Former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane has pleaded not guilty to contempt of parliament.
Zwane’s parliamentary charges stem from findings by the parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests in May last year, in the wake of a pending R280-million Estina fraud and corruption trial.
The trial is scheduled for August, which has cast a shadow over Zwane’s political career.
The committee discovered that Zwane had not revealed the benefits he received from the influential Gupta family, who were accused of leading the Estina fraud scheme.
Additionally, he had appointed two of their associates as advisors while serving as a minister.
Failure to apologise was not intentional
In response to these findings, the National Assembly demanded an apology from Zwane for his actions.
However, the former minister did not attend two parliamentary sittings and failed to issue the requested apology, leading to the charges of contempt.
Zwane refuted the allegations during a hearing conducted by the parliamentary committee on powers and privileges.
For the first charge related to his absence on May 2 2023, he claimed that a flight delay had prevented him from attending.
He claimed that after reporting his situation to the appropriate authorities, he tried to show up the next day, but his name was not called.
Zwane insisted that his failure to apologise was not intentional.
In response to the second accusation regarding his absence on September 6 2023, he claimed that although he had been in parliament, a family medical emergency had forced him to leave immediately.
He insisted that he had communicated his circumstances to the chief whip of the ANC and that, through his attorney, he had then sent in a formal apology for his absence.
“I received the news that my sister, who was in the ICU in Pietermaritzburg, needed approval from a family member for blood to be injected into her because she was sick. I am the only son at home, a breadwinner,” he said.
“I never had any intention of intentionally doing any harm to my own reputation or sending a message that suggested that I disrespect parliament.”
Zwane was taken into custody in September 2022 and is a key player in the R280-million Estina fraud and corruption trial that the Bloemfontein High Court has set for August 5 to September 13.
He and the other 15 defendants are charged with money-laundering, fraud, corruption, and violating the Public Finance Management Act.
Vrede Dairy Farm project
These accusations are related to the doomed Vrede Dairy Farm project in the Free State, which was supposed to empower emerging farmers but instead allegedly led to the Gupta family receiving state funds.
Notably, Ronica Ragavan, who has been identified as the treasurer of several entities, and several businesses from the Gupta family’s business empire, including Islandsite Investments and Oakbay Investments, are named as accused in the case.
In April of last year, the high court discharged the accused in the Nulane case, the first state capture trial, citing insufficient evidence.
Other prominent players in the case included Ragavan, these financial entities, and former Free State officials.
The National Prosecuting Authority’s request to appeal this decision was denied.