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Among the latest witnesses at the Zondo Commission into state capture is former Free State housing official Mpho Mokoena whose testimony plastered the handprints of his old boss, former housing MEC Mosebenzi Zwane, all over the R1 billion contract, of which more than R630 million reportedly has vanished. Zwane, who rose to notoriety as a minster of mineral resources in the Zuma cabinet, stands accused of doing the Gupta bidding, along with a host of other accused, including Free State premier Ace Magushule. – Derek Alberts
By Bernice Maune
It was at a high-level meeting with housing executives from the Free State government in 2010 that Mpho Mokoena realised Housing MEC Mosebenzi Zwane was set on executing an illegal plan to siphon R1 billion in funding from National Treasury.
In his testimony at the Zondo Commission into state capture, Mokoena recounted how he had learnt with shock that his team and other officials would have to do Zwane’s bidding, or face the threat of losing their jobs.
Mokoena said he had started working for the Free State Provincial Government in 1995 and held various positions until his appointment in July 2009 as the HOD of Human Settlements. He left provincial government to become the HOD of Human Settlements in the Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality in 2012, a position he held until March 2017.
With struggle stalwart Tokyo Sexwale heading the national ministry of human settlements at the time, the Free State housing department was allocated a budget of R1 billion that was earmarked for the construction of low-cost housing for the poor. However, the Free State Housing Department stalled on appointing contractors and building the houses because Premier Ace Magashule had announced a new project called Hlasela, according to Mokoena.
That initiative would see houses being built larger than the government-regulated 40 square meters, Magashule reportedly had said. The problem however, was that the Free State department of housing did not have enough funds for Magashule’s plan. Besides, there was not enough time to issue a new tender with the clock running out on the deadline to use the allocated funds.
According to Mokoena, Sexwale threatened to withdraw the whole budget if the funds were not spend on housing. Shortly thereafter, Zwane held a meeting with Seipati Dhlamini, Mamiki Mokhele, Mmuso Tsoametsi, and Kaizer Maxatshwa.
According to Mokoena, Zwane said he had devised a plan to prevent the National Department of Housing from reclaiming the unspent funds. It was directly after that meeting that Mokoena was threatened with poverty, should he not agree to the plan Zwane had devised.
“Immediately after the meeting I approached the MEC and asked if we have a word please. Then we went back into the boardroom and sat down. I said to him that ‘I feel like the plan you are bringing is illegal’.”
According to Mokoena, he told Zwane he thought they should discuss the plan first, then present it to the team as per protocol. But Zwane would not have any of that.
“We’ve discussed this, this is my plan, we’re going to implement it. If you don’t agree with it, submit your resignation letter then you’re going to be poor, you’re house will be taken by the bank and your car and your children will be left out of school.”
Immediately after the meeting, Mokoena says he requested a word with MEC in private, he says during the private meeting with the MEC, he mentioned to the MEC that he was unhappy with the fact that he did not follow protocol.#StateCaptureInquiry
— State Capture Commission (@StateCaptureCom) September 23, 2020
Mokoena said he concluded from Zwane’s words that if he did not comply with the plan, he was under threat of losing his position.
In addition, Mokoena claimed;
- The plan to pay contractors before any work was done went against tender processes and Zwane was not concerned about this;
- It took three weeks for research to be done on the new R1 billion plan;
- Zwane presented a list of new contractors to use, some of whom he had links to;
- At a meeting between Sexwale and the Free State housing department, an instruction was given for payments towards the R1 billion to be suspended. Though Mokoena issued the instruction, he said it was possible that payments continued under his successor’s tenure; and
- Mokoena resigned two years into his post because he was under pressure from Magashule to build houses under very difficult cirumstances.
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