A veil of secrecy surrounds the multi-billion rand fund for up-and-coming farmers that was first announced by billionaire Patrice Motsepe nearly a year and half ago. Farmers are now turning to Food For Mzansi to ask whether the fund, which would have given them preferential access to loans, has ever materialised. Duncan Masiwa reports.
Motsepe announced the fund – a joint venture between the Motsepe Foundation and banks – during his keynote address at AFASA’s Agri-business Transformation Conference in October 2019 in Bloemfontein.
During the announcement, the founder and executive chairman of African Rainbow Minerals told attendees that farming was at a critical stage.
“The involvement and participation of black people is important. There is a huge sense of urgency to make sure we have sustainable black farmers in the industry.”
At the time, Motsepe said that details of the fund would be announced soon, but 16 months later neither AFASA nor African Rainbow Minerals could confirm whether it was ever launched.
Motsepe, the brother-in-law of President Cyril Ramaphosa, said that banks, agri-businesses and other industry role-players were joining forces to give black farmers access to finance and opportunities.
Another broken promise?
A farmer, who was among the nearly 200 delegates at AFASA’s three-day conference at Imvelo Safari, tells Food For Mzansi that she finds the secrecy around the fund rather strange.
The Gauteng-based farmer asked to remain anonymous.
“We don’t know what happened and we never received anything,” she says. “Until today there has been nothing. The waiting has been too long. I don’t know what’s happening in this country. People talk about big budgets and then the money disappears.”
Motsepe received a standing ovation for his announcement, which was attended by many high-profile government officials, including Free State premier Sisi Ntombela.
Over the course of the conference, both Thoko Didiza and Mcebisi Skwatsha, respectively the minister and deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, also made guest appearances. At the time, the late Dr Vuyo Mahlati was the president of AFASA.
“I don’t know what’s happening in this country. People talk about big budgets and then the money disappears.”
Whether the money actually materialised or not, could not be confirmed.
African Rainbow Minerals and the Motsepe Foundation has not responded to Food For Mzansi’s enquiries about it. Also, AFASA’s newly elected president, A.J. Mthembu, says he has no knowledge about it.
“I do not have any idea as to how that multi-billion rand (fund) from the Motsepe Foundation was dealt with,” he says.
Mthembu adds that Mahlati, who was the chairperson of Ramaphosa’s panel on land reform and agriculture, and AFASA chairperson Neo Masithela “interacted with the project”.
Food For Mzansi also reached out to Masithela, but he too has not responded on numerous enquiries about the much-anticipated multi-billion rand fund.
Farmers call for transparency
Meanwhile another farmer tells Food For Mzansi he understood from Motsepe that the fund would benefit all farmers, irrespective of their affiliation to AFASA.
This Free State farmer says, “Those who have been appointed to deal with the transformation and improvement of farmers must be held accountable.”
He calls for transparency from both AFASA and Motsepe.
“Stop telling us what you are going to do. Tell us what you have done. The AFASA people must just come forward and tell us what happened to the money. That’s it.”
An Eastern Cape dairy farmer, who was also at the conference, says he has already forgotten about the promised fund. “Besides, the amount of paperwork that a farmer has to do and then you never get the financial backing, it’s just not worth it.”