While the Eastern Cape has earned a reputation for corruption, agricultural leaders reckon it’s unfortunate that corrupt behaviour has also seeped into the agricultural industry. And previously disadvantaged farmers, they say, are getting a raw deal because of it.
The Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform has come under scrutiny in the past for not following its own procedures in the distributions of government funding, in state land allocations and in providing support to land beneficiaries.
This, according to Brent McNamara, CEO of Agri Eastern Cape, who is concerned about how drought aid and government funding is being distributed in the province.
McNamara says that government funding allocated to “bona fide” commercial and small-scale farmers in the province never got to them. Instead, the money ended up in the pockets of people with no real ties to the agricultural industry.
“Even some of the farms that have been purchased by the state [to redistribute] have gone to beneficiaries that, again, are not really the correct beneficiaries. Some of them even got the farms because they are financially or politically connected to government officials. Those farms end up not getting used to farm productively.”
Recent cases of corruption
This week, on Monday, 22 November 2021, a former project manager in the department, Mzoli Phakade, was found guilty of fraud worth millions.
Phakade was accused of assisting a now-deceased man to defraud the department of more than R2.6 million between February and December 2006.
The man approached the department as a representative of the 38-member CPAD Farm Holdings Trust to apply for financial assistance to purchase the farm Honeyville in Humansdorp through the Land Reform and Development Programme. However, the beneficiaries did not apply for the grant and were not aware of the existence of the trust.
Phakade, who was assigned to administer the application, knew this and still proceeded with the application.
In April this year,, Food For Mzansi also reported on a family of 12 who were evicted off their King William’s Town farmland, which they had been cultivating on since the 1960s.
The Moyeni family were evicted from the property by Thembelihle Gxothiwe, husband to the provincial MEC for transport, safety and liaison, Weziwe Tikana.
Neziswa Moyeni told Food For Mzansi that the eviction occurred after Gxothiwe “controversially” bought the farm in March 2020.
‘Good policies, bad implementation’
Nakana Masoka, secretary-general of the African Farmers’ Association of South Africa (Afasa), is of the view that the good intentions reflected in departmental policies have not translated into implementation on the ground.
He notes that, in several cases that are recorded and submitted to the department, activities have taken place that border on fraud and corruption. He says that state land has been given to beneficiaries who are not farmers, or to farmers affiliated with people in high places, positions of influence, or to farmers who are financially resourced.
“In a number of cases, you have… lists of farms that are vacant and used illegally. The department is either just not interested or they don’t have capacity to enforce laws. In the meantime, you have farmers who are hungry for land, but they are not being allocated that land.”
Disadvantaged farmers once again losing the most
McNamara is of the view that government purchased state farms for the purposes of land reform and spent billions of rand to support the wrong beneficiaries.
“If you really go and look down there [on farms], in a lot of cases it is politically connected people who should not be [there] and secondly, their primary interest is not in actual fact agriculture.
“That, to a large extent, does not affect the commercial farmers in my view. It affects the previously disadvantaged farmers whom government has promised to assist to get into the formal agriculture value chain.”
“We certainly have sympathy with the plight [farmers who are trying to establish themselves] are finding themselves in, because we really don’t think the right people are getting assisted. In our view, to a large extent, the wrong people are getting assisted for the wrong reasons.”
But don’t discard the good
Masoka cautions against collectively branding the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform as corrupt, and adds that the province is a high flyer in Mzansi in terms of farmer support.
“Now, in the Eastern Cape we also have success stories. We have members in the [province] who have been supported by government and some of them are making a success of their farming ventures.”
As example, he recalls government support being given to sheep and goat enterprises led by women, and “some of our farmers were part of the export market, which is exporting sheep to the Middle East. They were funded by the Eastern Cape department… ” says Masoka.
Food For Mzansi attempted multiple times to reach the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform for comment on how fraud and corruption in the department is stunting agricultural development in the province. No response has been received at the time of publication.
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