President Cyril Ramaphosa (File)
Despite having lost millions worth of government grants after they were allegedly squandered by ANC leaders in the Free State, some beneficiaries of the Vrede dairy farm remain loyal to the ruling party.
Many of the Vrede dairy farm beneficiaries, who have continued to live in poverty after they were promised funding for sustainable farming, are confident the ANC will self-correct.
The party and its leaders, including former minister Mosebenzi Zwane, were fingered as the political heads who influenced beneficiaries into agreeing to the collapsed project.
Then-premier Ace Magashule is said to have spearheaded the project, which allegedly siphoned at least R250m to the Guptas.
Living in fear
The remote small town at the centre of the scandal has never been the same since its dreams were shattered by reports of corruption in the project. Many of the beneficiaries live in fear for their lives after one of their own was murdered.
The body of Philemon Ngwenya was discovered by family members, severely beaten in a shack outside Vrede last year. This has heightened fears of speaking out against political influence in the project.
This was evident during Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's visit last week. Mkhwebane was in Vrede to hear testimony from the 80 beneficiaries on political figures who were involved in the scandal, News24 reported.
Many of the beneficiaries did not show up for the meeting, while those ready to testify insisted on speaking away from the glare of media cameras.
Despite launching insults at the ANC for abandoning the people of Vrede, many told News24 that their hopes still lay with the party. Two beneficiaries – who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, out of fear for their lives – praised party president Cyril Ramaphosa for his bravery in attempting to save the ANC from itself.
In the same breath, the beneficiaries lambasted the party for destroying their dreams of earning a sustainable income from farming. One of the leaders of the beneficiaries said he would vote for the ANC because it was now under the stewardship of Ramaphosa.
"We cannot see any other hope for us. The dream of having sustainable farming in this town still lives on. We are not mad at Ramaphosa. We are mad at the ANC for allowing people like Ace to take advantage of us."
Another Vrede farmer questioned how the party would self-correct, with "characters like Magashule" at the helm.
"The ANC is the only home I know, but the party is not doing anything for us here. This town is dead. The people are hungry and need jobs. There are no businesses. We don't even have proper roads. We have been forgotten, but we love the ANC. We need more and we need to know that our farms will receive assistance. Until the ANC guarantees us jobs, it will be difficult to trust anything they say."
ANC vs EFF
The community is, however, divided over who it would vote for, come May 8. A few women, who work for the government-based community work programme, told News24 that Julius Malema would get their votes in the province, while Ramaphosa was better placed as president.
EFF and ANC posters are plastered all over the streets of Thembalihle township in Vrede. Posters of the DA, however, are few and far between.
Nomawethu Toyi, who has lived in Vrede for more than 10 years with her husband and three kids, said she wanted to get her children to university. Toyi, whose firstborn is currently in Grade 12, said she would not be able to pay for university fees.
"I don't care who is in power. I just want my child to go to school, so she can help the family. Ramaphosa and Zuma promised free education and I hope my child's dream is realised. That is why I will vote Ramaphosa for president, but I want the EFF to control this province."
Nthabi Moketsi said Malema was the key for black prosperity and was the only right man for the job.
"Malema is speaking to me and he is speaking about issues that affect me. I can only vote for a person who is willing to fight for me, and that is all I care about. I want a job. I want land and I want to farm for my family. He understands this."
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