R300M TOWN PLAN STALLS: DAILY DISPATCH

Opposition also voiced dismay at the snail’s pace of the programme, with the DA’s Dacre Haddon saying it was “totally unacceptable” that the programme had not kicked off two years after being unveiled.

A R300 million plan to rehabilitate several small Eastern Cape towns appears to have disappeared into thin air.

Two years of almost zero progress on the Small Towns Revitalisation Programme has drawn the ire of MPLs, and they have now demanded answers from Public Works MEC Thandiswa Marawu.

After being grilled on the slow pace of delivery on Tuesday, Marawu laid into her departmental officials, accusing them of dragging their feet in implementing the programme.

The multi-million rand programme was launched amid much fanfare in 2009 with hopes of it economically revitalising 11 rural towns around the province.

Small towns identified for the much-needed facelift included Port St Johns, Alice, Mount Frere, Cofimvaba, Somerset East and Cala.

However, delivering the portfolio committee report on public works at the Legislature this week, committee chairperson Debra Komose revealed that the programme had not taken off and that there was “no integrated approach among various government departments on their contribution towards the programme”.

Komose said the committee would give Marawu’s department 30 days to come up with a detailed plan for the roll-out, including social facilitation so that the public stayed informed of what would be done in each town.

Opposition also voiced dismay at the snail’s pace of the programme, with the DA’s Dacre Haddon saying it was “totally unacceptable” that the programme had not kicked off two years after being unveiled.

After the department hosted a workshop on small town revitalisation on Tuesday, Marawu joined her officials and other stakeholders for a cocktail function in Beacon Bay, where she lambasted officials for the delays.

Marawu did not mince her words and said it was not necessary to host workshops and glitzy cocktail functions “when people on the ground still suffer like they are doing”.

“Never again invite me to such glitzy functions while nothing is being done on the ground,” she said. “We need not sit on our laurels and enjoy the beauty of life while not even basic services are delivered to our people.”

The Daily Dispatch yesterday visited Alice, one of the towns supposed to benefit from the programme. In 2009, the programme promised:

Development of integrated social housing between low-and medium-cost housing;

Local small and medium size enterprises and co-operatives to run B&Bs, guesthouses and hotels;

Short-term leasing of Public Works properties for staff and student accommodation;

Creation of a tourism and heritage corridor; and

Development of farming land for commercial agricultural production and agro-processing in Alice.

Locals said not much had changed since 2009, with some painting a bleak picture of development in the area.

A local guesthouse owner, Lindiwe Makhubalo, who moved to Alice from Queenstown in 1981, described the town’s current condition as “disgusting and pathetic”.

“This was the most beautiful and colourful small town I have ever seen when I moved here in 1981 but since the advent of democracy in 1994, things have started to crumble and change for the worse.”

She said challenges facing the town included lack of basic services such as running water, poor roads, lack of accommodation, a poor drainage system and neglect of heritage sites that she described as the “lifeline of the town’s economy”.

Makhubalo said many international tourists came to Alice to retrace Nelson Mandela’s footsteps as mentioned in his biography Long Walk to Freedom , but “there is little heritage left in this culturally rich town”.

She said heritage sites that were the “only hope” of boosting tourism and the town’s economy were “totally neglected and in a dilapidated state”.

Makhubalo, who owns one of two registered guesthouses in Alice, said most properties in the town were owned by Public Works, “which seems to be uninterested in upgrading them or even selling to those who would take good care of them”.

“This is what is killing the town’s tourism potential and chasing much-needed business away. The only development that can come out of this town is through its rich heritage, which we are neglecting.”

Samkelo Mdledle, a University of Fort Hare employee, spoke of the difficulties faced by students due to lack of boarding space, prevalence of crime, poor visibility at night and appalling conditions to which offcampus students were subjected.

“Student accommodation is a problem here. Students who do not have accommodation within campus are mugged and some raped, so the issue of constructing a student village is vital,” Mdledle said.

Attempts to solicit comment from the department were unsuccessful by the time of going to print.

The department’s communication department referred all queries to Marawu’s spokesperson, Zamile Kufe, who said he needed to contact the relevant manager before responding. But by late last night he had not responded. — asandan@dispatch.