Complaint about poor consultation on Koega Municipality project: Minister and Department response

Rural Development and Land Reform

15 February 2012
Chairperson: Mr S. Sizani (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The meeting heard the plight of the Thornhill Development Forum who alleged that the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform was not consulting and not involving the community properly in the developments taking place in the area, particularly the Crossways Farm Village project. The Forum questioned the Government’s priorities in the money it was intending to spend in the Crossways village saying that the funds should rather be spent on building up the poor communities in the area to participate in the economy.

The Department said that the Memorandum of Understanding which was the basis of contention had not been finalized and that no government funds had been spent so far and no decisions had been made. A household survey was underway where the Department would be able to assess the needs of the community and therefore determine what its priorities were.

Members of the Committee questioned some of the contradictions they observed as they listened to the two sides. Some referred to the Department’s statement that the Crossways development ”was steaming ahead and the Department was trying to keep up” and that the Minister had already been to the area twice for launches. The Minister indicated that he had been to the communities by invitation as he was interested in the developments in the area and that he would visit again.

The Chairperson concluded that the community needed to step up its leadership on issues that affected it and that the Councillors and the Community Development Worker of the Ward Committee needed to lead the community efforts to ensure synergy and that the communities did not get left behind. He urged the Department to find better ways to communicate with the communities to avoid their return to Parliament to resolve issues that were easily resolved in their own localities.

Meeting report

The Chairperson noted the Department was to have presented its prioties emanating from the President’s State of the Nation Address. However, the Department requested deferring the matter as the response needed to be presented together with the budget and the Annual Performance Plan.

Thornhill Development Forum: Presentation
Ms Melanie Preddy, Development Facilitator, presented the case of the Thornhill Development Forum who was bringing cases of complaints against the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform for the lack of progress and lack of consultation in the developments that were taking place in Ward 7.

Ms Preddy told the meeting that the reason they had come to Parliament to present their case was because they had found out about a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the Department which stated plans to spend R64 million in Ward 7 but the community members did not know anything about it. Thornhill was about 50km outside of Port Elizabeth towards Cape Town and it had about 600-700 households including 200 households in squatter camps. The roads were dusty and potholed. There were jobs at the municipality, Gamtoos Resort, Nulaid Chicken Farm, a cricket bat factory and surrounding farms as well as public road works.

The Development Forum had successfully received funds in 2009 for sustainable rural development in the Eastern Cape. However there was not much cooperation from the Municipality and they therefore had to send the money back to the European Union as it was unable to implement the planned projects. The Forum had met with Minister Ntkwini to report the problems hoping for some intervention. The community of Crossways did have meetings where they were told that there would be job opportunities. There was a community facilitator as well, but nothing happened after that in terms of getting input from the community. They were addressed and given information but they did not give any input. Ms Preddy stressed that this was not an issue about Crossways as they were happy to be involved, but was really about the Department putting resources into where the community did not have a say. The forum had met with Dr Mulder who said there were plans for Ward 7 and was always helpful. However, there was always the question about how the government was working for the people of Ward 7 – as the people were not giving any input into what the government was doing.

Under the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme, one of the community members had been trying to get land for a long time and they had to undergo a long process in order to acquire the land. But they gave up after waiting a long time and the land was sold off to foreigners. In 2010, the Minister visited the area and the Forum requested a meeting but there was no response and they could not attend the launch as it was by invitation only.

In the second half of 2011, LRAD still appeared on the department website as one of options for redistribution. The Forum spoke to Mr Prinsloo of the Department in Port Elizabeth and was told that LRAD no longer existed as an option. Ms Preddy requested the Department to provide a clear answer if LRAD still existed or not, as it was a lengthy process that people had to go through in the hope of getting a farm.

The Forum had been told the year before that the MOU had been approved. Ms Preddy had seen the MOU by accident. The community had wanted land to plant vegetables but the government did not have money for land for the farmers of the communities. However, the Forum heard that the government was instead spending millions on land inside Crossways. People wanted to participate in the dairy commercial farming and were willing to learn and contribute. Some tried but were told to stop as they were interfering with the operations of the more sophisticated farms nearby.

The Department had also planned land for the
National Rural Youth Service Corps (NARYSEC) training centre, student and lecturer accommodation which would cost about R5,5 million. The fundamental question was, if Ward 7 was going to be a CDRP node, why was the government investment and 49% equity share going to the boundary of Crossways. The communities had been crying out for services and for land. They were not saying that these department plans were fraudulent but that they were confused.

