Voices

Mondli Makhanya: Estina is the story of how hundreds of millions were stolen from poor and given to rich

2019-07-29 00:00

If you ever had any doubts about the venality of the people who ran this country during the wasted decade, you need only to have listened to the testimonies of the dignified men from Vrede at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.

One after the other, they stepped forward last week to tell woeful tales about how the captains and foot soldiers of the state capture project played with the livelihoods, hopes and emotions of the most downtrodden among us.

In graphic detail, they relayed to us acts of deception and thuggery that took place in a rural corner of our republic where the perpetrators believed their crimes would go undetected.

The tiny town of Vrede – boasting a population of fewer than 50 000 people – is surrounded by commercial and subsistence farmland, and is nestled somewhere in the eastern Free State.

The district municipality in which it falls is regarded as one of the 15 poorest in the country.

It was into this environment that Mosebenzi Zwane and his Gupta posse came with promises of a bright and prosperous future.

Zwane, who was then the agriculture MEC in the province, was the pride of that part of the world.

He was the first native of the area to serve in the provincial cabinet and people organised transport to Bloemfontein to celebrate the big moment with their son.

So, when he came with the idea of the dairy farm in 2012, it was relatively easy for him to convince an initially sceptical community that this project was going to transform their lives.

They eventually bought into the vision of their educated son, who was now a powerful player in the politics of the region.

This project was going to take them from being survivalist operators and propel them into the commercial mainstream.

Little did they know that they were applying for a fast-tracked visa to worse poverty.

What followed was the nightmare that became known as the Estina dairy scandal, one of the great masterpieces of the Gupta racket.

Local farmer Ephraim Dhlamini was a figure of gravitas on the stand as he related the sad tale of how the supposed beneficiaries of the project went from high hope to outright dejection as they realised how badly they had been duped.

He spoke of how he had to be convinced to change over from his usual farming preference to dairy, and how that messed him up.

“Although I wasn’t interested in dairy farming because I am a red-meat cattle farmer, I was pleased. We were impressed and happy, especially when we heard that we were to be taken to India for training for a job of our choice in the project. We were very happy,” Dhlamini said at the commission.

He then chillingly spoke of the death threats, attacks and even murders that followed when the conned would-be beneficiaries started speaking out and challenging the thieving bigwigs and their cronies.

Before leaving the stand, Dhlamini made it clear that the dairy project had never been about the people, but was for the benefit of “thieves”.

Another farmer, Meshack Ncongwane, also spoke painfully about the journey from hope to despair as they were played by Zwane, his henchmen and the gluttonous family that governed the country at Jacob Zuma’s side.

Crucially, Ncongwane placed ANC secretary general and former Free State premier Ace Magashule at the scene.

Ncongwane, whose life was also threatened, went as far as naming people who had been killed for speaking out and for their activism against the betrayal of the farmers.

There was more nauseating testimony as the week progressed – the type that made you really long for the day when those who carried out this abominable act of gangsterism find themselves in Groenpunt Prison and similar addresses.

There are so many crime scenes in the state capture spree, of which Zuma was the prime enabler.

As the Zondo commission has unfolded, we have heard so many testimonies, most of them first hand, about how this country was being stripped to the bone and how those who were meant to safeguard the wellbeing of the nation were enthusiastic participants.

Every one of these stories has been gut-wrenching, largely because of the brazenness of the perpetrators who believed their festival would never end.

But it is the Estina dairy heist that leaves you with your mouth so agape that you would not even feel a large green fly whizzing in.

The story of Estina is the story of how hundreds of millions of rands were literally stolen from the poor and given to the rich, who, in turn, spent the money on luxuries, including extravagant weddings.

Estina tells the story of how the cynical bunch who preach radical economic transformation conspired to rob the very poor they claim to be champions of.

It lays bare their cynicism.

The importance of the testimonies from Dhlamini and Ncongwane et al was that it showed us that state capture hit ordinary South Africans in a very direct way – that it was not a made-up concept, as Zuma and his acolytes keep idiotically saying.

It was real, is real and will remain real for as long as we suffer its consequences.

Last week’s witnesses did not go to the commission to get television airtime and become heroes.

They went there to tell the truth. They did so at great personal risk, and their pain was palpable as they relived what they had been put through by those they trusted to help them empower themselves.

If the truth of these ordinary South Africans did not penetrate the hearts and minds of those who still deny the gross sins of the lost decade, then those hearts are made of granite and those skulls are just hollow shells.

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December 15 2019