Ncora Irrigation Scheme in Engcobo in state of collapse

THE Eastern Cape government has paid nearly R250million to farmers who belong to an organisation led by President Jacob Zuma.

Money has flowed yearly since 2009 to projects registered with Masibambisane Rural Development Initiative, chaired by Zuma.

The funds have come from the provincial agrarian reform and rural development department “to assist the province deal with massive food projects”.

MEC Zoleka Capa told the Daily Dispatch that this year alone, R47million was set aside for projects under Masibambisane.

The non-profit organisation is managed by Zuma’s cousin, Deebo Mzobe. About R900-million has been given or pledged to the initiative by various state departments.

This weekend media reported how department heads were being urged to allocate funds to the project.

City Press quoted politicians as saying Zuma needed to explain his role and the functioning of Masibambisane.

“The NGO does not have a budget, but we are working closely with it to make sure that ploughing takes place in our rural areas.

“The money to plough comes directly from us – [but] even that is not enough,” Capa said.

The department chose Masibambisane in the hope the NGO would also contribute funding, but Capa said this had not happened.

Instead, the department has paid more than R249.2-million.

Zuma is scheduled to visit one of the organisation’s maize projects in Dutywa today.

Last year, DA Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip questioned the motives for Masibambisane.

He asked if Zuma was using it to trumpet land reform as a means of consolidating support ahead of the ANC’s elective conference in December, and suggested the programme was designed to keep the “rural poor in dependence”.

Masibambisane requires a farmer to join as a member.

Once a member, a farmer can access funds from the department.

Capa said all food security projects in the province were part of Masibambisane, and for farmers to benefit they had to enrol.

“The president needed to have a body that will incorporate all small farmers not classified in terms of policy into one entity.”

Capa said it was up to the farmers to sell their harvest or keep it.

According to her department’s annual performance plans:

R43.8-million was set aside for the 2010 financial year; Another R61.7-million for 2011; R49.3-million for 2012; Last year R47.4-million; and This year another R47-million. There is no set time-frame as to when the department will pull out from the projects.

“We will continue ploughing as long as people still need food,” Capa said.

One project is the Ncora Irrigation Scheme in Engcobo, which the Dispatch found in a state of collapse.

Houses meant for staff are falling apart, the irrigation scheme is not operating and workers are disgruntled.

The homes, 20 in all, have been vandalised. Although workers thought the houses were built for them, some are rented to residents who do not work for the scheme.

Security workers were dealt a blow when their R2 800 monthly allowances were slashed to R2 200 without notice. Employees said close to 600 hectares had been standing fallow since 1997.

Last year, Rural Development Minister Gugile Nkwinti announced during a visit with Zuma to Chris Hani district that his department would spend R105-million to revive irrigation schemes in the district, including Ncora.

And Capa said her department was spending close to R25-million to rejuvenate Ncora.

A multimillion-rand state food security programme, set to be approved by Cabinet later this month, has been subcontracted to Masibambisane, which will coordinate it on behalf of the state.