EXPOSED: “DD” Mabuza’s scandalous, tumultuous and “murderous” reign of Mpumalanga

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Sello Theletsane

JOHANNESBURG- Deputy President David Mabuza has allegedly hired people to buy in bulk and burn copies of a book containing explosive allegations against him. The book, titled “Eerie Assignment” authored by City Press’ Mpumalanga Bureau Chief Sizwe sama Yende is not available at many of the country’s bookstores because Mabuza’s men have allegedly struck a deal with various bookstores to buy it in bulks before it hits the shelves.

The book describes Mabuza’s term as Mpumalanga premier and ANC provincial chairperson as “topsy-turvy and laced with scandals and turmoil: political killings, bribery, greed, corruption and concerted efforts to manipulate the media”.

For several months last year, a few months after the release of the book, Africa News 24-7 followed the trails of two men who cannot be identified for fear of victimisation, who claimed they were paid by Mabuza to do their dirty work. They even took Africa News 24-7 on some of their trips after buying hundreds of copies of the book which they later burnt.

While following the men, Africa News 24-7 twice sent questions, first on the 28 May and on 22 October to Mabuza. To date, Mabuza has failed to answer questions which were sent to his office and his personal mobile phone via WhatsApp and SMS.

Africa News 24-7 spoke to managers of three different bookstores who anonymously confirmed that the book was being bought in bulks for reasons they didn’t know.

Mabuza, who is one of the officials who have been highly critical of the Estina Dairy Farm scandal in which millions of Rands earmarked to assist the poor rural community in the Free State were channelled to the controversial Gupta family, has according to the book been linked to a similar scandal in Mpumalanga while he was MEC for Agriculture in 1998.

The corrupt R230m tender (Farm Mechanisation), was a project whose aim was also to assist poor rural families with some form of farming equipment in order to assure them of food security.

The book claims the tender was awarded to Sizwangendaba Investment (Pty) Ltd, a company owned by Mabuza’s business partner and close ally Patrick Chirwa, originally from Malawi. The book further reveals that Nelisiwe Sithole, who was Mabuza’s departmental HOD, suppressed an investigation report of the Integrity Management Unit on the farm mechanization tender and that Mabuza was aware of the report which was housed in his office. The book reveals the 1998 Mpumalanga matric results scandal that occurred while Mabuza was the provincial education MEC. A forensic investigation found Mabuza’s department had inflated the province’s matric pass rate from 46% to 72%.

Mabuza is also linked to a contract in 2014 awarded by the Mozambican government at Nacala Porto to build a R7.2bn complex with a shopping mall, a five-star hotel, a casino and up-market houses.

The author claims Mabuza was part of a consortium which was awarded the contract. The book also links Mabuza to a series of political murders and the poisoning of whistle-blowers, crimes which were all committed during Mabuza’s tenure as both ANC provincial chair and Mpumalanga premier. The book claims many of these assassinations were committed at Mabuza’s behest and that virtually all the murders remain unresolved.

Mabuza is also accused of nepotism and corruption in another contract awarded by the Mpumalanga Archives buildings to Lumkani/Stefanutti Joint Venture (JV) – in which Mabuza’s ex-wife Ruth Silinda had a stake was constructed at a highly inflated price. Quantity surveyors had initially set the price at R94 million. When the tender was awarded to the JV, the price “inexplicably jumped to R164 million”.

Contacted for a comment Yende said he was shocked by revelations that copies of his books were being destroyed by people hired by Mabuza. “I’m really shocked but not surprised at all. Many people have been asking me why the book is not available at many bookstores and I suspected some sabotage. These allegations have clearly added weight to perceptions that there was indeed some sabotage,” Yende said

EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK

Month after month since April, I had been prospecting earnestly for my gold, a document, until one politician’s vicissitude presented a reliable source that passed it on to me. Documented proof, verified and tested is gold to any journalist. This document contained details about a R230 million contract the Mpumalanga Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration – where DD Mabuza as MEC, awarded under very suspicious circumstances in September 2008.

The Farm Mechanisation contract counted among many mega-bucks tenders that the provincial department had awarded irregularly under a cloud of cynicism, cronyism and nepotism. Around that time, we were gasping at how the Mpumalanga Archives buildings awarded to Lumkani/Stefanutti Joint Venture (JV) – in which Mabuza’s ex-wife Ruth Silinda had a stake was constructed at a highly inflated price, as the Integrity Management Unit’s investigation had found.

Quantity surveyors had initially set the price at R94 million. When the tender was awarded to the JV, the price inexplicably jumped to R164 million. DD Mabuza appointed a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the archive’s building tender. A senior advocate who was hired to study the Commission of Inquiry’s report to determine if any official could be criminally charged or sued however found that the reasons for the price escalation were “all nonsensical and devoid of merit”. Many whistle-blowers and sources had been pursuing me to dig deeper and deeper into the Farm Mechanisation tender for many months. Getting the document was at times proving to be an uphill battle. My chances of ever laying my hands on it were diminishing. The information initially came in dribs and drabs – not substantive enough to use in a story. It was a hint there and a lead there, but I waited patiently as I kept on digging.

