'We were promised cash for cows and a trip to India,' public protector hears on Estina dairy farm
One of the "benefactors" of the controversial Estina dairy farm at Vrede has told public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane that the project raised suspicions within the local farming community from inception, but they were coaxed along by promises made by then Free State agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane.
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Ephraim Dlamini, a small-scale farmer from the Vrede area, said they were called to several meetings and promised money for their cows and a trip to India for training. However, their efforts to join the project amounted to nothing as the farm began operations without them in 2013.
Dlamini was speaking during a public hearing hosted by Mkhwebane's office, which forms part of an investigation into suspected political interference and prejudice suffered by the intended benefactors of the project.
He said various ward councillors, along with Zwane, called a community meeting in which they described the details of the dairy farming project. Farmers were apparently promised a 52% share in the farm and would be paid for their cows. It appears that this meeting was to register prospective beneficiaries.
At a second meeting, which Dlamini said took place on a Saturday about a month or two later, farmers were asked for copies of their identity documents and personal information which they were told was being "taken to Pretoria".
"Many of us were registered with the Department of Agriculture, that's how they know us as farmers. I don’t know how others got the message but the hall was full," he said.
"We were told not to ask anything about money."
Dlamini said they soon found the farm was up and running, but the beneficiaries had not been notified.
He said "they never received any answers".
"We came to these meetings but when we came out we couldn't even understand what was happening."
He said they were then called, as a group, to meet then Free State premier Ace Magashule.
"There’s nothing that Magashule spoke to us about as beneficiaries or farmers but we were there," Dlamini said. "We are the so-called beneficiaries but we are not benefiting …We don’t even have contracts to show we are beneficiaries."