It is not unsual for municipalities and other spheres of government to implement projects without making sure that the beneficiaries have access to training, markets and most importantly that the project is not the only “poverty alleviation” measure in the community. The end result for such projects is that they end in shambles.
Motherwell township residents are concerned about the state of Enjongweni Cooperative and Hydroponic Project. The once viable vegetable project is now an eyesore and a shame to the local community.
Started in 2003 and involving older persons, Enjongweni was primed to be a beacon of hope for the residents of Motherwell. The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality (NMBM) sponsored the project with R1,5 million startup capital. The municipality hoped to bring cheap nutritious vegetables to the tables of the poor and create jobs at the same time.
NMBM spokesperson, Mthubanzi Mniki explained, “These are vegetable production projects with intensive irrigation systems supported by the municipality with the objective of eliminating poverty and creating job opportunities in Motherwell. The beneficiaries were selected from various wards. Due to the marginal nature of the soil, hydroponics development was introduced in Motherwell for the purpose of producing high quality vegetables under a controlled environment to obtain maximum yield.”
The municipality did not ensure that the community has access to the market which is key to any farming venture. Mthubanzi said there were no formal markets for the produce, but members managed to open lucrative markets with Fruit & Veg in Newton Park, various Spar franchises in Port Elizabeth, spaza shops, schools and hospitals. He said vegetables were also sold direct to people at the premises.
A former member of the project who spoke on condition of anonymity said they were also producing various nursery species that they sold to other gardening projects around Port Elizabeth as well as to individuals who had gardens in their backyards.
She said, “This was a project meant to benefit the old people. Originally, there were plenty of us but came a time when proceeds from the sale of our products just could not be accounted for. We raised the issue on numerous occasions with people responsible for handling money but some of us ended up fearing for our lives. Originally, the project helped us immensely because we supplemented our social grant money with the money that we earned from sales of our produce. However, the model just didn’t work at the end because money was never satisfactorily accounted for. Members also started fighting for positions. Thats how things got to what it is now.”
Mthubanzi reiterated what the former member said. He said, “The project suffered several challenges which hindered the operation. The challenges included theft and vandalism of infrastructural material, like fencing, irrigation material, pumps, production tunnels, electric power cables and storage containers.”
“The cooperative model proved not to be a viable model with regards to project operations and management. This was evidenced when the project started to generate an income. Infighting started. Also, the aging project members and the levels of literacy played a major role in this project’s failure.”
A member of the community, Mxolisi Mangi, 26, lives in Motherwell NU 4, close to Enjongweni gardening. He stated that it pains him that criminals are stripping the infrastructure in broad daylight.
Mxolisi said, “this is a community project that should be helping us all. We used to buy vegetables at very cheap prices. This ended in the past five years when the cooperative fell apart. We are now struggling. Criminals are tearing down the perimeter fence. The hydroponic tunnels have been damaged while the irrigation system has been tampered with. Thugs are also stealing electric cables causing electricity blackouts in this area. The police should do something.”
All hope is not lost, said Mthubanzi. He said the municipality would soon partner with the private sector to rekindle the once prosperous gardening venture.