17 June 2024 | 09:30 AM

President Zuma’s friend ‘collected Prasa cash for the ANC’

Key Takeaways

Picture: Paul Botes, M&G

Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) chairperson Dr Popo Molefe dropped a bombshell on Friday morning when he claimed that R80-million from a controversial train deal may have found it’s way to the ANC with the help of a close friend of President Jacob Zuma.

The defiant Molefe on Friday filed an affidavit at the high court in Johannesburg detailing how payments were made to various “mystery” parties, supposedly for on-payment to the ruling party.

Reacting to the story, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa denied the organisation had received any of these payments, telling BDlive: “The ANC… condemns in the harshest possible terms rumour-mongering and the use of the name of the organisation between individuals in their personal deals with no mandate from the party.”

The alleged payment revelations comes just 48 hours after transport minister Dipuo Peters was criticised for trying to put an end to an investigation into Prasa. She has since denied that this was her intention, saying instead that it needs to be expedited so it can be finalised due to the high cost of the investigation.

Molefe’s affidavit forms part of Prasa’s effort to overturn the R3.5-billion tender awarded to Swifambo Rail Leasing in 2013, which resulted in the state rail agency acquiring locomotives that were too tall for the South African rail network.

In the sworn statement Molefe claims that Swifambo director Auswell Mashaba approached him for a meeting last year, worried that the ongoing investigation into Prasa would negatively affect his other businesses.

In a series of meetings with Molefe and other Prasa officials, Mashaba revealed evidence of the tender having been rigged even before it was awarded to Swifambo, Molefe says in the statement. Two Prasa officials who attended the meetings have signed confirmatory affidavits.

Mashaba allegedly fingered Angolan entrepreneur Maria Gomes as being the middleman in the deal – this, Molefe claims was first revealed during a secret meeting with Mashaba at Sandton’s Maslow Hotel last year.

Shortly after the tender was awarded to Mashaba, he allegedly received a phone call from Gomes, a close friend of President Jacob Zuma, asking for a meeting.

“Mr Mashaba explained that he met with Ms Gomes. Ms Gomes told Mr Mashaba that she wanted money for the ‘movement’,” Molefe states in his affidavit. “Ms Gomes also told him that she knew the bid to supply locomotives to Prasa was worth billions and she could not understand why ten percent (10%) of the value of the bid could not be paid to the African National Congress. Ms Gomes was insistent that money should go to the movement.”

Mashaba told Molefe that as soon as Swifambo received payment from Prasa, he started making payments to a company owned by Gomes.

The scheme was that when payments were received by Swifambo, Mashaba would move the money to another company of his, named AM Consulting Engineers, which would in turn make payments to Similex, a company of which Gomes is a director of.

“Once the payments had been made to Similex, Ms Gomes would then distribute the funds. Mr Mashaba maintained that he did not know who ultimately received the money,” Molefe states.

The payments were mostly made electronically but also included two cash payments of R90 000 and R1 050 000 [R2 050 000 according to the payment schedule] which were handed to Gomes.

Mashaba’s initial verbal disclosures were later bolstered by payment schedules he handed to Prasa.

A forensic chartered accountant discovered that some of the payments may have been concealed in Swifambo’s financials.

“The suspicion is that the R80-million that was paid to ‘the movement’ has been concealed in the incorrect accounting of the VAT, the overinflated forex amount and the unnecessary consulting fees,” Molefe states.

Mashaba also confessed, according to Molefe, that he was effectively a front – he was initially approached by businessman Makhensa Mabunda who convinced him to tender for the deal.

Mabunda declined to comment when approached about these claims by the M&G and amaBhungane.

His company S Group is the beneficiary of a number of lucrative Prasa deals, and it was the S Group that initially collected the tender documents for the deal.

Mashaba says he also received instructions from Mabunda on where to make payments.

“Mashaba explained further that Mr Mabunda had instructed him to pay some of the money received from Prasa into specified accounts, without Mr Mashaba knowing who was being paid or the reason for the payment,” Molefe states. “Mr Mashaba was insistent that he did not know the identity of the beneficiaries and he was merely informed that the money would “benefit the movement”.

Molefe says after these initial meetings, Mashaba got cold feet and said he had been instructed not to hold any further meetings with the chairman.

Mashaba, when contacted on his cellphone, said he could not comment until he has seen the affidavit.

Gomes could not be reached for comment.

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism produced this story with the
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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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