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Former Free State agriculture head granted bail

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Former Free State Agriculture and Rural Development head Mbana Peter Thabethe, accused of conniving with the Guptas and others to loot R25-million meant to benefit some of the province’s poor, has been granted bail at the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court.

Magistrate Estelle DE Lange released him on R10 000 bail and asked him to return to court on July 5 for the continuation of the matter.

His co-accused, Iqbal Sharma, is expected to apply for bail later today.

The state, represented by Jacyntha Witbooi, had opposed Thabethe’s bail application saying the matter had drawn a lot of public interest given that funds alleged stolen by the accused were meant for service delivery with a particular focus on the poor.

“The funds that were looted were meant for service delivery,” said Witbooi.

“People are frustrated . . . The Free State was the most looted province by the Gupta family,” she added.

However, defence lawyer Advocate Willem Edeling argued the state did not have a strong case and that there was no reason the accused should be denied bail.

“There’s nothing in the submission in the matter before you to prove a solid case and deny the accused bail,” he argued.

Thabethe and Sharma were arrested last Wednesday and made an initial court appearance the following day.

Their other two accomplices, Limakatso Moorosi, also a former head of the provincial agriculture department, and Seipati Sylvia Dhlamini, the department’s former chief financial officer, were each granted bail of R10 000 last week.

Thabethe and Sharma opted to apply for bail today as their legal representatives indicated they needed more time to prepare.

They spent the weekend at the Bainsvlei Police Station.

The pair is among the 17 accused who face charges relating to defrauding the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

The fraud is in connection with a R25-million feasibility study dating back to 2011 that was irregularly granted to Nulane Investment 204 (Pty) Ltd, a company owned and controlled by Sharma.

The company had to provide a report to the department within seven months.

Nulane, however, subcontracted the work to Deloitte Consulting (Pty) Ltd for R1.5 million.

Furthermore, it subcontracted the work already completed by Deloitte to the United Arab Emirates-based Gateway Limited and paid them over R19 million.

From there, the funds were diverted to Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd, a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.

The accused face charges of fraud and money laundering.

The former government officials are also charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

The fifth suspect in the matter, Iqbal Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear in court on June 15, owing to health reasons.

They are charged together with four companies, Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, Wone Management (Pty) Ltd, Pragat Investments (Pty) Ltd and Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd.

The other accused are not currently out of the country and are being pursued by South African authorities with the help of Interpol.

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Masks no longer mandatory when outdoors

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South Africans will no longer be required to wear masks while outdoors, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday night when he gave an update on national efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wearing of masks indoors however remains mandatory.

“As before, it is mandatory to wear a cloth mask or similar covering over the nose and mouth when in public indoor spaces,” said Ramaphosa in a televised address.

“However, a mask is not required when outdoors,” he added.

“This means that we still need to wear masks when in shops, malls, offices, factories, taxes, buses, trains or any other indoor public space.

“But we do not need to wear masks when walking on the street or in an open space, when exercising outdoors or when attending an outdoor gathering.”

The president said after four waves of infection, fewer people are becoming severely ill and requiring hospitalisation.

He said there are far fewer deaths than before.

“Our scientists tell us that this is mainly because some 60 to 80 percent of the population has some form of immunity to the virus, either from previous infection or vaccination . . . we are now ready to enter a new phase in our management of the pandemic,” said Ramaphosa.

About 48 percent of all adults are believed to have received at least one vaccine dose.

Further to that, both indoor and outdoor venues can now take up to 50 percent of their capacity provided that the criteria for entrance are proof of vaccination or a COVID-19 test not older than 72 hours.

“But where there is no provision for proof of vaccination or a COVID test, then the current upper limit will remain – of 1 000 people indoors and 2 000 people outdoors,” he explained.

This change to the restrictions on gatherings, according the president, will be of great benefit to the sporting, cultural, entertainment and events industries, among others.

The maximum number of people permitted at a funeral will increase from 100 to 200.

However, night vigils as well as after-funeral and ‘after-tears’ gatherings are still not allowed.

The regulations on social distancing are also being changed, requiring that a space of one metre is maintained between persons in all settings except schools.

There are also changes to the regulations on international travel.

Travellers entering South Africa will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours.

All unvaccinated travellers entering the country who want to be vaccinated will be offered a vaccination.

All measures are taking effect from this Wednesday.

Ramaphosa said in deciding which restrictions to ease and which to keep in place, they  also looked to the experiences of other countries, including those where the complete lifting of restrictions has been followed by a surge in infections and deaths.

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Man gets six life terms for raping own daughter

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A 36-year-old man from Clocolan has been sentenced to six life terms by the Free State High Court after he was found guilty of raping his 14-year-old daughter.

In a statement, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said Judge Pina Mathebula sentenced the father, who cannot be named to protect the identity of his daughter, for raping her six times between May and July 2021.

“The victim was staying with the accused, his wife, who is her stepmother, and two other siblings,” read part of the statement issued by NPA regional spokesperson Phaladi Shuping on Thursday.

“In May 2021, the accused told his wife that his late brother told him in a dream ‘to get rid of a tokoloshe that was inside the victim’. The very same night of the alleged dream, the accused raped the victim. The last rape incident took place on 25 July 2021,” added the statement.

The court, sitting in Ladybrand, heard that the wife tried to reprimand him but he assaulted her.

As if not enough, he overpowered and raped the victim, despite her cries and his wife’s reprimands.

He threatened to kill both of them if they were to tell anyone of what he did.

A day later, the accused’s sister visited the family and the wife told her what the husband had done to the child.

The sister reported his brother to the police and he was arrested.

In aggravation, state prosecutor Advocate Moipone Moroka submitted a victim impact report facilitated by Bulelani Mothabeng in which the victim said that she thanks her aunt for coming to her rescue because if it was not for her, she would still be her father’s sex slave.

Moroka further argued that the scourge of violence against women and children has reached an alarming proportion and can be described as a pandemic.

“What aggravates the matter is that the father raped his own daughter multiple times over a period of three months and this means he had ample opportunity to reflect on his actions, but he continued betraying the trust his daughter had in him,” said Moroka.

The father was sentenced to six life sentences for rape and two years for assault and the sentences were ordered to run concurrently.

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Premier mourns journalist

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Premier Sisi Ntombela has described the late SABC journalist Thabo Katsande as a disciplined, dedicated and hardworking man.

She said this in her special tribute to Katsande, who was based in Bloemfontein, during a memorial service held at the Rose Hall at the Mangaung Metropolitan offices on Thursday.

The journalist passed away at a Pretoria hospital last Saturday following a short illness.

“The Thabo I knew was focused on his work,” said an emotional Ntombela.

“The Thabo I knew was passionate about his trade and wanted to see journalism, particularly in the Free State, grow in leaps and bounds,” she added.

The premier took the opportunity to urge people to value their work and strive to improve their communities as the province is faced with a high unemployment rate.

“We live in an era where some people do not value their jobs . . . and a sense of entitlement has consumed them. Thabo’s work ethic was admirable,” she pointed out.

Ntombela described Katsande as a fearless and fair journalist who showed both the good and the bad through his work.

“Through his work, Thabo helped us to tell . . . the Free State story,” she said.

“He captured the minds of the people with the way he told our stories, the good and the bad.

“The beautiful and the not so beautiful – Thabo told it all, without fear or favour.

“The media fraternity has lost a giant and . . . it will be poorer without him.

“No longer shall we see that charismatic man running around with a camera looking for that perfect shot.”

Katsande will be laid to rest in Bluemgumbosch, eastern Free State, this Saturday.

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