STAKEHOLDERS in business and agriculture as well as Ndlambe Municipality hope local concerns and challenges can be escalated for national intervention through the attentive ear of Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, who visited Port Alfred this week.
Radebe said he was in the area primarily for the ANC’s 106th birthday celebrations, but set aside time for meeting with local businesspeople and farmers at MyPond Hotel on Monday evening.
Introducing Radebe, Ndlambe mayor Phindile Faxi said the meeting had been planned to reflect Nedlac (National Economic Development and Labour Council), including stakeholders from government, civil society and labour.
One of the most pressing concerns to emerge from the meeting was from 43 Air School.
One of the most pressing concerns to emerge from the meeting was from 43 Air School. Financial director Shaun Musson said the air school was in a state of non-compliance since the SA Civil Aviation Authority did an audit in December and said the fence around the airfield was insufficient to prevent human and animal access.
The air school has been targeted by thieves in the past who stole electrical cables and the runway lights. To prevent recurring theft the air school started using solar-powered lights which they put out and pack away every day.
“We now have a severe finding against us [regarding the fence],” Musson said. “We are normally given 14 days to rectify it. If they apply the letter of the law itself they could take our airport licence away and then we would have to leave Port Alfred.”
Musson said the air school was a R150-million entity and put about R30-million a year into the economy.
“About 1 000 people would be affected if we can no longer operate,” he said.
A secondary problem raised by Musson was about water quality and availability in Port Alfred.
He said with students attending from around the globe, it became an issue when they could not shower for two or three days.
The air school has put in its own storage system for outages, but due to the poor water quality, filters have a short lifespan.
Ndlambe community protection services deputy director Fanie Fouche presented the challenges faced by the municipality itself
A third challenge is the airport itself, which has grass runways. Musson said this was not bad for training purposes, although it was a problem when it got water-logged during rain. The grass runway is also not adequate for scheduled flights and with the tourism potential of the airfield it is something they would like to address.
Ndlambe community protection services deputy director Fanie Fouche presented the challenges faced by the municipality itself, in the areas of infrastructure, waste and environmental management.
He said the bulk water plan for Ndlambe was still not complete, although the reverse osmosis (RO) plant for Port Alfred was 90% done.
“The RO plant will only deal with quality of water, not provide additional water,” Fouche said.
He said the roads infrastructure was under strain due to unanticipated growth in the area.
Sewerage is also a problem, with most of Port Alfred not being on waterborne sewage and depending on vacuum tankers to empty conservancy tanks. Fouche again mentioned a motivation to national government for R300-million to be able to address the issue.
He said there was a huge burden on sanitation, especially during the festive season, and there was a risk of litigation.
He then mentioned actual cases against Ndlambe, including a high court application by the Kenton-on-Sea Ratepayers Association regarding the Marselle dump which resulted in a judgment against the municipality.
He said Ndlambe needed R25-million to rehabilitate the closed dump and open a new dump.
Agri EC obtained a high court judgment against Ndlambe about management of municipal commonages, and Fouche said it was a challenge to address that.
He did however add that removal of alien vegetation could provide jobs.
The various commonages and farms managed by the municipality are a threat to agriculture
Agri EC representative Brent McNamara also mentioned the issues of stray cattle, alien vegetation and commonage management.
“The various commonages and farms managed by the municipality are a threat to agriculture,” he said, explaining the risk to bio-security in terms of diseased animals and alien invasive vegetation, and that many of the municipal-owned facilities were springboards for stock theft.
McNamara said the rural road network was good, but maintenance was “shocking”.
He said local land reform projects had failed because of “failures in the functioning of the District Land Reform Committees, the lack of post settlement support, a flawed and corrupt beneficiary selection process, the fact that the Sarah Baartman District Agri Park Programme has achieved nothing in two years, the abuse of the recapitalisation programme and the lack of management over the numerous municipal and state owned farms resulting in almost zero production and systematic degradation of the agricultural resource.”
The one successful land reform project, run by Tshilidze “Chilli” Matshidzula, was due to the input of a local commercial farmer rather than government, McNamara said – crediting dairy farmer Walter Biggs.
Biggs himself spoke about challenges to the dairy industry, including irrigation, bio-security and lack of government support.
A representative for the chicory industry said chicory was a labour-intensive crop, but more growers were needed.
In his responses, Radebe invoked Operation Phakisa
Pineapple farmer Jonathan Bradfield said he couldn’t speak on behalf of all pineapple growers, but related his own story of disappointment in working with government.
He said despite a personal friendship with Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti, his attempt to start a shared agricultural enterprise with his workers had been “torpedoed” by officials in Nkwinti’s department.
Bradfield said despite undertakings by the department, he was never paid.
In his responses, Radebe dealt briefly with only a handful of the issues raised, expressing embarrassment for Bradfield, concern for the air school and shock over the state of roads.
He invoked Operation Phakisa, in which various government departments collaborate, as something that may be able to address critical challenges and appealed for everyone to “work together”.