Prasa – further explosive revelations at Zondo Commission

Popo Molefe, the former chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), appearing in front of the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture, has wrapped up his testimony on corruption at Prasa.

Molefe was the chairperson of Prasa from August 1, 2014 to March 8, 2017.

The Swifambo tender

The Swifambo tender was originally a lease arrangement, which was changed to an outright purchase of locomotives for R3.5 million. The tender was awarded by the former CEO Lucky Montana on March 25, 2013 (he resigned in 2016).

Auswell Mashaba, the chairperson of Swifambo, concerned about a Prasa investigation into irregularities, called for a meeting with Molefe at the Maslow Hotel in Sandton. Molefe said that Mashaba was only concerned that his assets may be impacted by an investigation, but did not elaborate on how.

Mashaba told Molefe that Maria Gomes (a fundraiser for the ANC), had instructed him to pay R80 million to her and Nkosi Sabelo. The payments were to be made through Similex, Gomes’s company, and to Nkosi Sabelo, for “the movement”.

Molefe alleged that Mashaba related to him that Gomes had said that it shouldn’t be difficult for Prasa to give 10% to “the movement”.

It is common understanding that “the movement” refers to the ANC. However, Molefe emphatically said that he had no evidence that the money went to the ANC.

The Swifambo tender was only set aside by the court in 2017. The locomotives should have been returned to the supplier and Prasa refunded. At the time, R2.6 billion had already been paid and only 13 locomotives delivered.

Emails between Lucky Montana and Maria Gomes

The evidence leader asked Molefe to comment on certain emails between Montana and Gomes in 2013 that had been discovered in the course of the Prasa investigation, in regard to the capital projects that Prasa would undertake, including the Moloto Rail Corridor at a cost R12 billion.

Molefe said that the alarming feature of the emails was the familiarity between Montana and Gomes, and that Montana had no business sharing details and costs of projects to be undertaken by Prasa. Molefe informed the commission that Similex has no dealings with Prasa – nor is Gomes involved in entities providing services to Prasa.

The Moloto Rail Corridor concept was only ditched in 2019, after some R18 million had already gone down the drain.

No one to turn to

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo noted that the allegations against Prasa went on for many years without the levels of corruption going down being noted. But when the Prasa board commenced an investigation it was attacked, even from quarters that should have offered it support.

When the Prasa board, under Molefe, commenced investigations, it was kicked out in 2017.

Molefe emphasised that his minister, that is, Dipuo Peters, was an executive member of the ANC, and was receiving regular reports on this investigation – even as she was trying to force closure to it.

Peters, as a member of the executive committee, reporting to cabinet and the president, was privy to all of the investigations.

Prasa had reported a series of cases to the Hawks for further investigation.

Zondo remarked that every person is supposed to report to the president so that he can see how that department or that minister is doing. Molefe confirms that there are regular reviews on performance, including regular reports and the budget forum, to ensure equitable allocation of resources.

Non-action by law enforcement agencies

Molefe wrote a series of letters to the National Prosecuting Authority and the head of the Hawks, including a complaint about the fact that nothing had been done about cases reported. His view was that it was improper for an organ of state charged with the responsibility of investigating crimes and offences and prosecuting, to do nothing.

Molefe also wrote to the Speaker of Parliament, and laid complaints with the SAPS and the Hawks (Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation – DPCI).

Zondo remarked that it must have been frustrating to have to remind law enforcement agencies of what the Constitution says about their responsibility to do their jobs.

“State capture paralysed institutions so that they didn’t do their jobs properly.”

Molefe referred to Anwar Dramat, the head of the hawks who appeared to be effective. He was removed unceremoniously on spurious allegations. “Professional officers who put their teeth on cases  would be removed and replaced by cronies. Any police officer who dared touch any of the corruption cases became casualties who lost their jobs, he said.

Eventually Prasa had to go to court to get the law enforcement agency to do its job. After several attempts by the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigation to stop this, the matter was heard in court in May 2017. But by then the review applications of the Swifambo tender was set down to be heard in court.

Judge Denis Davis said: “I consider it inimical to the interests of justice that, where matters of public interest are concerned, organs of state indulge in costly squabbles of interlocutory and somewhat technical nature rather than engage with the merits of the matter in an expeditious, responsible and transparent manner.” And further: “It is to be deplored that organs of state engage in interlocutory skirmishes with each other whilst the main battle is raging around them and they, by their conduct delay any meaningful engagement therein.”

There was a deliberate crippling of law enforcement agencies

Zondo, seemingly exhausted by the corruption and non-action by the law enforcers, opined (paraphrased):

  • When you connect the dots you will see the common thread of corruption. The misery is caused to poor commuters.
  • There was no oversight. The replacing Prasa board did not pursue the matter with the same energy.
  • The different Ministers of Transport should have known about the litigation.
  • The relevant portfolio committee should have kept an eye on what the next board did, they should have asked why these matters were not being finalised.
  • It created the impression that any criminal cases arising on corruption in Prasa were not supposed to be investigated.
  • It is very very worrying.
  • We need a president who expects ministers to be asked difficult questions in the interests of the country. High levels of corruption need to be brought down. We need something quite drastic, a person who isn’t looking at re-election, but just wants to do the right thing. We need action, not words. The people must come first.

In closing, Zondo wished that more people will come forward to testify.

Evidence Advocate Vas Soni SC had the final word: “True patriotism is speaking truth to power in the most difficult circumstances.”