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Zwane must account for alleged involvement in defrauding Free State: Analyst
13 October 2020, 9:03 AM

Political analyst Ongama Mtimka says former Free State Human Settlements MEC Mosebenzi Zwane must account for his alleged involvement in defrauding the provincial government through irregularly awarded tenders.

On Monday, Zwane told the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg that he simply wanted to fast track the delivery of low-cost housing for the 2010 financial year.

Zwane denied giving an instruction that material suppliers be paid in advance. He said he merely tasked officials with researching the legalities of an advanced payment scheme.

Zwane said he believed all contractors had been vetted when he approved a consolidated database after the department’s open tender system was discontinued.

He added that the database was compiled by the province’s Bid Evaluation Committee, Bid Adjudication Committee, and then-accounting officer, Mpho Mokoena.

“I went through the criteria list we had been given by EXCO, whether there were young contractors, the disabled and women and I approved because I had given this task to competent officials who had been doing this work, some for over 15 years when I was not even there and at that particular time there had never been a dispute about their work. So, I did not go through those details because I was not even favoured by the detailed work that they do behind closed doors.”

This is in contradiction with earlier testimony from departmental officials.

Mtimka says it’s clear that legality and compliance were not factors when Zwane made decisions.

“You cannot then expect from people who don’t respect the law or legal procedures in their decision-making and expect that in answering about those decisions, they are going to show some degree of appreciation of the centrality of legality and procedure in their decision-making.”

State Capture to continue with Eskom related evidence
13 October 2020, 8:03 AM

The State Capture Commission on Tuesday is expected to hear Eskom related evidence from the former Eskom Board Chairperson Dr. Ben Ngubane.

In September, Ngubane appeared before the Commission testifying about his tenure as the SABC board chair, during which time, former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela made damning findings in her 2014, “When Governance and Ethics fail” report.

The Commission has already heard evidence by former Eskom chair Zola Tsotsi.

Senekal businessman back in court for violent protest
13 October 2020, 6:31 AM

A 51-year-old businessman will hear the outcome of his bail application in the Senekal Magistrate’s Court on charges related to a violent protest last week.

He faces charges of attempted murder, malicious damage to property, and public violence.

Last Tuesday, a group of farmers stormed the court building demanding that two suspects charged with the murder of 21-year-old farm manager Brendin Horner be handed over to them.

The violent protests followed the brief court appearance of Sekwetje Mahlamba and Sekola Matlaletsa who are accused of Horner’s murder.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) wants to add more charges. Free State NPA spokesperson Phaladi Shuping explains, “We are contemplating charging him with terrorism because there are allegations of damage to property which is court building and a police vehicle. We regard those allegations as an attack against the state; hence the charges should add terrorism.”

Farmers in the Free State are calling for the return of the death penalty following the murder of Horner:

‘Unite against crime’

In his weekly letter to the nation, President Cyril Ramaphosa has called on South Africans to unite in their fight against crime. He cited protests and vigilantism in Senekal as well as the shooting of three young men in a car in Delft in the Western Cape in the same week.

He said citizens should not be blinded by their own prejudices to the suffering and pain of others, adding that it doesn’t matter whether the victim is black or white.

Ministers Bheki Cele for Police and Ayanda Dlodlo for State Security are expected to visit the family of the slain farm manager, Brendin Horner in Paul Roux in the Free State on Tuesday.

The ministers will also meet with various organised farming structures in an attempt to quell tensions in the area.

 

A deputy National Police Commissioner arrested
12 October 2020, 9:29 AM

A Deputy National Police Commissioner has been arrested. She is the latest person to be arrested regarding a multimillion-rand police tender in 2017, for which former National Police Commissioner Khomotso Phahlane was also arrested.

The suspect is expected to appear in the Palm Ridge Magistrate’s Court, east of Johannesburg, on Monday. She is charged with corruption, fraud, theft and money laundering.

It relates to the supply of emergency warning equipment for the police service in 2017. The contract price to the police service was R191 million, however, only R65 million was paid to the service provider. So far 12 suspects have been arrested in the matter.

 

Pandemic spurs illegal gold rush in Zimbabwe mountains
12 October 2020, 9:02 AM

Known for their rugged ranges, grassy plains, and forest waterfalls, the Chimanimani mountains in eastern Zimbabwe have long been a popular destination for tourists – and gold miners hoping to strike it rich.

Travel restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 have kept the tourists away, although some attractions reopened last month.

But illegal mining has surged as miners take advantage of the lack of visitors, leaving a trail of environmental destruction in their wake, say, researchers and activists.

“The waters are being polluted; the biodiversity poisoned; endemic plants dug up (and) trampled; animals and birds poached; (and) litter strewn all over the mountains,” said Julia Pierini, head of BirdLife Zimbabwe, a non-profit.

