Sindisiwe Seboka, spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate, said in a statement that the arrests had been related to the alleged looting of the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development through a company called Estina between 2012 and 2014.
Christo van der Rheede, executive director of Agri SA, said that while the court still had to decide the guilt of the accused, it was heartening to see that concrete action was being taken against corruption.
The Estina Dairy project was initially established to empower communities, but was instead used as a front for the looting of approximately R280 million.
Van der Rheede told Farmer’s Weekly that the project showed why any form of restitution needed to be carried out transparently and ethically.
“Corruption undermines the integrity of the entire country, and therefore any form of corruption needs to be eradicated. It undermines job creation, investments and economic growth as a whole,” he said.
Noko Masipa, the DA’s minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development, also welcomed the arrests.
“[…] These crimes have ensured that those who were supposed to have benefitted from the redress of apartheid injustices [are] worse off than before,” Masipa told Farmer’s Weekly. “This court appearance is a welcome relief for the affected failed land reform beneficiaries and their families.”
The accused included Mosebenzi Zwane, former minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, who at the time was the MEC in the Portfolio of Agriculture and Rural Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs in the Free State. His co-accused included Ugeshni Govender, a former employee of Sahara, and Ronica Ragavan, a former director of Islandsite Investments. Both companies were owned by the Gupta family, largely believed to have spearheaded state capture under former president Jacob Zuma.
Govender and Zwane were released on R10 000 bail. Ragavan was released on a warning.
The matter will return to court on 2 November.