Magashule's secretary 'can't recall' why businessman was asked for R250k
Ace Magashule's secretary, while he was premier of the Free State, believes there was nothing untoward about asking businesses to financially support students or other people, even if those businesses were doing work for government.
When Moroadi Cholota took the stand at the state capture inquiry on Friday, she seemed to have a difficult time remembering why she asked Free State businessman Ignatius Mpambani to pay R250,000 to a travel agency frequently used by her office.
She surmised it may have been to cover the costs of travel for students, which, in her version of events, Magashule's office frequently did.
But there may have been more to that request.
Former Free State economic development MEC Mxolisi Dukwana previously told the commission that in 2014 Mpambani's company, Diamond Hill, formed a joint venture with Blackhead Consulting, an engineering firm owned by businessman Edwin Sodi, to take on a massive R255-million contract handed out by the province's department of human settlements. That contract, to assess 300,000 households for asbestos roofing, later became infamously known as the "asbestos heist".
Dukwana referred to e-mails showing that staff in Magashule's office, allegedly on the premier's instruction, requested that Mpambani transfer millions received from the contract to Magashule's benefactors. Similar allegations were also set out in journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh's book, Gangster State, Unravelling Ace Magashule's Web of Capture.
According to Dukwana, e-mails to Mpambani from Magashule's staff - Ipeleng Morake and Cholota - requested him to make payments for the student fees of various people. The payments coincided with money from the asbestos contract. As Mpambani received millions from the deal, he would be requested to transfer hundreds of thousands into various accounts.
Cholota admitted to sending the mail requesting Mpambani pay R250,000 to Astro Travel in January 2016. But she could not remember what the money was for.
"The premier would ask for business people to assist. It is nothing related to the students or anything covered by government," she told the commission.
"In most if not all cases, it will be regarding students' requests. For example, you would get a letter from a group of artists or a group of people saying they have an opportunity to go somewhere, saying we are struggling with the flights or financial assistance, then they would write a request for funding to the office of the premier.
"I would go to the director-general to see if government would help. Based on financial availability, if we can help it will be handled by the director-general."
However, if his office did not have the capacity, Magashule would tell Cholota to reach out to a select group of businesses for a donation.
"The premier would say see if there are any business people who would assist," Cholota said.
Even though it seemed Mpambani, who was shot dead in 2017, was the most frequent donor, Cholota maintained he was not the only businessman she approached for funding.
When asked if she knew whether those businesses were contracted by provincial government, which was reigned over by Magashule's office, she shook her head and said she "would not know".
Cholota was the commission's last witness for the year. It will resume on January 13, 2020.