ANC buddies in freebie game deal

20 September 2015 - 02:00 By STEPHAN HOFSTATTER, MZILAKAZI wa AFRIKA and PIET RAMPEDI

ANC-connected businessmen have scored R100-million worth of game for free from the North West government. The prize animals from state game reserves that have been donated to the men's company include 50 rhino and 50 prime breeding-stock sable antelope.The deal, which was never advertised or put out to tender, was signed off on Friday and went to a company called the Southern Africa Rare Game Breeders Holdings.Several government and ANC sources have accused the province's rural development MEC, Manketsi Tlhape, who is close to North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, of bulldozing the deal through, despite her own officials' doubts.The company was set up by former Rustenburg mayor Matthews Wolmarans, his former municipal manager Andries Boshoff and construction magnate Mike de Kock.De Kock has scored road-building contracts worth R1.4-billion from Boshoff and Wolmarans's municipality.story_article_left1A paper trail seen by the Sunday Times shows that the provincial government donated 130 buffalo, 50 white rhino, 50 sable antelope and 32 nyala to the company. The animals are worth about R100-million.Some of them have already been relocated to five farms near Swartruggens and Koster owned by De Kock, who will lease his land to the company. The project expects to make a profit of R32-million within four years from breeding and sales.The project is set up as a government-driven empowerment scheme for black farmers in the R20-billion game industry, by donating surplus breeding game to them from state parks.But it is unclear how the government chose Wolmarans and four obscure Mahikeng businessmen as beneficiaries. A small stake goes to a workers' trust.Wolmarans, who is reputedly a close friend of premier Mahumapelo, has become a political heavyweight since being acquitted of murder last year.He was recently appointed as the ANC elections co-ordinator, which makes him one of the most influential political figures in the province.Three years ago, Wolmarans and his bodyguard, Enoch Matshaba, were convicted of Rustenburg councillor Moss Phakoe's murder.Wolmarans was jailed for 20 years and Matshaba sentenced to life in prison. However, the High Court in Mahikeng set aside the convictions last year.Phakoe was killed on March 14 2009, shortly after handing over a dossier to top ANC officials detailing corruption in the Rustenburg municipality that is said to have implicated Wolmarans.Wolmarans declined to comment on the game deal.Sources in the ANC, the provincial parks board and the department of rural, environment and agricultural development said Tlhape had put officials under intense pressure to pass the deal, despite their warnings that it would deplete breeding stock to disastrous levels.block_quotes_start We believe that we received the game donation on merit, based on compliance with the regulatory framework of government block_quotes_endParks officials were asked to find scientific backing after "the decision had already been taken at a political level", said one."This thing was never advertised, there was no publicity," said another. "The application just came in all of a sudden and we had to push it."A memo written by the parks board's manager of ecological services, Pieter Nel, reveals the extent of the disquiet."Removing the numbers from the parks as proposed will seriously impact the viability and breeding potential of the remaining populations," he wrote on June 23."It will also impact on the board's objectives in terms of managing rare species, as well as other commitments towards concessionaires, communities and other conservation agencies and projects."But barely a month later, a draft agreement clinching the deal was signed by the company, the parks board and Tlhape's department.DA MP Sello Motswenyane said the deal raised the spectre of "corruption and nepotism".story_article_right2"It looks like a money-making scheme of friends of the premier," he said.However, Boshoff, the company's spokesman, said the project "and its members have no political connections with the premier or any political office bearer in the province"."We believe that we received the game donation on merit, based on compliance with the regulatory framework of government," he said"We are very grateful to be recognised by government as a transformation agent in order to empower black, emerging game farmers through the protection and conservation of rare game species in this breeding programme."Tlhape said none of her officials was pressured to approve the project and that the number of animals donated was agreed on after careful scientific study.There was nothing improper about Wolmarans being a beneficiary of a state game donation, despite his being elections co-ordinator."Matthews Wolmarans does not work for government ... Nothing disqualifies him," she said, and denied he had been chosen because of his links to the premier."They are not friends. It's unfair for people to use this link."Tlhape declined to comment on the cosy links between Wolmarans and the other project leaders. "The consortium is not my consortium. Anyone can still apply," she said.investigations@sundaytimes.co.za..

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