SPEECH NOTES: 2021/22 Appropriation Budget – Vote 9 Rural Development and Agrarian Reform

Issued by Nomvano Zibonda, MPL

Honourable Speaker,
Honourable Premier,
Leaders of Political Parties,
Members of the House
Distinguished guests
All protocols observed

Agriculture has proven to be the most resilient industry across the world amidst the worldwide pandemic that we are currently experiencing. Even in South Africa the agricultural industry was the shining star amidst an economy that was in recession and which severely contracted.

Last year the agricultural industry was able to record positive growth of 35%, 19,6% AND 18,5% quarter-on-quarter, on a seasonally adjusted and annualised basis, during Quarters 1, 2 and 3!

Unfortunately, for the Eastern Cape, this vote is tabled while our own agricultural industry is facing a debilitating challenge, with the province still deep in the clutches of one of the most debilitating droughts on record.

But unlike other provincial governments that have supported their farmers, emerging and commercial, during times of drought crisis, our own provincial government has opted to look the other way.

This provincial government must hang its head in shame, as we have done little to nothing to assist farmers in drought-stricken areas in the province over the past year.

Honourable Speaker, it remains an enigma to the Democratic Alliance as to why the Honourable Premier refuses to declare the province a drought disaster area.

Declaring the Eastern Cape a Drought Disaster will enable the province to approach National Government for much needed disaster relief funding that can be utilised to assist water scarce municipalities to construct drought mitigation infrastructure, but also provide our ailing farmers with financial support.

Honourable Speaker, Through you to the Honourable Premier.

Hon Premier what are your plans to protect our farmers from this disastrous drought, or will you just continue to stick your head in the sand and ignore the plight of our farmers in the Sarah Baartman, Amathole and Chris Hani districts?

Honourable Speaker, I also want to make it clear to Premier, I am speaking of all farmers, both commercial and emerging, regardless of the colour of their skin.

This has nothing to do with race. The fertile soils of our majestic province are turning to dust Premier, and the dry, dead sand that is left, runs through our fingers the same way, no matter the colour of the hand that holds it.

Honourable Speaker, if the Premier wishes to maintain his flimsy racial narrative to shift blame and accountability, rather than address the issue at hand, I also wish to remind him that we have many successful commercial farmers of colour in this province, lest he has forgotten.

Honourable Speaker, if the Premier is wondering what it means to support farmers, in the Western Cape farmers have until recently received up to R18 000 a month in drought relief funding from the Western Cape government.

In the Eastern Cape all our farmers are getting is a kick in the teeth by a wayward ANC government!

It’s not surprising though that the Western Cape government does everything in their ability to protect its agriculture industry-in the Western Cape the provincial government GET THINGS DONE!

Honourable Speaker, we have many ailing and failing projects which continues to be funded by the department. One such a project is the Magwa Tea Plantation.

Over the past five years between 2016/17 and 2020/21 an amount of R254 million has been budgeted for the Magwa and Majola Tea Estates, which includes the R148 million spent on business rescue bailouts between 2016 and 2019.

Despite much fanfare at the beginning of last year, promising a new eco-tourism hub and diversification into other crops such as avocados and macadamia nuts, there has been very little in terms of development at the estate.

During a presentation by the Department a couple of months ago, officials indicated that there has been no interest by the private sector in the proposed development plans.

It is any wonder that there is no interest in partnering with the provincial government on this project given the fact that for the past decade we have been unable to resuscitate this ailing and failing project?

Honourable Speaker, no matter how many tea parties our Premier throws, the writing is on the wall.

Speaker, as our funding from the National Fiscus becomes more and more constrained, we have no choice but to start reviewing the projects which we fund. We can no longer afford to fund failed project after failed project. Throwing taxpayers money at incompetent officials and inept business plans.

Talking about throwing money away, the ECRDA continues to dish out taxpayer’s money, as loans, with apparently no intention of getting it back.

In response to a parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance, DRDAR MEC, Nonkqubela Pieters, revealed that over the past five years the ECRDA wrote-off loans to the value of R59 million, with R42 million of these write-offs in the last financial year (2020/21).

The total loan book for the financial year 2020/21 was R138,8 million, but the ECRDA only managed to recover R6 million in repayments for the financial year – this equates to just 4 cents on the Rand!

During the same financial year, some 87% of all loan recipients have defaulted on their payments.
Surely this cannot be allowed to continue. Surely we have to be more circumspect in how we deal with the Taxpayers money.

Municipalities in rural Eastern Cape look like war zones these days as inept municipal administrators and dysfunctional municipal councils continues to destroy rural towns and villages.

In this regard I want to ask the House why DRDAR is failing to facilitate discussions and spearheading interventions by CoGTA in a bid to protect agriculture against the continued onslaught of dysfunctional and collapsing municipalities?

Speaker, we need to further our objective of rural development as a Department, not continue to be observers over the systematic destruction of our rural economy by inept, dysfunctional municipalities.

Unfortunately, the budget before us is a start reminder that the current provincial government has no interest in building a capable state and a resilient economy. The budget before us is the same old same old. It continues to fund inept failing and ailing projects by a department that has clearly lost its way.

Eastern Cape Farmers you are on your own.

The Democratic Alliance does not support the budget vote before us for DRDAR.

I thank you.