'We were dumped here to fail': MK vets claim government neglect behind R46m farm's collapse
Former Nelson Mandela bodyguard Ronnie Matshaya and his fellow uMkhonto weSizwe veterans were over the moon three years ago when the government said it had bought them a farm in the Eastern Cape.
The announcement from officials at the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform came on December 16, the ANC military wing's anniversary. The veterans named the 2700ha property Kela, after the farm where they grew vegetables while they were in exile in Angola.
But their excitement was short-lived, because even though it paid R46-million for the farm, the department failed to settle a R400,000 Eskom bill or provide the R80,000 needed for the farm's water supply.
As a result, Matshaya said this week, the farm is derelict. Its once-lush fields are infested with weeds and the boreholes cannot pump water.
"We were not given even a spade or wheelbarrow to start working on this farm. We were dumped here to fail. This was a strategy from government — to see us fail," he said.
Eastern Cape Farmers' Association chairman Xolile Ngqameni said black farmers repeatedly experienced similar treatment at the hands of the department.
"They constantly want people to fail so that they can give these farms to the people of their choice. This is not empowerment to black people but corruption from certain officials, and this is rife in that department," he said. "They need to be exposed. These mistakes are not unique."
Matshaya said they were given the farm to help them provide for their families. "Remember, we spent time outside the country and we didn't have the opportunity to study ... we had to work on Kela farm.
"Even though it was successful we had to leave it, as more landmines were planted than potatoes. This farm, we wanted to make it a success."
When they returned to South Africa after 1990, many of the veterans found themselves unemployable.
Kela co-operative secretary Don Kula said the farm was bought under the "willing buyer, willing seller" policy. "We identified the farm but we were not there when the negotiations were being done between government and the farmer," he said.
"We heard later that the farm was R46-million. They also bought six irrigation pivots for R7-million, but they turned out to be scrap metal."
The department wrote to the co-operative in May complaining that the farm was not being used to its full potential and infrastructure had deteriorated.
It recommended that the land be taken back and given to "eligible and qualifying farmers" in the department's database.
Pumza Vitshima, Eastern Cape president of the National African Farmers Union, said that when the government bought a farm for a group of beneficiaries, it usually employed a mentor — often the previous owner — to train the new farmers, and supplied recapitalisation funds and implements.
Kula said the veterans "wanted this farm to be a legacy for the country" but felt let down.
"They failed to pay the little money for us as a start-up and they are quick to tell us we've failed," he said.
"We are not allowed to have people's livestock to graze in this farm and when we secured a tractor to come till this land for us, that was stopped as well. We are really set up to fail. But we are not going to lose it, we need the world to see."
Government had to support them. They can’t get this big farm and yet there’s lack of support, and we will make sure that we intervene and assistPumza Vitshima
Kula and Matshaya are attempting to work the farm with fellow MK veterans Thembeni Hloele and Monwabisi Skenjana. They have a few cattle donated by well-wishers, but they said the government stopped them "sub-letting" by allowing other farmers to graze their cattle on the land.
"Every week I travel for more than 60km to fetch water in Kokstad. The honest truth is that we don't want to leave this farm as we know that this same government will accuse us of abandoning it," said Matshaya.
He is a former MK commander who later became a bodyguard to Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani. He said he suspected the money they needed for electricity, water and implements had been lost to corruption.
"It's worth following the money where it ended up and who got what after this farm transaction. We've seen corruption, but if this turned out to be [that], it must never be in our name, never."
The Sunday Times sent questions to the department's Eastern Cape head, Zukile Pityi, and national spokeswoman Linda Page, but they did not respond.