Ace Magashule asbestos case: And then there were 11 ...
ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule is set to join his co-accused in the dock of the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Friday, after previously appearing solo.
While Magashule was arrested, charged and granted bail in November for his alleged involvement in the R255m Free State asbestos roofing saga, his seven co-accused were arrested a month earlier and all released on hefty bail amounts ranging from R50,000 to R500,000.
At least five companies have also been charged in the matter.
On Thursday, police announced that three more government officials had been arrested in early hour operations conducted by the Hawks in Bloemfontein in connection with the same case.
Police spokesperson Katlego Mogale said: “The allegations relate to a contract that was awarded through a procurement process that was done in a fraudulent and corrupt manner. The contract was meant to identify and remove asbestos roofs in the Free State. During that period the department incurred unauthorised, irregular or fruitless and wasteful expenditure worth over R255m.”
The three, who are yet to be named, are expected to join Magashule and the others in the Bloemfontein magistrate's court on Friday.
As in his previous court appearance, supporters of Magashule are expected outside the court, armed with placards pronouncing his innocence.
The city of Mangaung has been preparing for the large crowd of people, some believed to be from outside the province, who are set to descend on the court precinct.
Qondile Khedama, spokesperson for the city, said several road closures could be expected.
“We have learnt from experience,” said Khedama.
“We are treating this like any other high profile case ... We have met with law enforcement stakeholders and what they have said is that we should make a plan that other users of the city still feel comfortable to do their business,” he added.
While the ANC had initially called for supporters of the accused to adhere to Covid-19 regulations which prohibit political gatherings under this level of lockdown, some within the ANC ranks have been rallying crowds in support of Magashule.
This includes former deputy president of the ANC Youth League, Andile Lungisa.
All roads to Bloemfotein founding home of the ANC as we support ANC SG Ace Magashule. Zemk' Inkomo Magwalandini !— Andile Lungisa (@mrlungisa) February 18, 2021
A group which goes under the name of Radical Economic Transformation and Supporters of Ace Magashule on social media, has also been rallying behind the former Free State premier.
His seven co-accused who have thus far been charged are:
- Nthimotse Mokhesi — former head of department of human settlements at the Free State
- Mahlomola John Matlakala — a supply chain management director at the human settlements department
- Edwin Sodi — the owner of the Blackhead Consulting (Pty), which scored millions in contracts from the Free State human settlements department
- Sello Joseph Radebe — a businessman from Fourways
- Kgotso Abel Manyike — director of ORI Group
- Thabane Zulu — former director-general of the department of human settlements
- Sarah Olly Mlamleli — the ousted Mangaung mayor who also served as a former MEC of the department of human settlements in the Free State.
The group face an assortment of charges ranging from fraud to corruption, theft and money laundering, Combating of Corrupt Activities Act (Precca), as well as contravention of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).
The National Prosecuting Authority has indicated it will add further charges.
The case stems from a tender that the Free State department of human settlements awarded in 2014 to audit and assess households in the province with asbestos roofing.
The tender was awarded to Blackhead Consulting and Diamond Hill Trading. The joint venture later subcontracted Mastertrade 232 to do the audit. Mastertrade, in turn, subcontracted ORI Group to do the audit and assessment for R21.3m.
Diamond Hill Trading was owned by businessman Ignatius “Igo” Mpambani, who was murdered in broad daylight while driving down Sandton’s Bowling Avenue in a Bentley.
Despite millions being forked out for the project, the work of assessing and removing the asbestos roofed houses in the province was not completed, leaving thousands of residents still sheltered under the poisonous asbestos sheeting which can cause lung disease.
In a bid to recoup the millions the state lost, the Asset Forfeiture Unit last year obtained a court order to seize assets worth about R300m belonging to the accused in the matter.