project, with the NPA charging Thabethe for contravening the Public Financial Management Act (PFMA) and the Free State provincial government suing Thabethe for monies lost because of the project.

“If he does not have the money, it is recommended that consideration be given to instituting sequestration proceedings against him to make it clear to all that there will be serious consequences for this type of conduct.

“It has been concluded that Thabethe, working with [then] MEC [Mosebenzi] Zwane, deliberately and intentionally used the modality of implementing agents to distort the implementation of the regulatory framework [of] the PFMA.

“In this way Zwane and Thabethe enabled and facilitated the disaster that was the Vrede dairy project which benefited the Gupta family and its associates at the expense of the intended beneficiaries of the project.

“Thabethe failed to exercise the duty of care in ensuring the protection of the assets of the department which were under the control of Estina, and optimal use of public funds that were disbursed for the purposes of establishing and operating the dairy project.”


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