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Vrede dairy project to be handed over to beneficiaries

Staff Reporter

The Free State Provincial Government will officially hand over the Vrede Dairy Integrated Farm Project to approved beneficiaries on Friday after the black empowerment project was mired in controversy for close to nine years when it failed to take off as planned.

About 65 black farmers are expected to take over the running of Krynaauwslust Farm situated in the small agricultural town of Vrede in line with the recommendations given by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane in December 2020.

Premier Sisi Ntombela will preside over the ceremony, according to a statement issued by her office.

The project, meant to benefit local black farmers, was established in 2012 by the provincial agriculture department. 

The aim of the project was to empower about 100 poor black farmers with the knowledge and skills to operate a successful dairy enterprise and contribute to the local economy and improve the livelihoods of its communities.

This however did not happen, prompting the disgruntled farmers and some politicians to report the matter to the Office of the Public Protector.

Mkhwebane then ordered the project to be resuscitated within two months with the full participation of the intended beneficiaries when she released a report on her investigation into the running of the dairy farm.

She found, among others, that former Free State Premier Ace Magashule and members of his executive council failed to play an oversight role in the implementation of the project.

Former Agriculture and Rural Development MECs Mosebenzi Zwane and Mamiki Qabathe were also cited in the report as having failed in their roles of overseeing the project.

The Public Protector ordered the Free State government to implement several remedial measures, chief among them bringing the project back to life within a specified timeframe with the beneficiaries as 51 percent shareholders.

About R250 million was invested in the project by the provincial government but it’s believed most of the funds were diverted and deposited into bank accounts belonging to Gupta-owned companies and their associates.

As a result, the farmers were left high and dry as they were not included in the project as promised.

The Public Protector found that the project failed largely due to poor oversight, political interference and the influence of people close to the controversial Gupta family on politicians.

She also ordered William Bulwane, who was agriculture MEC when she released the report, to issue an apology to the farmers for the failed project.

The provincial government has been implementing other remedial measures proposed by Mkhwebane in preparation for the official handover.

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