10 September 2018 Read: 882
One of the biggest failures on the Mopani District Municipality’s long list of shortcomings has to be the forgotten R2.9 million Moshupatsela (locally known as Bali) farm situated 9 kilometres outside Tzaneen. A once flourishing 158 hectare farm boasting 40 000 mango trees and creating hundreds of jobs to needy families in the area was purchased by the MDM in 2007 from the Land Bank.
A decade has passed and the farm lies fallow to this day. The only marked achievement being the pit in which to make funds disappear as is evident by looking at the history books.
There were a lot of shiny plans unveiled by Humphrey Mokgobi, the MDM’s mayor at the time, who boldly stated that they planned to grow orchards, produce vegetables and dried fruit, juice and mango atchar on this prime agricultural land. Apparently the farm was bought from the Land Bank in order to drive the empowerment of youth agricultural cooperatives. This never happened.
Through the municipality’s initial orchard management project a total of 16 people were employed including six farm workers and the promise of “hundreds more jobs” to come. R800 000 was received from the European Union towards the expansion of the project which was to include a fresh produce market in Nkowankowa that would create further employment. This project failed miserably and the money disappeared.
The municipality sat with another, bigger, problem. The 81 families who lived and worked on the farm for the previous owners, Clifford Steyn, before it was handed to the Land Bank after he died. These people who were employed on this farm when it was still a valuable asset to the local agricultural market, were now unemployed and refusing to leave the premises. The municipality attempted to evict the squatters by tearing down their shacks, but they remained and soon started stripping the farm buildings for materials to erect new dwellings. The local office of the DA even sponsored the squatters with tents. They are still living there to this day.
Local media reported that a palisade fence was erected around the property at an alleged cost of R18 million sometime during 2008/2009 in order to prevent trespassing. There is very little left of this fence as portions of it has been stripped and sold for scrap metal – allegedly by the squatters who are still living there – and the remainder has been left to rust away. A man, Essau Remaketse Nzutha (33), was eventually arrested in November 2014 for stealing fence material worth R224 050 from Bali.
Much was reported on this matter in the ten years leading up to last week when residents noticed a very large billboard being erected at the entrance to this derelict farm. It read “Mosupatshela Agri-Hub” in large green lettering. The shoddily constructed frame of the billboard itself seems very rickety in its assembly and it is feared that the first strong winds will relocate the sign somewhere closer to Modjadjiskloof. Nevertheless, something seems to be stirring again at the infamous site and we asked the newly appointed spokesperson for the MDM, Witness Tiva, for clarity.
Tiva denied the claims that R18 million had been spent on the erection of the palisade fencing and insisted that the fence had been erected in February this year (2018) at a cost of R2.1 million. Bulletin was at the farm on Monday afternoon and we could not see a new fence of any sorts.
About the new “Agri-Hub” he explained in a press statement that an agreement between the Mopani District Municipality and the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform will soon see the Mashupatsela farm outside Tzaneen starting to be operational again.
“Guided by our vision to be a food basket of Southern Africa and a tourism destination of choice, the Mopani District Municipality partnered with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform in response to a call by our national government to ensure that 44 Agri-Hubs are established across the country. A portion of this farm will be used to house such a hub,” said Tiva. “The hub will have facilities such as a storage/warehouse facility, cold storage, Agri-processing facility and a packaging facility for local and international market purposes, just to mention a few. The local market will also be easily accessible to hawkers who are currently traveling long distances to buy the fruits, vegetables and other basic amenities that they are selling in villages and towns found within our five local municipalities.”
He further said that the Local Economic Development (LED) office of the district municipality will soon start negotiations with farmer’s organisations, small scale and commercial farmers to ensure that the facility is used to its maximum capacity. According to Tiva, This will go a long way in creating job opportunities for locals and also deal with food security.
“Other agricultural and economic opportunities are being explored in order for the remaining hectors on the farm are used effectively to benefit the local economic sector. A palisade fence has since been erected on a portion of the farm to ensure that there is controlled access to the farm,” he concluded. “Security personnel have been deployed on a 24-hour basis to ensure that the existing property, including the fence is not vandalised.”
At the time of going to print we had received no word on the estimated costs which the MDM will inevitably incur in order to save this farm. The costs will be astronomical and it is not certain who will be asked to fit the bill. Judging by the number of people employed and the flourishing production of this farm throughout the last 11 years, the pipedream does seem promising indeed.
We will continue to monitor the progress of Moshupatsela and report to our readers on any new developments, should there in fact be any. Historia magister est optimus.