Nokuthula Gcabashe (70) and Thulile Elsie Mzimela (63) from Mbongolwane, a small town in the green hills of King Cetshwayo District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, are two leaders and beneficiaries of an innovative project that changed the lives of thousands of people in their communities.
The women were able to each build a house through their wage earnings generated by the project, which saw 11 000 hectares of sugar cane planted on land leased from land reform beneficiaries as well as communal land in the area.
Gcabashe and Mzimela are leaders of two cooperatives of local inhabitants, landowners and leaseholders who are involved in the project, which was initiated by sugar giant Tongaat-Hulett and the Jobs Fund six years ago.
Mzimela, the chairperson of the 500-member Manyazini cooperative in Mbongolwane, says, “As a chairperson, I have grown immensely, (I) have been able to build a house (and have) been able to buy livestock. I now have cattle and goats and I’m also cultivating my land (with vegetables)”.
In 2014 Tongaat Hulett, Africa’s largest producer of starch and glucose related products, joined forces with The Jobs Fund, a state-financed fund whose objective is to support innovative initiatives and approaches to job creation. Together they contributed R305 million towards unemployment and poverty alleviating measures in rural communities in KZN.
The funds were injected into the planting of nearly 11 000 hectares of sugarcane. The planting was on land belonging to land reform beneficiaries as well as communal land administered by the Ingonyama Trust. Other pieces of land under multiple land tenure arrangements were also incorporated into the project.
The effect was that more than 3 000 jobs were created in the communities and the project resulted in the education and training of 1 286 community members in the areas, says spokespeople for the project partners. 5897 members in the community who had limited sources of income also benefited from this programme.
According to the project partnership R82-million was distributed directly to beneficiaries in the past four production seasons, which excludes wage earnings generated by the project.
While the initial four-year project officially ended two years ago, the lives of thousands of people in the area are still being changed for the better.
According to beneficiary and community leader Gcabashe 1 100 hectares of sugarcane were planted in her community, creating employment opportunities for 400 growers in the area. She is the chairperson of the 400-member Thathunyawo cooperative. With more money in the community members’ pockets, local businesses also benefited immensely, she says.
Gcabashe and Mzimela say schools were also supported through their partnership with Tongaat-Hulett and the Jobs Fund. Top-achieving students were provided with bursaries and a school building initiative was implemented.
The growers from the Manyazini cooperative, who farm on 900 hectares of sugarcane plantations, were also able to purchase livestock and grow their own vegetable gardens, says Mzimela.
So far, the Thathunyawo cooperative has been paid R3,7 million between December 2019 and April 2020 and the Manyazini cooperative has been paid R8.5 million. Growers and beneficiaries are paid in December and April annually, say the two chairpersons.
The project partners consider the project to be a huge success. Tongaat Hulett CEO Gavin Hudson says, “Tongaat has for many years invested in surrounding communities to help address pressing socio-economic challenges. This initiative is a clear example of how business can work together with government in a sustainable manner to not only address unemployment, but to deliver ongoing benefits to communities.
“We are delighted that more than two years after the completion of the project, it continues to make a significant impact by providing incomes to thousands of people while at the same time productively farming sugarcane. For us, it was money well spent and that is most gratifying,” he says.
The deputy director general of employment facilitation for the Jobs Fund, Najwah Allie-Edries, says, “The Jobs Fund recognises the importance of developing strategic partnerships that result in innovative solutions to our country’s unemployment crisis. It is inspiring to know that our partnership with Tongaat Hulett has yielded a sustainable income source to communities most in need. The Jobs Fund is also deeply appreciative of the communities’ willingness to partner with us. Too often they have been let down. Without their co-operation we would not have had a viable project.”
Hudson says Tongaat is committed to making an ongoing contribution to social upliftment, rural development and job creation, particularly at this challenging time with the covid-19 pandemic having a devastating impact on the economy.
“It is now more important than ever that companies such as ours step up and play their part. We are doing so in a variety of ways and the sustainability of the initiative with the Jobs Fund is an important element of how we believe business can support communities,” he says.