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Magashule confident asbestos corruption case will collapse

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Staff Reporter

Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule says he is confident the Free State asbestos corruption case in which he is one of the accused will collapse before going to trial.

He said this while speaking to journalists outside the Free State High Court on Wednesday after the pre-trial conference was postponed to February 21, 2022.

“The case will continue on the 21st and 22nd of February. That’s the end of the case,” said a confident Magashule.

“During those two days, I can tell you . . . they (the state) have no evidence against anybody. They are trying to get witnesses who are going to lie because they know that they have no case,” he added.

Magashule, who is charged together with 10 other people including businessman Edwin Sodi and former human settlements MEC Olly Mlamleli, warned that he will take legal action against the state once the charges against him are dropped.

“You can lie, you can sign affidavits, but once we put you in the dock, you are going to be exposed. We will later take legal action in terms of litigation,” said the former premier of the Free State.

He lambasted the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for the manner it is handling the case after it was announced in court Magashule’s former personal assistant while premier, Moroadi Cholota, was going to be charged for refusing to co-operate with the state.

“You can see here we are working an incompetent NPA. It’s a clear political case. Remember, when I was arrested in November 2020, the NPA said my PA Cholota is the key state witness,” said Magashule.

“Today they have said Cholota is no longer a state witness. I am sure they have tried to harass her . . . They have said on record they may actually charge Cholota. So, who is the witness against me?” he asked, sounding frustrated.

State prosecutor Johan de Nysschen told the court during the pre-trial conference that he had signed a warrant of arrest for Cholota.

This means Cholota, who is presently based in the United States, is now a suspect in the high-profile asbestos case.

De Nysschen said the NPA is in the process of getting her back to South Africa.

He said if the state cannot bring her back in good time, the state may have to try her separately.

Magashule has maintained from the beginning of the case that Cholota was a defence witness while the state argued that she was their key witness.

NPA national spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said the postponement was necessitated by the addition of Cholota as an accused.

The defence is also expected to file papers during December in preparation for the pre-trial conference regarding witnesses and how the trial should proceed.

The state has listed over 70 charges against the accused, of which Magashule faces three, namely fraud, corruption and failure to report corruption.

There are several counts attached to each charge.

The matter relates to a failed asbestos audit and removal project worth R255 million which was commissioned by the Free State Human Settlements Department around 2014.

According to the state, the provincial human settlements department engaged Sodi, his company Blackhead Consulting (Pty) Ltd and joint-venture partner Diamond Hill (Pty) Ltd as a professional resource team for the eradication of asbestos in the Free State.

Diamond Hill was owned by the late Ignatius Mupambani who was murdered in 2017.

Sodi and his joint-venture partner then subcontracted the work to Sello Joseph Radebe and his company Mastertrade 232 (Pty) Ltd at a cost of about R44.2 million. 

Radebe and his company further subcontracted the work to Abel Kgotso Manyeki and his company Ori Group (Pty) Ltd at a cost of nearly R21.4 million.

The state alleges that Magashule, Mlamleli and the government officials had a legal duty to comply with the stipulations in the Public Finance Management Act as well as treasury regulations.

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Ngwathe pays Eskom to fix damaged line

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BLACKOUT . . . The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading

Ngwathe Local Municipality in the northern Free State has paid R1.1-million to Eskom so it can repair damages to the power line in the area caused by overloading.

Eskom provincial spokesperson Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg said in a statement the payment was made on Monday morning and work to restore supplies to Parys and Vredefort has started.

“Repairs to the Eskom equipment will now commence,” said Van Rensburg.

“Based on the assessments of the damage, supply to Ngwathe should be restored by midnight tonight,” she added.

The spokesperson however said the initial repairs were focusing on the hot connections and will only be temporary to assist communities.

Another outage will be scheduled to repair the transformer bushings that were also damaged during the overloading incident.

The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading.

“Since 2018, Eskom has warned Ngwathe that their continued exceedance of their Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) – the contracted amount of electricity supplied by Eskom to the Municipality – will eventually result in damage to the Eskom network and that the municipality needs to apply for an upgrade in their NMD.

“In August 2021 and in April 2022, Eskom informed the municipality that any damage to the Eskom network that is caused by the municipality’s negligence, will be at the municipality’s cost.

“The municipality agreed to this condition and, although they were well informed and aware of the risks, they did not take the necessary precautions or made sufficient efforts to upgrade their NMD,” Van Rensburg explained.