Ms Preddy also presented some of the challenges the community was facing in terms of education – there was an underfunded crèche that could not feed their children leading to parents not sending their children to school anymore. There were two primary schools that the Department of Education had said for the past ten years, would be merged but there was a problem of language, as one wanted Afrikaans and the other wanted Xhosa instruction. Ms Preddy shared that she was motivated to do something about education in the area and had become involved in development after she had read about the incident where three children killed a two-year-old child, one of them being the dead child’s sibling. She expressed her concern about the lack of interventions for children and the types and quality of role models they were looking up to. The Forum had met with the Department of Education the year before and they sent a representative to visit the schools and talk about merging. She also raised concerns about the transport problems the children and students faced saying that some children hiked to school.

The Youth Development Organisation had met with the Department of Education to discuss matric exams for some of the students who had to register individually. It seemed that communication channels were not good as the Education department had not informed them about the right time to register for matric as it was too late already for the students.

She raised the issue of the land purchases that were taking place in Crossways for hotels. The Department said that they had an asset based approach to development but they did not take into account how the community would view the asset. She asked about what would happen to the Thornhill hotel. She also asked if the investments in Ward 7 would be crowded into one area while others were neglected. There were also plans to remove the cricket bat factory that she was concerned about.

Ms Preddy spoke about the problems faced by the economy of the area. She asked why the cricket bat factory could not stay where it was. It would cost about R2.2million to move the factory to a new location. She asked if it was not better to use such a large amount of money for community development instead. She asked if the Government had plans for the people of the community to be active in the economy. She asked when the government would involve the people of the community in the plans that had gone so far in advance. There was a need for an institution to build and mentor the community to participate.

Three of the community members who accompanied Ms Preddy also contributed to the presentation in Xhosa & Afrikaans. Unfortunately, no translation was provided, but the Chairperson indicated that their contribution was a repeat of what Ms Preddy had already raised.

Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) response
Mr Mdu Shabane, DRDLR Director General, indicated that Mr Moshe Swart would present the Department’s response to the Thornhill Development Forum complaints.

Mr Moshe Swart, Deputy Director General
: Social, Technical, Rural Livelihoods, and Institutional Facilitation (STRIF), said that no Community Trust had been established or launched as the negotiations were still ongoing. No decisions had been taken about buying properties either in Crossways. A household profiling exercise was happening at the moment where the department was collecting information about the community and information about the young people. The Crossways project was a private one and that it was going ahead and the Department was trying to catch up.

The Department acknowledged the concerns raised by the Thornhill Development Forum – that the Crossways Farm Village development was in their Ward and they had heard that it would be a Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP) site. There were concerns about community participation and how the process was unfolding without their knowledge; about the process followed and the priorities for which government money was earmarked; and that all of the money was being spent within the boundaries of Crossways.

Mr Swart provided background to the Department’s involvement saying that the mission of the Department in the project was to initiate, facilitate, coordinate, catalyze and implement an integrated rural development programme. He retraced the steps of the project dating back to 2007. He reminded the meeting about the CRDP context of the project where the vision was to create vibrant, equitable and sustainable rural communities. The CRDP process was usually facilitated in three phases, and facilitated sequentially or simultaneously.

The Department said that they had consultations with the communities recorded in three meetings where 35, 23 and 9 people attended respectively. The vision of the Department for the Crossways Farm Village project was related to food security, agrarian development, rural development, enterprise creation and job creation.

The Chairperson said that it was pity that the Thornhill Development Forum had to come to Parliament in order to be heard.

Mr A Trollip (DA) asked the Department why prioritization had not taken place in the process, why the development was steaming ahead and why the Department was trying to catch up. He also asked who owned 49% and who owned the other 51%.

Mr Swart replied that the Department was in the process of gathering information about the community needs through the household survey. In relation to the shares, there had been no decision in the matter so far and they remained merely possibilities for community empowerment. No government money had been spent yet on acquiring shares.

Mr R Cebekhulu (IFP) referred to a meeting which people could not attend due to the time being inconvenient to the people. He asked who called such a meeting and who collated the elections for the trustee positions.

Mr Swart said that the meetings were called by the Municipalities as stipulated by the CRDP concept.

Mr S Ntapane (UDM) questioned if the meetings attended by 35, 23 and nine people corresponded to the number of community members. He asked who CMAI was and if the Department attended the meeting and if people were elected.

