There are far more questions than answers about the controversial plan to build a R2-billion town up the road from President Zuma's rural homestead.
As Zumaville, the R2-billion new town due to be built just 3.2km from President Jacob Zuma’s rural homestead, reached a major milestone this week, the project was already in chaos.
The tender bids for its town planning closed on Friday August 10 and technocrats were scrambling to get the project shovel-ready.
But already a number of problems seemed to bode ill for the future of the project, described by a source as one “the president will be watching”:
- The primary facilitator, the Masibambisane Rural Development Initiative, is claiming bankruptcy;
- There is confusion between government departments involved in the building of South Africa’s first town since the advent of democracy;
- A number of big-business “partners” know nothing about their involvement in the megaproject; and
- There are more questions than answers about its funding.
And although the administrators involved in the process of establishing Zumaville are feeling the heat of political pressure, it seems unlikely to be enough to achieve the record-breaking speed in which the town is supposed to be built.
The project also now faces possible investigation by both a parliamentary committee and the public protector, after complaints that the Nkandla area of KwaZulu-Natal is receiving preferential treatment from the government.
We don’t have donors
Zumaville is the brainchild of Masibambisane, which Zuma chairs and in which he is closely involved. It is Masibambisane that will have to facilitate an agreement between local traditional leaders and municipalities to make the town a reality. This week Masibambisane said it was almost bankrupt.
“We don’t have money,” said deputy chairperson Deebo Mzobe. “It is the end of the month and we have to pay wages for the people assisting us. They have not been paid as we speak today. Even myself, I have to see how I’m going to survive. I have to take money from my own account and sometimes I give it to [volunteers] to keep them going … At the moment, except for tractors from different businesspeople, we don’t have donors.”
Old Mutual, which has been cited as a Masibambisane partner and a potential investor in Zumaville, this week said it gave the organisation about R600 000 last year, equivalent to about 2% of its annual corporate social investment budget.
“Our funding was directed at setting up an office structure and developing a business plan,” said Old Mutual spokesperson Pandelani Mathoma.
Last week the Mail & Guardian reported that the department of agriculture had donated, or would shortly do so, R800-million to Masibambisane, but this week Mzobe said he knew nothing about the money.
“I don’t think we’ve had a million rand in our account since this initiative started,” he said.
Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s spokesperson, Palesa Mokomele, also denied that the department had transferred the money to Masibambisane.
Yet two senior officials from the department, who preferred to remain anonymous, told the M&G that Joemat-Pettersson announced to staff on July 18 the decision to transfer R800-million from a departmental programme known as Zero Hunger to Masibambisane.
The two officials also contradicted Mokomele’s statement last week that Zero Hunger was not a departmental programme, but a campaign.
“You let Palesa get away with murder [last week],” one official said. “You should ask her when did the Zero Hunger campaign start, when did it end and why was it ended.
“Zero Hunger is a concept borrowed from Brazil to develop smallholder farmers who produce for themselves and their local communities. But now all that money is being diverted to Masibambisane.
“Now everything is about Masi-bambisane. She [Joemat-Pettersson] is appeasing JZ because she is worried about the coming public protector [report]. The public protector investigated her for expensive hotels and could find against her. She saw what JZ did with [former minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs] Sicelo Shiceka and Gwen Mahlangu [former public works minister] after the public protector findings.”
Mokomele said the money used to support Masibamisane-facilitated projects did not come from the Zero Hunger programme, but from what she referred to as the comprehensive agricultural support programme.
“We use existing funds [for Masibambisane facilitated projects],” said Mokomele. “We do not put money into the Masibambisane account, but we give financial support directly to community projects. The impression [has been created] that the money is taken [from] somewhere [in the department] and put into Masibambisane. That’s not the case.”
Zumaville is set to be centred on a precinct that will include offices for various government departments and agencies, including home affairs, the police, courts and social development. Yet the department of public works, which is responsible for procuring and maintaining such areas, this week said it had not been approached about the project.
“The department has not received a request from client departments in respect of the project referred to in your enquiry,” said acting director general Mandisa Fatyela-Lindie in a written response to questions about budget allocations for the offices and facilities. This is despite the fact that the department will provide a substantial part of the money, if not the entire budget, to build the government facilities – and will have to do so by next year.
Various corporate partners that have been cited as being involved in Masibambisane, or specifically in Zumaville, said they had no involvement in either. Last week the ministry of agriculture said private partners of the Masibambisane public-private partnership included Walmart-Massmart and South African Breweries.
Access to local markets
Walmart-Massmart spokesperson Brian Leroni said the company had a draft memorandum of understanding with the agriculture department and was involved in a small-farmer development project in Limpopo, but was not specifically working with Masibambisane. “To get involved in Nkandla would make sense, but we haven’t been approached,” he said.
