Nkwinti vs Zuma’s NGO

2013-09-08 14:00

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Minister speaks out about the department’s concerns over the president’s Masibambisane project.

Rural Affairs Minister Gugile Nkwinti has for the first time opened up about the controversial Masibambisane development project run by President Jacob Zuma and his cousin, Deebo Mzobe.

Nkwinti, whose department has been closely associated with the project, in effect accused Masibambisane of hijacking rural-development initiatives.

“It was the way it was managed and the way it has been projected. It is out of order,” he told City Press at a media breakfast organised by the presidency on Tuesday.

“Now it seemed as if my department wasn’t doing anything, even though it was doing everything,” said Nkwinti.

City Press revealed in June that various government departments had pledged nearly R900?million to Masibambisane, a private NGO, to run a food-security programme for government.

Zuma is the NGO’s chair and Mzobe his deputy.

In an interview with City Press at Tuesday’s function, Zuma defended his role, saying he was “doing this as Jacob Zuma, not as the president”.

Zuma said, as a private citizen, he and Mzobe approached traditional leaders to identify land and bought some tractors, but asked government to help them fence the area and buy seeds.

“It is an initiative from the peasants in the rural areas,” he said.

The first meeting of the initiative was at his Nkandla homestead, Zuma said.

Government officials from the provincial agriculture department came along after they had heard about the meeting.

Zuma said he told them: “I am acting as a citizen here and not as government, and I made it very clear to them.”

Zuma said he appointed himself as the chair.

“This Masibambisane – Masibambisane is a Zulu word, let us hold hands together – it is not claiming anything and because it was initiated in my village, and I initiated it, that is why I’m a chair. I became a chair, there was no election.”

Zuma said because he was an elder, people respected him in the area.

But Nkwinti lashed out at the handling of the project.

“What is happening in reality is that our department puts up fences. It is our department that does the work,” he said.

But at the launches of each initiative it was projected as if Masibambisane did all the work.

“I said (at one of the launches), ‘What’s wrong here, DG (director-general Mdu Shabane), because I see the (Masibambisane) uniform, I got the green thing, our departments are here, we pay, we work, Masibambisane doesn’t have to do the work’, and here is the day now and, I think, I’m being invited!”

But Nkwinti said Zuma had “corrected” the way Masibambisane had been projected and managed.

Nkwinti said his department was invited by Masibambisane when it started out as a community initiative based in Nkandla and Mlalazi to develop the area into a small town dubbed “Zumaville” by the media.

“For me, it is a great initiative from the community,” he said. Rural development even designed a model for the project.

But when the Masibambisane project moved to the Free State and Limpopo, “it assumed a different character, which is not what the president wanted to see”.

He said the idea was that the community should be driving the development, but instead it turned into a top-down project.

A Land Affairs official involved in Masibambisane programmes echoed Nkwinti’s worries.

“I can tell you now, people are not happy in the department. We have a mandate, but we are running around doing workshops for Masibambisane,” the source said.

“At first it was an Nkandla thing, and then suddenly when questions were being asked about the president’s home town getting preferential treatment, it had to be rolled out all over the country.”

The official said the department was running around to do Masibambisane projects while the NGO was getting the credit.

“People are talking, but you can’t question too much if the sentiment is that this is coming from Number One (Zuma) himself.”

Nkwinti was surprised when it was pointed out to him that Masibambisane was a registered NGO, but had failed to submit its financials as required by law.

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