21/01/2018 12:51 SAST | Updated 21/01/2018 12:54 SAST

Estina Order A Painful Reminder Of Magashule's Past

The Estina dairy project controversy serves as a stark reminder to one of Magashule’s other big skeletons tucked deep in his closet: Operation Hlasela.

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ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule.

The successful application for a preservation order against the controversial Estina dairy project has put the limelight back onto Mineral Resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Magashule, who ascended the ranks from Free State premier into the party's top six during the ANC's national conference in December last year, is alleged to be one of the key facilitator's behind the movement of millions from the province's government to fund the Gupta-linked project.

The Estina dairy project controversy serves as a stark reminder to one of Magashule's other big skeletons tucked deep in his closet: Operation Hlasela.

Magashule and Estina

According to a report by City Press on Sunday, which quoted a preservation order granted to the National Prosecuting Authority's Asset Forfeiture Unit this week against Gupta-linked companies, of the R220.2-million the Free State government transferred to the Estina dairy project in Vrede in the Free State, only 1% was spent on actual farming.

Most of the remaining money went to individuals and entities associated with the Guptas.

AmaBhungane previously reported that a "loosely drafted" contract skewed in Estina's favour was drawn up by Ace Magashule's legal adviser, who allegedly had ties to the Gupta family.

It was revealed that the dairy project appeared to be conceived during a visit to India by senior department officials and the then agriculture MEC, Mosebenzi Zwane. The trip was signed off by Magashule. Magashule's legislature approved the deal soon after the trip.

The Gupta Leaks also revealed that Magashule's son, Tshepiso, started working for the Guptas as a consultant in November 2010, a year after Magashule became premier.

Tshepiso allegedly acted as an intermediary between the Guptas and the Free State government, using Gupta money to pay airtime bills, as one example, in exchange for using government officials to further the Gupta agenda in the province.

Magashule and Operation Hlasela

In 2011, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela began investigations into Magashule and a controversial multimillion-rand project run from his office. It was named Operation Hlasela and was used as a service delivery vehicle and has a voluntary fund into which donors can donate money.

The investigation came after opposition parties claimed, according to News24, that there was no transparency in the administration of Operation Hlasela's finances and no-one knew where money for the project came from. It was also believed that the donated funds were being misused for political party business, like to fund Magashule's election campaign.

In 2016, in a press conference after the report was released, News24 quoted Madonsela saying her office found that Magashule had conflated state and party interests, although she did not have conclusive evidence that showed abuse of state resources.

Madonsela also found Operation Hlasela's marketing and advertising campaign unduly benefited the ANC in a way that was inconsistent with the Constitution, the Electoral Act and that it prejudiced other political parties.

When Magashule was elected secretary-general of the ANC, HuffPost SA compiled a list of these and other allegations contributing to the dark cloud hanging over his head. Read the full list here.