R3.3m haunts Premier Mabuza
Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza is being investigated for fraud worth R3.3 million in a contentious land reform project. Collen Sedibe, the provincial Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader, laid the charge against Mabuza at the Nelspruit Police Station two weeks ago after receiving a report compiled by forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan into questionable deals in Badplaas, where land prices were allegedly inflated by more than 70% over the past decade.
Mabuza was Mpumalanga’s agriculture MEC at the time businessman Pieter Visagie allegedly approached farmers in the area and enticed them to enter into sale agreements using various front companies.
Visagie allegedly did not have the means to buy the farms but resold them to government at inflated prices in 2003 for the benefit of the Ndwandwa Community Trust, which, according to O’Sullivan’s investigation, was formed by Visagie with bogus claimants using fake names and identity numbers.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that a case was opened but declined to provide further details.
“We can confirm that there is a case of alleged fraud being investigated, which is related to a land claim. This matter is still under way. It will be improper and criminal to divulge any information into the public sphere before investigations are completed,” said Mulaudzi.
O’Sullivan’s report states that six farms were transferred to the Ndwandwa Community Trust. Government paid R25 million for the farms, R15 million more than the asking prices amounted to.
O’Sullivan said all farms in Badplaas should not have been bought under the Land Restitution Act because white farmers settled in the area in the 1870s. The act benefits only communities and individuals dispossessed of their land on or after June 19 1913, when the Natives Land Act was passed.
Mabuza has been drawn into the matter because Visagie approached him in 2008 to complain that the Commission on Restitution of Land Rights had underpaid him. Mabuza then ordered a joint task team consisting of officials from his department and the commission to investigate Visagie’s complaint.
The joint task team found that Visagie was owed R3.3 million on some properties he sold to the commission for the benefit of the Ndwandwa Community Trust because irrigation infrastructure was excluded when the properties were valued.
Mabuza’s spokesperson, Zibonele Mncwango, said that land claims had not been Mabuza’s competency.
“Linking the premier with things that were not the responsibility of the MEC is unfounded and malicious. If, however, there were any discrepancies in the process of claiming the land at that time, [he] would be more than willing to look into the matter,” said Mncwango.
O’Sullivan found: “The task team claimed to have carried out a comprehensive and in-depth investigation into this historic case ... It is patent that the investigation was nothing more than fraud, as it failed to discover that the land was settled by white, Afrikaans farmers in the early 1870s and could therefore not be land that was subject to restitution claims.”
City Press has a copy of the task team’s report and a letter Mabuza signed on January 6 2009 in which he persuaded the then Mpumalanga land claims commissioner, Tumi Seboka, to pay Visagie.
Mabuza wrote: “The difference between the amount due, inclusive of irrigation infrastructure and equipment, against the amount paid totals R3 347 629.
“It is the MEC [sic] considered opinion that the [commission] needs to render this payment due …” he added.
Visagie denied all of O’Sullivan’s allegations, including that he formed a fictitious trust and inflated prices or lodged an invalid claim.
“I’ve been busy with this nonsense for 12 years of my life. It’s fine, they can go to the police and we will see if the case will last,” he said. “I paid for every farm and I wasn’t a valuator [qualified] to inflate prices. Every allegation is false.”
O’Sullivan told City Press last week that he had investigated the Badplaas land claims for two years and submitted his report to Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti.
Nkwinti’s spokesperson, Linda Page, did not respond to questions relating to what the minister intended to do about O’Sullivan’s report.
The Badplaas land scam was exposed by conservationist Fred Daniel, who was buying land to establish a game reserve.
Former land affairs minister Thoko Didiza commissioned a forensic investigation into the transactions but the outcome of that was not made public. No one was charged in connection with the scam.