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State Capture

How Mosebenzi Zwane 'shocked' Zondo at state capture inquiry

As MEC for housing he didn't even know about the Housing Act

27 September 2020 - 00:00 By mawande amashabalala
Former MEC of human settlements in the Free State Mosebenzi Zwane appeared at the state capture commission on Friday.
Former MEC of human settlements in the Free State Mosebenzi Zwane appeared at the state capture commission on Friday.
Image: Sizwe Ndingane

Was he playing dumb to avoid accountability, or is Mosebenzi Zwane as incompetent as he claims?

Zwane made a shocking admission at the Zondo commission on Friday: he had not bothered to familiarise himself with the legislation that governed his portfolio when he was Free State housing MEC.

Zwane is now chair of the portfolio committee of transport in parliament.

Zwane stunned deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo when he admitted to approving an "illegal" process to hand-pick companies for a housing project because he believed the Housing Act enabled him to do so. He said he had never read the act.

In April 2010, the Free State provincial human settlements department was allocated R1.4bn from the housing conditional grant to build thousands of low-cost houses.

A tender process was started, certain bidders were disqualified, but before the process could be concluded, it was abandoned.

The national government at the time told the province that it risked forfeiting the money if it was not spent by the end of the financial year.

At that point, it was decided to pick a list of companies to benefit from the project.

The head of department at the time, Mpho Mokoena, described the move as "illegal" because, without going to tender, it had developed a database of service providers.

According to Mokoena, it was Zwane who came up with the list of companies to comprise the "database".

But Zwane told the commission that he was convinced that his actions were within the law.

What law? asked evidence leader Paul Pretorius.

It is a concern to me
that there would be
an act called a
Housing Act that the
MEC responsible for
human settlements
does not know about
its existence more
than a year into office
Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo

The Housing Act, said Zwane, before making the startling revelation that he knew nothing about such legislation but "was told by officials" that it enabled him to hand-pick service providers.

"I was an MEC who followed the prescripts of the law as much as I could understand them. I could not read this law [Housing Act] because I didn't know about it," said Zwane.

The act Zwane claims to have relied on, Pretorius informed him, in fact enabled an MEC to establish a panel of no fewer than six advisers with expertise in housing development.

"The fact is that I did not know that I was supposed [to appoint] such a panel," was another own goal by Zwane.

Zondo was puzzled by how an MEC, who was later appointed the minister of mineral resources, could claim to have been unaware of such crucial legislation.

Zwane also dodged questions about the Housing Act, telling the commission he still needed "to acclimatise myself with the act".

"As at April 2010, did you know that there was an act of parliament called the Housing Act?" Zondo asked Zwane.

"I had an experience from municipal level, which deals with MFMA [Municipal Finance Management Act] and when I got to the province I familiarised myself with PFMA [Public Finance Management Act]. When I was informed about the Housing Act, it was when I asked about the way forward after the open tender process was abandoned," he said.

Zondo was not convinced: "It is a concern to me that there would be an act called a Housing Act that the MEC responsible for human settlements does not know about . more than a year into office. I ask myself, what brings about such a situation?"

Zwane responded: "I hear your concern."

"It is shocking to me, Mr Zwane, that the Free State province had a situation of an MEC for housing who was not aware that there is a Housing Act in the country. But . when you were told about it for the first time, it was something important and one would have expected you to say, 'let me see the act and its provisions'," said Zondo.

Zwane thought it wise to implicate his then colleagues in the provincial executive council (exco) to move responsibility away from himself.

"I kept that in mind because we always had this process of appointing service providers.

"At that particular time what I did, which I thought was sufficient and was not challenged at any level, was to submit this idea at the exco. The exco agreed to this, so when I went back to implement, it was no longer a decision of one person who is an MEC, it was a decision endorsed by the collective including all HoD [heads of departments] of the province."

He said "it did not dawn on me" that he was committing an illegal act.

To date, of all the witnesses who have appeared at the commission to testify about this project - including Zwane - none could say for sure if it was a success or whether the 21,000 houses the province intended to build even existed.

Zwane is scheduled to end his testimony on the same project by Tuesday afternoon when he will face questions about how the department paid service providers more than R500m before they did any work.


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