Following the incident, Eskom insisted on the municipality making an upfront payment as it is one of the municipalities in the province sitting with a huge debt to the national power utility.

As at end June, Ngwathe’s overdue debt to Eskom totalled R1.89 billion.

Eskom says this debt continues to grow as current accounts are not paid in full.

“Ngwathe’s non-adherence to payment conditions and negligence in protecting the power system, jeopardises Eskom’s financial sustainability as well as the security of supply to the residents of towns such as Parys and Vredefort.

“Supply to Ngwathe will be restored to the capacity as per the contracted NMD.

“Risks of overloading and consequent damage remain, and it is imperative that the municipality invests in upgrading its supply,” according to the power company. – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung electricity tariffs up

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POWER TARIFFS UP . . . Local power distributor Centlec has hiked electricity charges

Electricity tariffs in Mangaung have gone up by 7.47 percent.

In a statement released on Thursday night, local power distributor Centlec said the increase was due to come into effect at midnight on July 1 following approval by the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa.

The increase will cover the period July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

“A guideline increase of 7.47 percent on electricity tariffs for Centlec was therefore approved with effect from the 1st of July 2022 for the 2022/23 financial year,” read part of the brief statement.

It said a more detailed outline of the increases will be announced soon. – Staff Reporter

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CUT students arrested for protesting against exams

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DISTURBANCE AT CAMPUS . . . Five students protesting against exams at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein have been arrested

Police have arrested five students from the Central University of Technology (CUT) for public violence after they embarked on an unsanctioned protest against the institution’s decision to have the mid-year exams conducted in person at its two campuses in Bloemfontein and Welkom starting this Thursday.

The exams are set to run until July 20.

The fracas follows an announcement by CUT acting vice-chancellor and principal Professor Alfred Ngowi on Wednesday in which he stated the exams would take place physically at the two campuses as scheduled.

Ngowi said a detailed discussion about online exams at the Welkom campus concluded that it would not be feasible to conduct online exams because circumstances have changed regarding the COVID-19 restrictions and that it was also against the policy of the university.

“CUT is a full-contact institution and not a distance learning institution and therefore does not have the authority to accredit examinations that are not done under CUT’s status as a full-contact institution,” said Ngowin in a recorded video.

Ngowi told the students that academic assessment is one of the important building blocks of their qualifications.

He warned the students against disrupting the exams saying they would face disciplinary action as such action will be illegal.

“The unreliability of the power supply may have unintended disruptive effects,” he said.

“The COVID-19 restrictions which necessitated virtual classes and virtual assessments have all been suspended and the various accrediting bodies to which CUT is affiliated may not accredit online assessments.

“Therefore, we will proceed with physical assessments.

“Management has made all necessary preparations for the smooth running of the mid-year assessments, which have been communicated to all students.

“Therefore, any student who plans to disrupt the physical examinations on our campuses must be aware of the legal and disciplinary consequences.

“In addition, the CUT management has put several measures in place to protect the constitutional rights of all our students who are prepared for and prefer to sit for physical assessments.

“Students must be aware that any disruptions of the planned and scheduled assessments are illegal and unlawful, and students who act outside the law will have to face the consequences of their actions.

“Students further need to note that failing the upcoming academic assessments will directly impact their NSFAS funding status.

“No further funding will be available to NSFAS-funded students who fail the assessments or fail to take the upcoming assessments.”

But, in a statement, members of the South African Student Congress (SASCO) at the university argued that since all assessments had taken place online due to the COVID-19 restrictions, “it is only normal that the exams take place online as well”.

SASCO also argued that some students had not received their allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and it would therefore be impossible for them to write their exams in a physical setting.

But Ngowi addressed the matter earlier in the same video: “As previously communicated through the Student Representative Council, NSFAS-funded students who still have unresolved challenges with their accommodation are encouraged to make written submissions to the relevant faculty deans in that regard.”

Park Road police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thabo Covane said members of Public Order Police Unit arrested five male students for public violence at the CUT’s Bloemfontein campus on Thursday morning.

He said the group of protesting students was warned by the operational commander to disperse within a given time as they were contravening the conditions stipulated in an issued court order but refused to do so.

“The protesting students became violent and started throwing stones and bottles at the police and the security officers,” said Covane.

“The police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The other group ran into King Edward Street and blocked traffic by placing stones on the road.

“Police then arrested the five students with ages ranging from 18 to 22 years.”

The arrested students are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Monday facing charges of public violence and contravening a court order. – Staff Reporter

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