Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: AFP PHOTO
Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: AFP PHOTO

Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has been ordered to pay another legal costs order in her personal capacity, after the Pretoria high court on Thursday found that she “failed the people of SA” in her invalid investigation on the Gupta-linked Estina dairy farm project. 

Mkhwebane has been ordered to pay 85% of the DA and Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution’s (Casac) legal costs in her official capacity as public protector and 7.5% of those costs in her personal capacity. 

Her spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, says she will seek to appeal the ruling, not because it could “bankrupt” her, but “on a matter of principle”. 

Judge Ronel Tolmay, who in May declared that Mkhwebane’s report on the dairy project in Vrede, Free State, was unconstitutional, relied on the Constitutional Court’s damning SA Reserve Bank personal costs ruling against the public protector to support her decision.

Gifted to Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the Free State agriculture department, the Vrede farm was intended to empower 100 black dairy farmers. Instead, the GuptaLeaks revealed how at least R30m paid to the Guptas via the farm allegedly ended up funding the family’s lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.

Tolmay found that Mkhwebane’s “failure and dereliction of duty” in the Estina matter were “far worse and more lamentable” than in her Bank investigation because her conduct had affected the rights of the poor and vulnerable. 

“They were deprived of their one chance to create a better life for themselves,” Tolmay said. 

“The intended beneficiaries of the Estina project were disenfranchised by the very people who were supposed to uplift them. Yet the public protector turned a blind eye.” 

Mkhwebane’s initial report on Vrede, which Casac alleged was based on an edited version of a draft report compiled by Thuli Madonsela, sparked public outrage after it failed to make any findings against former Free State premier Ace Magashule and Mosebenzi Zwane, the MEC of agriculture at the time of the Vrede project. 

Magashule is currently the ANC secretary-general. 

Segalwe on Thursday said Mkhwebane was conducting further investigations into the Vrede project and had now interviewed both Magashula and Zwane.