Who Killed Moses Tshake?

| Mandy de Waal and Jon Pienaar
Drawing of Moses Tshake. Courtesy of R2K.org.za and Meghan Judge.

A man trying to fight corruption and restore financial discipline in the Free State was hijacked and maimed in February 2013, and died the following May. Moses Tshake was asking questions about the province’s corrupt agricultural projects before he died. Now the investigation into his murder has stalled. Mandy de Waal and Jon Pienaar investigate why.

“My hart is stukkend. My seun is dood vir fokol,” David Tshake says on the phone to GroundUp from Mafikeng. (My heart’s broken. My son died for fuck all.) It has been almost a year since the old man’s son, Moses Tshake, died in a Bloemfontein hospital, three months after being maimed in a hijacking on 22 February 2013.

Speaking in Afrikaans, David Tshake expresses his disappointment that the SAPS investigation into his son’s death doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. “We opened a case with the police and they just don’t find his murderers. We keep on phoning the investigating officer. But nothing happens. We just sit and we wait, and nothing happens.”

In a country where many murders go unnoticed, this homicide made it into the newspapers last year because of the work Moses Tshake did. In the grand struggle between good and evil – between those forces of government that deliver public service and those who exploit government as a resource to steal public money - Moses Tshake was one of the ‘good guys’. An auditor, Tshake was employed by the Free State provincial government to help manage financial ethics and adherence to good governance in the province.

Moses Tshake the whistleblower

At the time of his death, Volksblad reports, Tshake headed audits for the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in the Free State, and was asking questions about controversial provincial government projects.

“We know he was working with the municipalities,” says Joyce Chaka, Moses Tshake’s sister. “He worked with lots of municipalities. After he died we went to his flat. There was a letter there that said he had to appear in a court case for his work. I don’t know where that letter went. The police must have it now,” she says to GroundUp.

In 2012 Tshake was involved in trying to restore financial order at the Setsoto Municipality, which came under the spotlight after the death of service-delivery activist, publisher Andries Tatane a year earlier.

Tatane was part of a crowd protesting against maladministration and corruption in the Setsoto Municipality when he was shot at with rubber bullets. He died at the scene shortly after being struck in the chest by a rubber projectile fired directly at him by riot police. Seven policemen investigated in connection with Tatane’s death were subsequently acquitted of wrongdoing.

Rotten municipality

There was a local and international outcry in the wake of Tatane’s death, and a confidential report was commissioned by former Free State MEC for co-operative governance, Mamiki Qabathe. The report revealed a municipality rife with rot.

In 2012 Moses Tshake was the Audit and Performance Audit Committee Chairperson for the Setsoto Municipality, and was responsible for helping to restore fiscal discipline. In terms of law, local state structures must abide by the dictates of the Municipal Financial Management Act.

GroundUp has a document detailing some of Tshake’s work at the the Setsoto Municipality. This document - an Audit and Performance Audit Committee report - can be viewed here.

But Tshake was not only involved in trying to right corrupt municipalities. Newspaper reports in June 2013 cited sources from the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development that said Tshake was investigating Mohoma-Mobung projects at the time of his hijacking.

Touted by the provincial government as “the Free State agriculture department’s farming development and advancement strategy”, Mohoma-Mobung is a public-private partnership into which the agriculture arm of Premier Ace Magashule’s government is pumping hundreds of millions rands.

Billions wanted from China

Foreign funds were also earmarked for Mohoma-Mobung. In April 2010 a delegation including Magashule headed off to China and in 2012 a Chinese delegation visited the Free State. At the time Mosebenzi Zwane, then MEC of Agriculture and Rural Development, told Public Eye Online, “The Chinese are very interested in investing in agricultural projects in the province.” Zwane added that the provincial government hoped to raise between R1.2 to R5 billion from China for the Mohoma-Mobung project.

The sales pitch for Mohoma-Mobung? That the Free State government would use the project to stem unemployment, reduce food insecurity and fight poverty. But the stinking truth about Mohoma-Mobung was revealed in a series of Mail & Guardian exposés about a R570-million Vrede dairy project that the investigative weekly said had ties to the Gupta family.

M&G’s investigative division, AmaBhungane, reported that in December 2012 a 4,400-hectare farm called Krynaauwslust outside Vrede was given on a 99-year rent-free lease to a SA-registered company called Estina (Pty) Ltd. By May 2013 the dairy project was financed by the Free State agriculture department to the tune of R30-million. This figure was set to rise to R342-million over three years.

Copyright (C) Roberto Millan 2013. All rights reserved.

In October 2013 a forensic team from the SA Treasury was dispatched to Bloemfontein to question agriculture officials after several irregularities were discovered, including that the deal flouted treasury rules. “Approval for the project was rushed through despite the fact there was no budget, no feasibility study and no urgency,” AmaBhungane reported.

