Made famous by allegations of mass looting at the Estina dairy farm, the Free State’s agricultural hub Vrede is now plagued by mass unemployment and dilapidated infrastructure.
Leading up to the May 8 elections, aggrieved community members told City Press that they would address these and other matters through their votes.
The community members said they would either vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) or not vote at all because the ANC-led Phumelela Municipality was failing to address their demands for jobs.
“There is no work. Even when we try and find work we can’t get the jobs because this municipality hires people that they know. People get jobs based on who they are connected to,” said Masechaba Tsolo*.
Another community member, Mapule Selahle*, added that “voting is useless, they make promises but once they are in power they never fulfil their promises so it’s pointless”.
A manager in the office of the mayor, Dume Kobeni, shared some of the sentiments expressed by community members. He said that unemployment was the biggest issue in Vrede.
“Sometimes we do get sleepless nights as an organisation because we want to retain a majority in the municipality. However, we are on the elections campaign trail ... most of the complaints are about service delivery and unemployment. People are not working especially the youth who have graduated from universities and colleges and we are trying to alleviate that.”
He added that one of the challenges that the party faced was that it could not use its selling point of having freed the country from apartheid with the youth because they could not relate.
“We need to talk to them about things that they can relate to such as how we are addressing unemployment and issues that affect them.”
Phumelela municipal manager Nomvula Malatjie told City Press that her office was already rolling out initiatives targeted at young people to improve their quality of life.
“As a province we work on a very limited revenue base,” she said, but added that they had engaged in a “service level agreement with skills education training authorities, the department of sports arts and culture and the district to improved the skills level and develop the youth.
“We are training them on an NQF level aligned qualification and they are currently doing practical work. We are affording them practical skills in motor mechanics and currently have 20 young people registered for the course. We also have 15 young people doing horticulture, 30 are doing house building and 50 learners doing health and safety in construction for the area of Memel,” said Malatjie.
Kobeni also added that the municipality was receiving assistance from the province to address some of the challenges faced by community members.
“You know our municipality is very small. We tend to depend on the province and national structures that have implemented a community work programme that has provided our community members with part time work and affords them some money to fend for themselves,” said Kobeni.
Selahle said although the programme was helpful, the amount they received was not sustainable.
In 2012, in an attempt at alleviating the unemployment crisis the Free State province established the Vrede dairy project on Krynaauwlust farm near the town of Vrede as a public-private partnership with Estina, a black economic empowerment company to assist the impoverished community.
However, in January 2018, City Press reported that only 1% of the R220 million allocated by the Free State government to the dairy farm was spent on actual farming.
Alleged corruption, flouting of treasury rules and mismanagement were later uncovered, linking the Gupta family and their allies to the blatant looting of state funds.
R30 million in government funds intended for the project was instead allegedly laundered through Dubai and used to pay for the 2013 wedding ceremony of Vega Gupta at Sun City and accounted for as a business expense.
Both Malatjie and Kobeni declined to comment on the Estina matter, saying it was sub judice and they did not wish to speak of its merits.
Malatjie added that they were currently training their municipal employees through a municipal finance management programme to ensure that no mismanagement of funds would take place.
City Press went to the infamous Estina dairy farm in an attempt to ascertain whether the project was still on going and verify whether there were any attempts at recouping the millions lost through alleged corruption.
On arrival we were met by two female securities guarding the premises.
They called an individual who later came and identified himself as the manager but refused to reveal his name. He was accompanied by three other individuals who also refused to identify themselves.
The alleged manager merely informed us that for comments of the dairy farm we had to approach the Free State department of agriculture in Bloemfontein whom we later called and could not find someone to assist us.
*Names were changed because Vrede is a small community and the sources were afraid of being victimised.