Cattle sold to settle department’s bill – DA

The Mpumalanga department of agriculture has allegedly sold 310 cattle worth an estimated R1,3 million in order to repay money owed to Dr Job Mthombeni, Mpumalanga president of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa).

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This was according to a statement released by the province’s Democratic Alliance (DA) leader, Anthony Benadie. He said an investigation into a suspicious public cattle auction, which took place at a government-owned research farm near Ermelo, uncovered the deal. “The department of agriculture deposited the proceeds of the auction, amounting to R1,3 million, directly into the personal bank account of Dr Job Mthombeni,” said Benadie.

This allegedly followed the department’s failure to pay Mthombeni for feed he’d provided for the cattle farm, said Benadie.
Apparently, the money from the auction should have gone through the department’s books before being paid to the supplier. Benadie said this didn’t occur and “there is no way that the department of agriculture can financially account for the transaction.”

Documents in the DA’s possession include Absa bank statements outlining the cost of each head of cattle and showing how the money was deposited straight into Mthombeni’s account. The statements indicated the 310 Drakensbergers, which were sold to young and upcoming farmers, fetched up to R6 500/ bull and R4 000/cow. A letter from a departmental official signed on 6 February 2013 was also in the DA’s possession and allegedly proves that Mthombeni has close ties with the department.

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The document confirmed Mthombeni as a ‘strategic partner’ of the department, as he’s been assisting with ‘management issues’ at the research farm. “The DA regards this transaction as highly irregular and will request Public Protector Adv Thuli Madonsela to investigate the circumstances surrounding the sale of the cattle and the suspicious appointment of Mthombeni, providing her with all evidence in our possession,” said Benadie.

Responding to the allegations, the Mpumalanga department of agriculture said that Mthombeni had played a critical role in the development of upcoming farmers. Mthombeni, said department spokesperson Bheki Nyathikazi, was “one of the successful farmers in the province whom the department is taking pride in. To tap from his successes, the department has been working hand in hand with him as a mentor for most of the farmers in the province.”

The department, said Nyathikazi, was concerned by the ‘political responses’ to the livestock improvement programme Mthombeni has been involved with, as these ”tend to mislead the public and create an unnecessary cloud of doubt over the intentions and legality of the intervention.” Aggrey Mahanjana, Afasa head of secretariat, said the association had no knowledge of the transaction.

“If the money was deposited straight into Mthombeni’s account, then I suspect that this is a matter between him and the department and that there’s no link to Afasa. “If we had known about such an incident, it would not have been condoned by us.”Attempts to contact Mthombeni for comment were unsuccessful.