Amabhungane found several links to the Gupta family, and uncovered that Atul Gupta was involved in negotiations to buy a home in Vrede for the use of the dairy project’s co-ordinator. This co-ordinator was previously special secretary to Shivpal Singh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh in India, which is the Guptas’ former home state.

Free State and Guptagate

Yadav was embroiled in the “Guptagate” wedding saga in May 2013 after the jet he travelled on to a Gupta family wedding landed at Waterkloof Air Force without proper clearance. Magashule’s provincial government tried to clean up the mess by stating it was “an official visit … at the invitation of the Free State government”.

According to The Volksblad, Atul Gupta visited the dairy farm regularly. The paper cites the Guptas as major players in the project, but says that people working on the ground were instructed not to disclose the family’s involvement.

AmaBhungane found that the company’s registered address was the same building as several other Gupta businesses. The only director of Estina was an IT sales manager with links to the Gupta family - a certain Kamal Vasram. Estina acquired a 49% share in this project, and the remaining 51%, AmaBhungane reports, was earmarked for small-scale farmers, “only identified recently and the official could not explain how they were chosen”.

The Free State agriculture department earlier denied the Guptas’ involvement. But Gupta spokesperson, Gary Naidoo, admitted that one of the family’s subsidiary businesses, Linkway, was involved with the dairy. Volksblad reports that Linkway consulted on the dairy project when it was initiated, and that the two directors of the company - Ashok Narayan and Ronica Govender - are directors of other Gupta companies, namely JIC Mining and Sahara Systems.

Killing the fatted calves

In a written answer by Qabathe - now MEC of Agriculture for the province - to questions raised by the DA, R2,6 million was spent on a security gate and guardhouse for the dairy, R1.2 million on a 2km gravel road, over R2.5 million on tools and implements, and R30 million on the dairy itself and for a dairy processing plant.

R6,2 million was paid for 351 cattle, of which 62 were pregnant cows, 57 were stud bulls, and 232 were calves. In February 2014 Amabhungane found the carcasses of some 30 of these cows in a ditch located not far from a river used by local people for water.

Following the media fallout, and while the Treasury team was investigating the dairy in October 2013, Vasram left Estina and created another company, registered as the Mohoma-Mobung Dairy Project, exactly the same name as the Mohoma-Mobung Project used by the Free State provincial government.

Gariep fish hatchery project

Another Free State agricultural initiative mired in controversy is the Gariep fish hatchery project which was supposed to introduce aquaculture to rural parts of the province, and generate employment. The Chinese government injected R45 million into the project and high profile local and Chinese political leaders turned out for the sod-turning ceremony in 2009 at the Gariep Dam.

But when Magashule, agriculture minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and a Chinese delegation returned to the project in November last year, it was discovered that over a hundred million rand had gone missing. The Free State Times reports that the provincial government has launched an investigation to find why R140 million spent on the project has disappeared.

Back in Mafikeng, David Tshake wants answers to his son’s death, but none are forthcoming. Close on a year after Moses’ passing, Tshake senior is no closer to knowing who killed his son. “I phone the police just about every day. I went from Mafikeng by myself to the Bloemfontein police office. When I got there they said nothing to me,” says Tshake senior.

“Moses lived a right life. He was a good man. He was my first child, my son. He never made any problems. The first problem was this hijacking, and now he is dead. Moses did his Masters. He learned a lot. I lost my wife in 2009, so I lived for Moses and my other two children. Now my heart is so sore. I cannot understand why Moses had to die.”

“My son died for nothing”

“To bury your child is a terrible thing. My heart is broken. I tell you my son is dead for fokol,” says David Tshake, who adds, “Please help me. Please phone the Investigating Officer Mathibela and ask him to do something.”

GroundUp was refused permission to speak to Investigating Officer Domkrag Mathibela, and the media spokesperson for SAPS in the province, Thandi Mbambo, would merely say, “The case is still the same. There have been no arrests and no leads.”

In August 2013 the DA directed questions about the Tshake murder to the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa. Mthethwa’s written response stated, “The victim was visited several times whilst in Hospital, but could not shed light on what happened because he could not speak due to injuries sustained. There are several leads that are being followed up.”

“The motive for the alleged murder has not yet been determined, however it is hoped that through the investigation process, the motive will be determined.”

But Moses Tshake’s sister says police did take a statement. “Moses said he didn’t know these people, but said that they speak Sotho or that they are Basotho. On the day of the hijacking, Moses was able to talk and managed to give a statement to the police,” says Joyce Chaka who explains that only after Tshake had an operation on his throat was he unable to talk. After that he was sedated for the three months. He died in hospital on 11 May 2013.

“I was there for two weeks, and when he woke up he just cried. They operated on his throat and he wanted to talk, but after some weeks he started to write,” says Chaka who adds that her brother would communicate to the family with gestures or by writing to them. “After the sedation he stopped talking. Now he is dead and the police don’t get back to us,” she says.

Further reading

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