How Mosebenzi Zwane rose from small time politician to alleged high flying corruptor

At the height of 2014, Mosebenzi Zwane was settling into a personal victory. Once a small-time politician, he had secured a position in the Free State Legislature and barely a year later was appointed minister of mineral resources. He took to his new role with ardour, becoming a key player in state capture by helping the Guptas to gain access to parastatal contracts worth billions.  In the brazen looting of Eskom, Transnet, Denel and other government entities, Zwane took home millions. The Special Investigating Unit has brought a lawsuit against him, detailing in a 73-page summons how he is liable for R3,8bn that was channelled to the Guptas and their allies. More recently, he has appeared at the Zondo commission to answer for R1bn in funds that were never used for low-cost housing. Zwane’s profile is intriguing, how did a small-time seemingly humble politician hit big-time corruption? – Bernice Maune. 

By Bernice Maune 

It was in in the early 1980s that Mosebenzi Zwane would hone his political career, joining the Thembelihle Youth Congress. Originally born in Vrede in the Free State, he later moved to the Thembelihle ANC branch and would slowly rise up the ranks in local politics. From the 1990s to the late 2000s, he held various roles including being a member of the Regional Executive Committee of the Frankfort area. He also served as the first secretary of the Thabo Mofutsunyana region. After a couple of years, he attained the position of Chairperson.

In 2010, Zwane was the MEC of Housing. This after he had been the MEC for Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Rural Development and Agriculture. It was as MEC of Housing that his career would gain a blemish as he was accused of being the mastermind behind a housing scheme to defraud the National Treasury of R1bn.

After leaving the housing portfolio in 2014, Zwane was a member of the Free State Legislature until September 2015 when former president Jacob Zuma made him the Minister of Mineral Resources. That appointment would have him firmly in the big league, as an avid supporter of Zuma, it appears he was tasked with being the middle man for the Gupta family and the state companies. He would also jointly serve as a member of both the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, and Forestry, as well as in the Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development in the National Assembly.

After President Cyril Ramaphosa won the ANC election in December 2017, a Cabinet reshuffle saw Zwane chopped in February 2018. He became an ordinary member of parliament and is the treasurer of the ANC Free State region. Zwane also serves on the transport committee in parliament.

Education

While Zwane has been listed as having studied Business Commerce at the University of South Africa, it is not clear if he completed that qualification. He also enrolled at the University of Pretoria to study Executive Leadership Municipal Development. He attained a secondary teacher’s diploma from South Africa Teachers College.

Gupta family scandal 

According to Gupta Leaks, as Agriculture MEC, Zwane was the driver behind the Estina Dairy Farm project. The plan was to empower poor farmers who could benefit from funds to grow their business and create jobs in the process. But Zwane intervened and rerouted R114m to offshore bank accounts held by the Guptas. The funds would eventually pay for the lavish wedding of Vega and Aakash.

Over six weeks, between August and September 2013, R84m was transferred to a shell company, Gateway Limited.  The money was eventually deposited at Standard Chartered Bank in Dubai. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is pursuing a case against the people implicated in the Estina Dairy Farm project. Former Free State Premier Ace Magashule has also been implicated, together with Zwane.

Mosebenzi Zwane at centre of Eskom saga

The Optimum mine was owned by Glencore and struggling to reach capacity in supplying coal, Amabungane reports. Enter Zwane who it appears worked on a strategy to have the Guptas buy Optimum mine under Tegeta Exploration and Resources. In its summons, the SIU claims Glencore was forced to sell off Optimum to Tegeta. Once in the hands of the Guptas, the mine was used to bid for contracts at an escalated cost. Pre-payments were made to Tegeta before they undertook any work, costing Eskom R3,8bn. Eskom had to purchase coal elsewhere for R2,4bn despite having Optimum which was not performing.


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Free State housing spree

Testimonies from several housing officials at the Free State Housing department have fingered Zwane behind a scheme to pay R600m to suppliers before any houses were built. Former minister of human settlements, Tokyo Sexwale had allocated R1bn to the Free State to build low-cost houses. Upon hearing the money would be sent back because it had not been utilised, Zwane set to create a database with contractors, allegedly linked to him. Within four months R600m had been transferred to the contractors, flouting tender procurement processes with only 50 houses built.

Mosebenzi Zwane and the Gupta banking tales

When the banks took a collective decision to close Gupta banks accounts because of their money laundering activities, corruption and illegal transactions in 2016, Zwane was their defender.  Together with the minister of labour at the time Mildred Olifant and former communications advisor Jimmy Manyi, Zwane met with Standard Bank executives, Daily Maverick reports.  Zwane threatened to take away the banking group’s banking license and to change legislation on their authority to close accounts. Standard Bank’s former group general counsel Ian Sinton told the Zondo commission the government could not interfere in their business legislation so Zwane’s threats were heard and not heeded.

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