Zuma cousin to coin it

2013-07-14 14:00

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»?Private NGO entrusted with a programme to dispense nearly R900m

»?It failed to spend the money last year and many of its farms lie fallow

»?It is chaired by the president and run by his cousin Deebo Mzobe

President Jacob Zuma has coaxed government departments into committing nearly R900?million to a programme run by an NGO he chairs and which is run by his cousin.

The Masibambisane Rural Development Initiative is a private NGO chaired by Zuma and run by Deebo Mzobe.

A multimillion-rand state food security programme, set to be approved by Cabinet later this month, has in effect been subcontracted to Masibambisane, which will coordinate the campaign on behalf of government.

Zuma called an all-day meeting at his official Pretoria residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu, three weeks ago on Sunday, June 23, to discuss the Integrated Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (IFNSI) – government’s new food security policy that Cabinet has yet to approve.

Among the 50 people who attended were Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and Water Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

Businessmen, government leaders and union bosses were invited to the meeting by letter, with a letterhead displaying both the logos of the rural development department and Masibambisane.

Zuma, who sat in front of the room, facing the meeting, made the opening and closing remarks and helped answer questions during the session. He sat directly opposite Mzobe, who sat in the front row.

A presentation shown at the meeting revealed that national and provincial government departments budgeted R895?million towards the new food programme to be run by Masibambisane.

Mzobe said that the funds that were committed were for the previous financial year, but had not been spent.

City Press is in possession of the presentation made at the meeting.

Nxesi didn't respond to messages but his spokesperson, Sabelo Mali, confirmed that he (Nxesi) had attended the meeting. Spokespersons for Oliphant and Molewa referred all queries to the presidency.

The presidency also failed to respond to emailed questions despite City Press phoning spokesperson Mac Maharaj three times.

Asked why government needed a middleman like Masibambisane to run the food-security initiative, Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, a staunch proponent of Masibambisane, said the NGO’s purpose was to “network” and bring partners into the initiative. She added that no government money would flow to Masibambisane.

Over the past three years, Zuma has attended at least 10 functions hosted by Masibambisane and government departments – mainly rural development and agriculture – during which agricultural equipment, seed and houses were handed out to rural communities.

He is scheduled to attend a similar function to harvest crops in Eastern Cape on Wednesday, ahead of Mandela Day.

At one function, in Piet Retief in November 2011, Zuma handed over houses under the Masibambisane banner that were in fact built by Mzobe’s private construction company, Deebo Holdings.

In an interview on Friday, Mzobe insisted “there was no government money. We use our own money”.

He said the presentation was a report back on the previous financial year and not all the money had been spent because of a lack of capacity.

“I can tell you now that there is no R800?million that I know of,” he said. “I can’t talk about the money. We haven’t finalised the programme

(for the current financial year) yet. We are still talking.”

Mzobe is a distant cousin of Zuma’s. As deputy chairman of Masibambisane, Mzobe manages its day-to-day operations.

Alex Mmethi, the former treasurer of Masibambisane, has recently been appointed chief director in rural development, where he is tasked with coordinating the IFNSI.

Mmethi also retains his position in the Mpumalanga provincial government as the paid adviser of Premier David Mabuza.

A source at the meeting said Zuma and Mzobe had “pushed for Masibambisane to coordinate the whole initiative”.

The initiative’s model is similar to the Zero Hunger programme driven by the agriculture department.

Zero Hunger is based on a successful state-led programme started in Brazil in 2003, which aimed to eradicate hunger.

According to the presentation, the programme wants to buy 1.4?million hectares of communal land for small farmers to grow food crops.

The presentation revealed that only 9.7% of the designated communal land had been planted. More than 54% of the planted land was in Mpumalanga.

The presentation admitted there were “implementation challenges”, showing pictures of unused and half-built tractors at a project outside Mthatha, which were handed over by Zuma more than six months before in a project coordinated by Masibambisane.

Mzobe promised to make the charity’s financial statements to City Press available this week, but refused to present them at the meeting, according to a source who attended. “He said it was impossible, because it would take all day.”

Not all government officials at the meeting were happy, “but I guess some of them had to be there because their bosses said they must go”, the source added.

Mzobe said: “It is a standing meeting with the president. We meet all the time.”

Joemat-Pettersson said she had no knowledge of Masibambisane’s finances.

“If we had given them a cent, we would have asked for an audit,” she said.

Asked about the R100?million committed by her department to the initiative, she said: “It was a small drop in the ocean. We have promised our entire budget to focus on food security and not Masibambisane.”

Who else has committed funds?

A presentation to the joint Masibambisane/rural development meeting at Zuma’s official residence revealed that these government departments promised sponsorships to the new food security programme:

» R150?million: social development

» R100?million: agriculture

» R25?million: trade and industry

» R13.3?million: water affairs

The government departments referred all queries to the presidency.

Government responds

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said the R895?million will not go to an NGO but stay in government departments to be “mobilised” by the Masibambisane campaign under the banner of the Integrated Food and Nutrition Security Initiative.

It is about reprioritising money for food security because the president is unhappy with the slow pace of integrated service delivery.

There are 12?million South Africans without a secure food supply, according to the last census.

NGOs, community-based organisations and even the private sector moves faster than government and the bureaucracy is impeding food security.

The president is saying, through this campaign, that his own government must fast-track delivery.

Masibambisane was founded by President (Jacob) Zuma and hungry people who were constantly asking for help.

He is such a compassionate person and he realised a response was needed.

This programme can be compared with Brazil’s state-driven Zero Hunger campaign.

The campaign is not exclusive to Masibambisane, but includes church leaders, community organisations and small and medium-sized enterprises.

We believe it’s the only way we can kick-start the food security and nutrition programme.

Zero Hunger was introduced by former Brazilian president Lula da Silva in 2003 to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty.

It has been lauded by the World Bank.

South Africa started a Zero Hunger campaign in 2009, which was run by the agriculture department.

»?The presidency failed to respond to questions emailed to and received by spokesperson Mac Maharaj on Thursday evening. The rural development department, which is coordinating the new initiative, referred questions to Minister Gugile Nkwinti and director-general Mdu Shabane but failed to make either available for comment.

Invitation: Integrated Food and Nutrition Security Initiative presidential meeting

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