Mr Swart said that unfortunately the numbers presented were the number of people who attended the meeting as the meetings called during the day did not get much attendance either as people said they were working or busy. The Department did pay for people’s transport to and from areas such as Loeries, Matjiesfontein and others to come to the meeting venues. CMAI was Chris Mulder & Associates, the architects working on the project. The Port Elizabeth Department staff attended the meetings.

Ms P Ngwenya-Mabila (ANC) expressed concerns that the site had been declared as CRDP. She pointed to the contradiction between the community saying they were not consulted, yet the Department was talking about public meetings and door to door visits. She asked the Department if there was any consultation with the people before doing such profiling exercises. She asked if there were any attendance registers which would provide evidence of community attendance. She also asked about the trustees whom were said to have been elected but the community was not aware of this. She wanted to know how the process was conducted. She asked why the transport for schools was not reliable and if the issue was not supposed to be reported to the Department of Education.

Mr Swart said that the people were informed about the door to door survey as they were invited by the Municipalities to information sessions on economy building. The trustees selected were picked by the community themselves and all the Department did was help them with the selection criteria and ensure that it was representative of the community. The community had accepted the results themselves.

Ms N November (ANC) remarked that the municipality was the entry point into the community. She asked if they were not engaged from the beginning of the process. She said that it seemed like there was no synergy in the community as the different stakeholders did not work together.

Ms Preddy said that the Forum had engaged with the municipality but a lot of things needed to be sped up.

Ms N Hangana (ANC) asked what the total population of Thornhill was and if they participated in meetings called by government.

The Chairperson reminded the meeting that this was not a court case but was a platform where the two parties could be heard.

The Chairperson asked the Department why no help had been given to the community who had waited ten years for land for their projects and, meanwhile, land was being sold in the consolidation of Crossways.

The Department indicated that they were not aware of the ten years waiting period. The household survey would help the department determine the needs of the community that they wanted prioritized. The department reminded the meeting that it had said in its presentation on the implementation of CRDP phases that some of the activities had to be done sequentially and others could be done simultaneously.

Mr Vusi Mahlangu, Acting DDG: Land Reform, apologized that he had no knowledge of any application from the community and that he would investigate this. He said the LRAD was still alive. The Department however had a problem with the process as the land distributed was not utilized properly . He said that the area around Thornhill had been assessed and it was found the people did not sell their land readily.

The Chairperson remarked that the purpose of the meeting was to make sure that the Department, Municipality, the Development Forum and other groups recognized by the community would meet and resolve the issues. The Committee had provided a platform for the stakeholders to hear each other out but the different groups would need to talk to each other beyond the meeting. The other government departments such as the Department of Education needed to deal with the issues relating to schools and children.

Ms Preddy said that it was their awareness of the MOU that brought them to Parliament but it appeared that it had not been finalized. She asked the Department if they should then just ignore it. Mr Swart said that they needed to ignore the MOU.

Mr J van der Linde (DA) said that it was still hard to understand the Crossways issues and how the process could have gone so far without people next door knowing about it. The whole process was not clear.

Mr Trollip questioned the Department about their statement that the Crossways development was steaming ahead and the Department was trying to catch up and then, on the other hand, said that it had spent no money and that no decisions had been made. He pointed out that the Department had mentioned in its presentation that the Minister had already been to the area twice for a launch. He asked for explanation on what was launched.

The Chairperson asked the Department if there was a link between the MOU between the Department and Crossways and the reason the Minister was there. Secondly, he asked why the people in the surrounding areas did not know about the project. He asked about the whereabouts of the Ward Committee of Ward 7 saying that it was the Community Development Worker and the Committee and the Councillor that needed to lead the community efforts.

Minister Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, said that the project was not a Thornhill project but a Ward 7 one. The reason he had been to the area was he was invited and he was interested in the development in the Ward 7 communities as it was about the revitalization of the area. He assured the meeting that there was nothing to worry about and that it usually took about six months to conclude such a project.

The Chairperson concluded that the Department needed to find a way to talk to the community and representatives of all the communities in Ward 7 so that the groups would not have to come back to Parliament in order to be heard. He also advised the Department to avoid a scenario like the one with the recent Western Cape land petition. He also advised that the Departments of Education and Social Development needed to visit the communities to attend to the other matters relevant to their portfolio. The SA National Roads Agency needed to be approached to fix the roads.

Ms November suggested that the Independent Development Trust needed to be brought on board as well.

Ms Preddy thanked the Committee for allowing them to come to the meeting to make their voice heard.

As there were no further issues to be discussed, the meeting was adjourned.

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