#Vrede: Untold stories

In the face of an ongoing investigation into the operations of the Vrede Dairy project situated in the small town of Vrede, the was a raid in the office of the premier as well as at those of the Department of Agriculture and rural development by the Hawks last Friday.   The Director General of the Free State Provincial Government, Kopung Ralikontsane, confirmed that the raid had occurred and said that they were cooperating with the Hawks. 

 However, a follow-up visit by the ANN7 television channel revealed that although there was much criticism on the operations of the project, (with some saying that under its links to the Gupta family, it was milking the Free State Agriculture department’s budget for millions, despite the project being handed over to the Free State Development Corporation after it emerged that there were allegations of some discrepancies in its management. 

  The project made headlines when the #GuptaLeaks revealed that the money siphoned off from the project paid for the family’s much publicised Sun City wedding.  Revelations by the television channel showed that the project cost the department R251 million before the public/private partnership agreement with the Gupta-linked company, Estina (Pty)Ltd, was terminated.

 During a question and answer session in the Free State legislature recently, the MEC for Economic Development, Tourism, Environmental Affairs and Small Business Development, Dr Benny Malakoane, indicated that a company called Etsho has been appointed by the Free State Development Corporation (FDC) to implement a “turnaround strategy” over a three-year period.

The project was subsequently placed under the management of the FDC. MEC Malakoane further indicated that the project generates a meagre income of R450 000 per month, while its monthly expenses are R1.5 million. In an interview with ANN7, some of the beneficiaries at the project told the channel that they were aware that there were investigations underway but were feeling that the probe was disturbing operations as some of them said were breadwinners and depended on the project for survival.

“We are happy to put bread on the table at the end of the month. We are also wondering why people are worried because everything is fine here, they see us every morning coming to work and leaving in the evening while some start their shifts at night because there is work happening around the clock,” said one beneficiary whose name was not mentioned. It is understood that over 200 cows were actively milked every after two days and over 40 employees were working on a fulltime basis.

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