Then November 4 2010 – a turning point in my investigation arrived. Premier Mabuza reshuffled his cabinet for the first time since he occupied the hot seat in 2009. He fired long-serving Economic Development band Tourism MEC, Jabu Mahlangu, who had occupied similar positions in different departments under his predecessors. The cabinet shake-up, therefore, found the ground fertile for a showdown. One way of hitting back at DD Mabuza was leaking the investigation report done by the Integrity Management Unit into the Farm Mechanisation Tender.
 
The whole aim of the tender was noble – to assist poor rural families with some form of farming machinery and implements and buy them new tractors in order to assure them of food security. The department wanted to appoint a company to, in addition to what government already had, and manage such a fleet for use by the province’s rural communities in the Masibuyele Emasimini (Let’s go back to the fields) project. Over and above managing, operating and maintaining the fleet, the successful bidder had to supply the subsistence farmers with seeds and fertilisers. Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Administration head of the department, Nelisiwe Sithole, suppressed an investigation report the Integrity Management Unit subsequently produced on the Farm Mechanisation tender with all her life. Sithole also protected the winners of the multi-million-rand project. DD Mabuza was aware of the report as the Integrity Management Unit was housed in his office.

I visited Daggakraal and had a whole weekend to study the report while I was there. It detailed how the department irregularly awarded the tender to Sizwangendaba/Lowveld Trekkers JV, later renamed and registered as Baydrive Trading 158 (Pty) Ltd. The Integrity Management Unit probe noted the following in its report:

  • That the department did not provide it with minutes of the tender briefing session where 64 individuals from different companies attended;
  • Nine companies eventually tendered but the unit was only provided with Sizwangendaba’s tender document when it wanted to determine how the companies were scored on functionality – which assessed their skills on fleet management, experience in working with rural communities, registration with professional bodies, insurances, proposals and methodology;
  • The bulk of accruals the department was incurring were as a result of the tender
  • The project (Farm Mechanisation) did not appear in the implementation plan for 2008/2009 financial or that it was budgeted for;
  • Bidders were told the budget was R150 million, so it was unclear how the department continued to evaluate the bid as most of the companies quoted above that figure with the exception of one company that quoted R143 million;
  • The closing date for the bid was 20 August 2009 and the tender evaluation report was dated 23 August 2009, which raised questions how the department could prepare a report of “this magnitude” in three days;
  • The department afforded Sizwangendaba alone the opportunity to extend their scope to include old fleet while other tenders were not given the same;
  • The procurement of new tractors worth R7.8 million was not advertised and therefore Treasury regulations were contravened.

The Integrity Unit recommended that Sithole responds to all the discrepancies it picked up and that she should seek legal opinion, as there was a risk that the losing bidders could litigate against the department and win. No one implemented the recommendations. During my investigation, I could not help but notice that the awarding of the tender was in 2008 when Premier Mabuza was MEC for Agriculture Environment and Land Administration.

Furthermore, my investigation revealed that Sizwangendaba’s directors were at that time town planners – Patrick Chirwa and Harrington Dhlamini – originally from Malawi and Swaziland respectively. The duo was at one stage among DD Mabuza’s closet inner circle of friends and they were registered as co-directors of a few companies with the premier. The companies were Above Average Trading 44 and Above Average Trading 45. If you wanted a government tender or access to DD Mabuza, Chirwa or Dlamini were your first port of call, tenderpreneurs would often peevishly say.

However, as time went by the solid trinity dismantled. Chirwa and Dhlamini went their separate ways, and mishaps followed their bitter “divorce”. Chirwa and his family had the misfortune of being attacked in their house at one of the most secure and up-market estates in Mbombela. Dhlamini would later survive after the car he was driving caught flames from an explosion in Mbombela.

By 2014 Chirwa and Dhlamini were still part of a consortium that was awarded a concession by the Mozambican government at Nacala Porto, on the country’s north coast to build a R7.2 billion complex with a shopping mall, five-star hotel, a casino and up-market houses. Mabuza was part of this venture, by virtue of being a co-director in one of the companies involved, Nelesco 85, which also had his childhood friend Sonnyboy Maphanga as co-director.

The premier denied ever doing business in his life when I approached him for a comment through his spokesperson Zibonele Mncwango, late in 2014, but the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission records linked him to more directorships in Fastrack Trading 329, Middleground Trading 10, Nanati Enterprising and Civil Works, Daybeat Civil Works, Dalila Constriction and Beach Investments.