Activists, industry experts, and some of the miners themselves say rangers employed by the Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimparks) to protect Chimanimani National Park are involved in the illicit activity.

“For the past couple of years, we have been seeing illegal gold miners in the mountains, but suddenly during lockdown, we started to see hundreds of them,” said Collen Sibanda, vice chairman of the Chimanimani Tourist Association (CTA).

“Zimparks is recruiting people. They are organising these syndicates.”

Lenny Kwaramba told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that he had been mining in the mountains without a license since March.

“I thought it was legal because we were working with the rangers,” said Kwaramba, whose name has been changed to protect his identity.

“We were given a target, we would sell about 40 grams of gold per day,” he continued, explaining that as the miners came back down the mountain, the rangers would take the gold and pay them in U.S. dollars.

That was until August, when the military and police were deployed to help the rangers evict the miners.

“I had to run for my life,” Kwaramba said. “They were firing at us. Some (miners) were injured and others are missing.”

Zimparks spokesman Tinashe Farawo said the authority was looking into claims that the park’s rangers had a hand in the illegal gold mining.

“We have heard such reports. We are currently investigating the allegations,” he said in a phone interview.

“We are calling upon (everyone) to forward any evidence that our officers are involved. We want to ensure we protect these forests for the benefit of the future generations.”

There is no official data on the number of illegal gold miners in the Chimanimani Mountains, but authorities note that around the country their ranks have risen in recent years.

As Zimbabwe experiences its worst economic crisis in a decade, with crippling hyperinflation and unemployment, young people are venturing into illegal gold mining in a bid to earn a living.

Gold panning in Chimanimani is mostly small-scale and informal, according to a 2016 research paper by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London.

The paper estimated that the output from artisanal gold panning in the area from 2007 to 2011 was between 600-to-900 kg per year, with less than half of that amount being officially recorded.

SACRED PLACES

The latest census data shows about 135 000 people live in the area around the Chimanimani Mountains, on the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

That population, made up of various indigenous communities, is still recovering from last year’s Cyclone Idai, which caused $622 million worth of damage, mainly in Chimanimani and Chipinge districts, according to government officials.

And now, say locals, they also have to endure the ecological impacts of illegal mining.

Pierini at BirdLife Zimbabwe said the mountains are an important watershed area with ecologically sensitive wetlands that provide most of the water used by communities in the valleys below.

“With a changing climate, on the back of Cyclone Idai last year and drought conditions this year, mining in the Chimanimani Mountains represents an ecological catastrophe,” she said in emailed comments.

“If not halted permanently, (it) will no doubt pave the way for another humanitarian crisis,” she added.

As they follow the gold belt, the miners drain springs, dig up riverbeds and cut into caves, Pierini said.

Their activity fills the water with silt, making it unliveable for marine life and largely unusable by people, she noted.

The miners also use chemicals such as mercury and cyanide to separate gold from the ore and the soil, leaving people and wildlife downstream with highly toxic water, said Chief Raymond Saurombe, a leader of Chikukwa Village in Chimanimani.

“For a chief to be respected, one should have his or her dams, caves and springs,” he explained.

“Now that all these are being invaded by the miners, We will be soon left with nothing. These sacred places are what give us recognition as chiefs.”

MINING BAN

In response to a rise in illegal mining along riverbeds all over the country, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said in a cabinet press briefing in September that, apart from a few exceptions, “all riverbed alluvial and riverbed mining on rivers is banned with immediate effect.”

The Zimbabwean government has for the past few years been trying to register all small-scale artisanal miners, but critics say the lack of implementation means the number of illegal miners continues to grow.

As the cabinet works on creating policies to make mining in the country more sustainable, Mutsvangwa said it has resolved to also ban licensed mining activities in the country’s national parks.

National parks are protected by law, but those protections are sometimes overridden to grant mining rights to big companies, explained Simiso Mlevu, communications officer for the Centre for Natural Resource Governance, an advocacy group.

More than 15 mining licenses had been granted in national parks around the country over the past decade, Mlevu said via WhatsApp.

Deputy Minister of Mines Polite Kambamura said that small-scale miners should register their mining activities to ensure they follow proper mining standards and do not harm the environment.

“It is a punishable offence for one to mine without registration. Besides poor mineral accountability and environmental damage, proper mining standards are not being followed in these areas,” he said on WhatsApp.

Since law enforcement agents evicted the illegal miners from the Chimanimani Mountains in August, the local communities have had some respite from the gold rush.

But as long as miners continue to be drawn to the area, Chief Saurombe fears the mountains’ famed legends and mysteries are under threat.

“We have our sacred places that include dams with mermaids and caves in the mountains. These sacred places are important to us,” he said.

 

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