A milk processing plant is pictured at the Estina Dairy Farm in Vrede, Freestate on August 10 2018. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL/SUNDAY TIMES
A milk processing plant is pictured at the Estina Dairy Farm in Vrede, Freestate on August 10 2018. Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL/SUNDAY TIMES

A Free State government official told the state capture inquiry on Wednesday that he was not in the country when a document to accept a proposal by Gupta-linked company Estina for the controversial Vrede dairy farm project was signed in his name.

Takisi Masiteng, who was the chief director of district services at the province's department of agriculture at the time, said he was in China when the document was signed.

Now serving as head of the department, Masiteng told the commission it was incorrect that he had submitted documents to obtain approval for a partnership with Estina in 2012.

The farming project, which was signed off in 2012, was promoted as a tool by the provincial government to benefit small-scale Free State farmers, using their services to produce and sell milk on a large scale.

However, of the R220m transferred out of state coffers to Estina — a Gupta-linked company contracted by the Free State's agriculture department to run the project — only 1% was spent on actual farming.

Most of the remaining money went to individuals and entities associated with the Guptas. Then Free State premier Ace Magashule, who is now the ANC's secretary-general, and former Free State agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane are among the alleged key facilitators who oversaw the deal.

“A document was submitted to obtain approval to accept the proposal from Estina and enter into a partnership with Estina to implement the integrated dairy project in Vrede,” Masiteng said.

On the document, dated May 2012, under the heading “submitted by” was Masiteng’s signature. However, as his passport shows, he was in China at the time. He said it was not his signature.

“I did not sign the submission because I believe at that time I was not even around. There was a stage I was out of the country … I was not consulted,” he said.

Masiteng’s testimony continues on Thursday.

umrawa@businesslive.co.za