SPEECH NOTES: CONSIDERATION OF REPORT OF PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND AGRARIAN REFORM ON OVERSIGHT VISITS TO PROJECTS FUNDED BY THE DEPARTMENT AROUND CHRIS HANI DISTRICT MUNICIPALITY

Issued by Retief Odendaal, MPL
Shadow MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform

Honourable Speaker,

Honourable Premier,

Leaders of Political Parties,

Members of the House

Officials and all the guests present

Speaker, we are meeting here today in order to consider the report at hand whilst the Chris Hani District Municipality and in fact the greater Eastern Cape is amidst one of the most disastrous and debilitating droughts in history.

Let us not mince our words, this crippling drought is currently the single biggest disaster facing this region at the moment. Speaker, to put things in perspective, the farmers in our province have started referring to this drought as a once-in-a-hundred-year drought as none of our living generations can recall such an extended period of under average rainfall in our province.

This drought has already financially ruined many farmers as they simply had no choice but to buy feed for their livestock. Some farmers has done this for years already but simply cannot afford to this any longer.

The extended drought has led to significant job losses in the agricultural sector and as a result the economies of many of our rural towns are starting to feel the ensuing effects. It is also not just commercial farmers farming on large scale that are affected. Emerging farmers have also been crippled by the severity of the drought and in many cases had no choice but to sell most of their livestock in order to prevent total ruin.

Against this backdrop one has to ask ourselves just how responsive the Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform has been in this crisis. Speaker, to date this department has failed to gazette a drought declaration that will enable this province to access much needed drought relief funding from national government to assist our ailing farmers in the province. This is notwithstanding the continued cry for help and assistance from emerging and commercial farmers, organised agricultural organisations and the opposition in this house.

Speaker, as I stand before you I believe that the politicians in this house has got the very best of intentions in ensuring that they deal with the drought crisis decisively. We heard the Honourable MEC Meth said that we are going to declare this province a disaster area. The Honourable Premier is on record stating that the executive has decided to declare this province a disaster area on the 16th of October 2019 already. Unfortunately, these very best of intentions means absolutely nothing to farmers whose livestock are dying of hunger as the drought declaration to date has not been gazetted to date.

Speaker, in order for this province to qualify for disaster relief, the drought declaration has to be gazetted. I fail to understand why the officials within this department are not providing the necessary leadership in finalizing the formal processes which will give effect to the public commitments of the MEC and Premier.

We are going to miss the boat in ensuring that Minister Mboweni includes sufficient drought relief for the Eastern Cape in his 2020/21 budget. Speaker we need at least a Billion Rand! Speaker, WE NEED AT LEAST A BILLION RAND! By now, our officials must have done their calculations and should have informed the Premier that the province requires at least a Billion Rand in the next financial year if our drought-stricken municipalities and ailing farmers are to survive just one more within this drought.

Speaker, in the Western Cape, the government has just availed an amount of R147 million for drought relief to assist struggling farmers. Fifty million Rand of that budget is immediately available.

Speaker, I have last week written to the MEC as well as the Chairperson of this committee and have also suggested that we immediately avail R50 million in drought aid to struggling farmers through various budget cuts in the departmental budget. This correspondence has to date been ignored.

Instead, the department has just revealed that is making a ridiculous amount of just R3.2 Million available for drought aid to farmers. R3.2 million Speaker is a slap in the face of each and every farmer that have to witness their livestock starving to death on a daily basis.

That is R3,2 million for struggling farmers in our beloved province whilst the Department last year underspend their budget with more than R80 million of which R40 million was for Farmer Support and Development.

That is R3,2 million for desperate farmers within our province whilst on the current budget of this department you will find an amount of R10.7 million for catering for officials.

That is 3.2 million for nearly bankrupt farmers whilst an amount of R83 million is being budgeted for travelling and subsistence for departmental officials! R

That is 3,2 million for farmers that are about to lose everything they own  whilst an amount of R9.5 million has been budgeted for departmental advertising. We must stop telling the public that there is no money for them, we have money, we are just spending it in all the wrong places!

Speaker, it is sad reality that the officials in this province has become less and less responsive towards the needs of our people. Take the Chris Hani District Municipality for example which have recently declared the municipality a disaster area. The formal processes in this regard has not been followed correctly and as such the process is wholly flawed. National Treasury will no doubt inform the Accounting Officer of Chris Hani of this fact in due course, but it is mind boggling that the department has not assisted this municipality with these formalities. Speaker, how is it that I know this and the legal advisers within the department have failed to advise the municipality accordingly? Is it up to me to assist the department with legal matters?

Yes Speaker, we need to be responsive to the needs of our people. When President Cyril Ramaphosa said, Thuma Mina, he meant all of us.

Here in Komani, we have the land dispute where the Gwatyu farmers have been deprived of their land for generations. Speaker, you will be surprised to hear that the Gwatyu Communal Property Association has still not been registered by government and notwithstanding the fact that this matter has been ongoing for decades already, little to no progress have been made herein. The provincial department is sticking their heads in the sand and is not proactive in assisting these people. The people of Gwatyu have been deprived from their birth right and now this department is doing nothing to assist in their plight. Speaker, through you to MEC Meth, MEC the people of Gwatyu requires you urgent intervention in this long outstanding matter.

In the Inxuba Yethemba Municipality we have the erstwhile so called Sugar Beet Farmers. These farmers have benefitted from land restitution and are the proud tenants of farms valued at hundreds of millions of Rands. Originally, it was government’s plan to turn these farms into productive sugar beet farms so that an expanded ethanol industry could be established in the region. The ethanol would have been produced from the sugar beet and as such a refinery had to be built by government in order to establish the industry.

This was in 2013.

Government has since then decided not to proceed with the project at hand and as such, has built no ethanol refinery to which the sugar beet could be supplied. Now these farmers have been left high and dry, virtually without any assistance from the National or Provincial department to help them cultivating another produce. This is a disgrace as these farmers are sitting on land valued at millions of Rands and in some cases, can hardly fed for their families.

I have visited these farmers and they say that posh officials from the provincial department dressed in gleaming, pointy shoes or fashionable high heels visit them from time to time. According to these farmers said officials bring along with them no advise, but often, empty promises.

This is not the type of department we want to be. We can do better!

Speaker, the Democratic Alliance supports the report before us but notes with concern the fact that the some of the most problematic agricultural issues within the district is nowhere to be found in the report at hand. I want to make it clear that we need to start being far more responsive to our communities. Government officials and indeed also the politicians, must at all times be responsive to the needs of our communities, subservient to our people, humble and hardworking. Notwithstanding the noble idea of an outreach such as the one here today, there is a growing divide between the people and government. We have to address that growing divide and we will only be able to do this if we become more responsive to the needs of our people.

My final words Speaker, all hands must be on deck to deal with this debilitating drought!

Thuma Mina!