South African Breweries said it had similar development projects aimed at improving skills and opening markets for small-scale farmers, but its involvement in Zumaville would be limited to “assisting those farmers producing quality maize with access to local markets”.
The M&G could not track down a single company or group – bar one – that has committed, or is seriously considering committing, funds towards Zumaville beyond the department of rural development’s allocation of R5-million for planning and project management.
Property development group Amber Dawn said it was far advanced with plans to build a shopping centre in the immediate vicinity of the land assigned to the new town, but simultaneously said it had nothing to do with Zumaville.
“We have some national tenants signed up, but it would be presumptuous of me to say who they are,” said company executive Ed Peen. “It will be going ahead regardless of what happens with the [new] village.”
Those involved in the planning of Zumaville often refer to a shopping centre that will be part of the town as proof of its viability. But this appears to refer to the Amber Dawn project, which predates plans for the town and is due to be built on land adjacent to, but owned separately from, the majority of the tract assigned to Zumaville.
Also still outstanding is a crucial lease agreement between, most likely, the department of rural development and the Ingonyama Trust, the vehicle through which Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini maintains some control over tribal lands.
Although the area in which Zumaville is due to be built is technically owned by the trust and lease payments will theoretically flow from government departments and commercial and residential tenants to Ingonyama, nobody yet knows how, or whether, local traditional leaders will see part of the cash. Various groups and individuals said that sensitivity about the ownership of tribal lands precluded the normal course of buying or expropriating the land.
In the absence of that agreement, it is not yet clear whether the government will pay for the construction of buildings on land it does not own and then pay rent for the use of those buildings in perpetuity.
However, none of the confusion has affected the official deadlines for the development of Zumaville, which is due to proceed at breakneck pace.
Potential town planners had until the end of this week to submit their bids for a small but crucial task in the development of Zumaville: assessing the physical and economic viability of the town and its various components. Although that would have to involve a range of specialists, at least 10 months of work and spending on items such as advertising of the plans, the tender evaluation process suggests that bids of less than R1-million were expected.
'Cronyism of the worst kind'
The Mail & Guardian report on Zumaville last week has drawn calls for an investigation by both Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts and the public protector.
Lindiwe Mazibuko, the Democratic Alliance’s leader in Parliament, said this week she would ask the committee to investigate the allocation of R1-billion of taxpayers money, which is what the new town is expected to cost, and would submit written questions to President Jacob Zuma about the amounts being spent in Nkandla.
“This is cronyism and nepotism of the worst kind,” she said. “While the DA supports all efforts to support rural development, it must be done in an open, equitable way, with public money spent wisely.”
Lobbying group AfriForum, meanwhile, said it had asked the public protector to investigate the decision to build Zumaville on the basis that it seemed to amount to preferential treatment of Zuma’s home region.
“The president sits on three chairs,” said Ernst Roets, deputy executive head of AfriForum. “He is the head of the executive in government, chairperson of the government’s partner in this case and, as a citizen with personal interests in Nkandla, he is also a beneficiary.” – Phillip de Wet
Ten months for entire planning process
Zumaville consists of a general concept of how the allocated land is to be used, but in coming months it is due to turn into a tangible plan for a real town if the idea turns out to be economically feasible.
Town planners have until the end of this week to tender. After a committee decides on the winning bidder, the clock really starts ticking. In theory, the winner has 10 months to complete the entire process.
But potential bidders were reassured last week that delays beyond their control – such as the inability of the Nkandla and Umlalazi municipalities to accept the development plan – would not be held against them, as long as they pushed hard.
“It can be done; it just has to be managed,” Ross Hoole, project manager for the department of rural development and land reform, told a clarification meeting for potential bidders in Pietermaritzburg last Friday.
To prevent hiccups in the planning process, bidders have been required to bid on a lump-sum basis and no variable costs or escalations included in their calculations. They will also be required to budget for the costs of placing advertisements to inform area residents of the plan, even though that is the responsibility of the municipalities involved, just in case those municipalities plead poverty.
“The price you give us is the price you get,” Hoole told contenders. “I don’t want you coming back for more money.”
Besides getting the okay from residents and affected municipalities, the biggest time variable will be how long it will take to award the planning contract. In theory, the tender is worth less than R1-million and will be handled at a provincial level, but two sources familiar with such processes said it was likely to be kicked up to Pretoria.
“Everybody knows the president will be watching,” said one. “Would you like to be the guy to make the decision if it goes wrong?” – Phillip de Wet
Zumaville: Send us your questions
The M&G's Verashni Pillay will put your tweets, comments and questions about Zumaville to Phillip De Wet in a live streaming video chat on Friday August 10 between 11.30am and noon.
Go here to submit your questions OR vote on an existing question.
We'll look at your questions and comments posted throughout this week, as well as input posted on our various platforms during the live discussion.
Go here for the live chat on Friday at 11:30, and to watch the recorded version thereafter.