Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has raised some eyebrows with the guestlist for her 50th birthday party held over the weekend.
Among the 250 guests were controversial figures, some being investigated by her very office.
The most surprising guest was former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane. He has been accused of having played a major role in the Estina dairy farm project.
The Estina dairy farm was a scheme intended to benefit black farmers in Vrede in the Free State. Estina, the company, charged with executing the project on behalf of the Free State government, was allegedly a Gupta front, and government money allegedly ended up being laundered for the Gupta family.
In December, a British investigative NGO claimed that Zwane, a former MEC for agriculture in the Free State, allegedly received benefits worth R500 000 from Gupta companies a month after he signed the 99-year lease with the Guptas for the Estina farm, City Press reported.
Crucial information implicating ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and Zwane in the Vrede dairy farm scheme was removed from a Public Protector report on instruction from Mkhwebane, according to an explosive affidavit by a whistle-blower, News reported in December.
The whistle-blower also alleged that information relating to the intended beneficiaries of the Gupta-linked scheme, which saw in excess of R250m in public funds funnelled through the farm’s holding company, Estina, was removed at Mkhwebane’s behest.
Mkhwebane dismissed the whistle-blower’s allegations as “baseless claims and ramblings of disgruntled current and former employees”.
Another guest that caused a stir was former senior NPA prosecutor Nomgcobo Jiba, who was fired by President Cyril Ramaphosa in April last year following an inquiry headed by retired Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro.
The inquiry found she was not “fit and proper” to hold office, according to a statement from the Presidency.
Other party guests included former state security minister Bongani Bongo, who stands accused of corruption; Ekurhuleni mayor Mzwandile Masina, who earlier stated he would resign if Ramaphosa was elected; former national chairperson of the EFF, Dali Mpofu; and the African Transformation Movement’s head of policy Mzwanele Manyi, who has been accused of attempted money laundering after he was dismissed from the All Africa Decolonisation Congress (AADC) party he formed in December 2018.
DA chief whip Natasha Mazzone on Sunday issued a strongly worded statement in which she described Zwane’s inclusion on the guest list as “shameless”.
“Her number one fan, Dali Mpofu, was there, along with the dubious Bongani Bongo,” Mazzone said.
“Bongo spent a large part of his tenure in the fifth Parliament trying to outdo his ANC colleagues on the Justice Portfolio Committee in seeing who could treat the previous [public protector] with the most discourteous contempt. He then eagerly competed for the post of praise-singer-in-chief of the current [public protector], particularly during his whirlwind stint as minister of state security, during which, rumor has it, he spent more time in her office than in his own.”
Speaking of Zwane, Mazzone said: “Zwane’s huge and unmistakable role in the criminal enterprise that was Estina was conspicuously absent in the first and very questionable report of this [public protector], later emerging via a whistle-blower’s report to the Speaker of Parliament, that this [public protector], now so cozily socializing with Zwane, instructed the investigator to remove evidence implicating Zwane and Ace Magashule.”
Mazzone said Zwane “shamelessly cavorts at the birthday celebrations of the person who is investigating him”.
But Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, on Monday told News24 that there was nothing untoward in terms of who was invited to the party.
“The guest list for Advocate Mkhwebane’s 50th birthday party comprised politicians, people from the legal fraternity, colleagues, family, and friends,” Segalwe said.
“Among the politicians who were invited were President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza. Ms. Jiba comes from the legal fraternity and is under Pabasa [Pan African Bar Association of South Africa], which is a project the Public Protector supports for the transformation of the legal profession.
“Mr. Bongo, like the Public Protector, comes from KwaNdebele. Mr. Zwane came with Mr. Bongo. Accordingly, there was nothing wrong with the guest list.”