peter thabethe

August 19, 2019. Peter Thabethe at the state capture commission of inquiry. Pic: Veli Nhlapo. © Sowetan

State Capture Inquiry: Peter Thabethe stumbles on the R30m question

Peter Thabethe headed up the Department of Agriculture’s finance department but claims to have no knowledge on the suspicious movement of millions of rand linked to the Vrede Dairy Project.

peter thabethe

August 19, 2019. Peter Thabethe at the state capture commission of inquiry. Pic: Veli Nhlapo. © Sowetan

Former head of the Department of Agriculture in the Free State, Peter Thabethe, returned to the State Capture Inquiry for more grilling on his involvement in the failure of the Vrede Dairy Project.

State Capture Inquiry: What’s the latest?

The Zondo commission resumed, on Monday, after much confusion on the lineup of witnesses that were meant to appear in the week of 21 October affected proceedings.

Back in the hot seat was Peter Thabethe, the former head of Free State’s Department of Agriculture.

The style of questioning evidence leader, Advocate Leah Gcabashe, used to probe Peter Thabethe suggests that the former head would have the clearest knowledge on what exactly happened to the millions of rand that were earmarked for Estina’s hand in the project.

The Vrede Dairy Project, led by Estina and the local government in Free State, was meant to promote 100 black farmers into the industry through empowerment programmes and the growth of produce from an allocation of five cows for each of them.

However, this project — and all monies allocated for it — did not bear any fruits.

Peter Thabethe grilled on suspicious transactions

At the centre of this, is the movement of certain funds that as former Chief Financial Officer, Peter Thabethe ought to have authorised.

Advocate Gcabashe noted that there were discrepancies with claims Peter Thabethe made, in his previous testimony, about:

  • why R29-million was allocated for equipment that was never declared;
  • what the purpose of a R49-million ($5-million) payment, made in two tranches, to ‘international consultants’ including Gateway Trading (a Gupta-linked company) was for; and
  • why directors’ salaries doubled from as much as R48 000 in October, to R96 000 in November.

Peter Thabethe, evidently disturbed by Advocate Gcabashe’s harsh probing, denied any responsibility for the suspicious movement of the funds.

“You told us that the R30m paid in July 2012 was for the feasibility report, but it was taken out of the country and it was said to be reserved for equipment – so let’s not get confused. You know it was taken out of the country because it was said to be reserved for orders,” she charged at him.

Thabethe’s response to every probe was that he knew nothing about anything that had to do with millions being moved around for the sake of the project.

In his view, the only role that was expected of him was to sign off on monies procured for Estina to manage. He further explained that he was comfortable with the promise that Estina would deliver, without delay, on the mandate of the project.

“I do not agree with the statement that says I know that money was taken out of the country. What I know is that on this document in January 2018, the work that was expected was delivered and I signed off. This is what the money paid for.

“What happened to the money? I do not know,” he said.

Interestingly, Thabethe’s memory seemed to serve him well when he was later asked about his relationship with the Gupta family.

Under re-examination by his attorney, Thabethe stressed that the Guptas played no role in the implementation of the Vrede Dairy Project. He further denied that money allocated for the project had, to his knowledge, paid for a Gupta wedding.