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‘We’re always neglected’

Some community members attending the Sixth Annual Rural Development Conference at the Walter Sisulu University (WSU) say they always feel neglected by government — except at election time.

When the conference opened in Mthatha on Monday, delegates heard that WSU’s plans to establish a faculty of agriculture and rural development are far advanced, M&G Education Online reported earlier this week. Community members at the conference applauded WSU for helping to develop rural areas and for taking the initiative to empower villagers. But they told M&G Education that they struggled to get by because they do not have any kind of infrastructure in their villages: all they get is promises when politicians want votes, they said.
“I don’t want to see those politicians next to me,” said a woman farmer who asked not be named. She expressed appreciation to WSU for the work done by its Centre for Rural Development – which is the driver of the new faculty to come.

Community member Akhona Mtirara said young people from villages did not get enough support from the government. Hailing from Bumbane Royal Palace village near Mthatha, she said state funding organisations such as the Youth Development Agency also did not give enough support to villagers. “When we approach them for help they say we should submit a business plan, but people like us don’t know what a business plan is,” she said.

However, crop farmer Fezeka Mkile said there was hope yet that the government would improve its support in rural areas. She said discussions at the WSU conference had shown some commitment on the part of the provincial government.

“They have shared their plans to support our projects more actively and for longer periods and that is a positive sign,” said Mkile, who is also the secretary general of the Eastern Cape branch of the National African Farmer’s Union. WSU is well poised to help people like Mtirara, said Dr Loyiso Mbabane, dean of the university’s faculty of business, management science and law.

Addressing delegates, Mbabane said WSU does not want to be an albatross that does not connect with its surrounding communities.

Rather, it wants to be a “zone for development” in the Eastern Cape, he said, adding that his faculty was working with the WSU Centre for Rural Development to empower communities economically. He said WSU would try to increase literacy and numeracy levels in the Easyern Cape communities as part of the university’s striving to become a developmental institution.

“To do this we will empower our people and empowered communities can create jobs,” he said.

His faculty would introduce an MBA (master of business administration) degree that would help locals to develop their businesses. And he also wanted to introduce community-focused research in his faculty. “In this province of minimal resources we need to be told by communities what to research and we need to be driven by communities,” Mbabane said.

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