Zondo commission: Businessman behind Prasa tender hinted at channelling money to ANC

Popo Molefe, the former chairperson of the Board of PRASA, testifies at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on June 29.
  • The former Chairperson of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, Popo Molefe, says a businessman who secured a multibillion-rand tender in 2013 was later told he had made payments for the ANC. 
  • Auswell Mashaba of Swifambo Rail Leasing in the past supplied Prasa with dual electric diesel locomotives that were found to be too tall for SA’s local rail infrastructure.
  • Molefe says “in fairness to the ANC” he has no evidence that the received the money. 

A businessman whose company scored a controversial R3.5 billion locomotives tender with the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) approached the agency’s then chairperson Popo Molefe in 2015 to say he was worried about a probe being conducted by the agency, and that he had made payments that benefited the ANC, the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture has heard. 

Molefe was testifying for a second day before the inquiry, also known as the Zondo commission, on Tuesday. Since August 2018, the commission of inquiry has been investigating allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud at state entities.

According to Molefe, Auswell Mashaba, a director of Swifambo Rail Leasing – which in 2015 supplied Prasa with dual electric diesel locomotives that were found to be too tall for SA’s local rail infrastructure, raised concerns at the meeting that his assets might be affected as a result of the probe.  

The former chairperson told the commission that the contract signed with Swifambo in 2013 had been found to be “tainted”. 

Money for ‘the movement’

Molefe said Mashaba called him on 31 August, 2015 to a meeting in Johannesburg, where he revealed that his company had made payments to someone who needed money for “the movement” via an intermediary.

According to Molefe, the ‘movement’ was understood to be the African National Congress. Molefe said Mashaba told him that the intermediary who is said to have channelled funds to the ANC was businessperson Maria Gomez. According to Molefe, Mashaba said she presented herself to Mashaba as the party’s fundraiser. 

The former Prasa board chairperson insisted he was provided with no proof of such payments being made. 

Neither Mashaba nor Gomez have (yet) testified before the commission. It is unclear whether they will do so. 

In a affidavit in a previous court case in 2017, however, Mashaba acknowledged that he had made “personal” contributions to the ANC, but claimed these were unconnected to Swifambo. 

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, the chairperson of the commission, acknowledged the seriousness of the allegations, saying while it would be wrong for any political party to receive such monies knowingly, but it would be “much more serious when that party is a governing party”.

“At this stage I’m not aware that there is any evidence to that effect, but it is important that once an allegation is made, it is very important that we probe, particularly because the allegations of corruption at Prasa went on for many years,” he said, referencing Molefe’s earlier submission that his board had been met with resistance in its efforts to to address the scourge of corruption and ultimately kicked out.

“If this is what happened, it is terrible,” he said, referring to the issue of the alleged payment.

Molefe said his meeting with Mashaba took place against the backdrop of investigations that demonstrated that “Swifambo was tainted”, something he said was evident in how the design of a Request for Proposal for the contract it ended up being awarded.

He said the RFP was drafted to suit a certain party and was changed from a lease arrangement to a purchase agreement. 

“I have no recollection of my evidence stating categorically that the ANC received money…every time I spoke about it, it was in the context of what Mr Mashaba said to us.”

“In fairness to the ANC, I don’t have evidence which says they got the money,” he reiterated.

The Prasa board in 2017 won a court order declaring the Swifambo contract invalid, as part of a clean-up process of the entity which is currently under administration. The company has tried in vain to appeal the ruling.

Swifambo, which has now been liquidated did not only provide trains that were the wrong size, but also failed to supply the full complement of trains as required under the contract, delivering only 13 of the 70 envisaged.

Source: https://www.news24.com/fin24/companies/industrial/businessman-behind-prasa-tender-hints-at-channelling-money-to-anc-state-capture-inquiry-hears-20200630