Millions go to waste in failed tunnel projects

A vegetable tunnel project worth half a million rand is lying in tatters because neither the government nor the beneficiaries want to take responsibility for its upkeep.

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The tunnel project in Tosca in North West was one of six in the Dr Ruth Mompati District Municipality erected as part of a community upliftment project by government. The total value of the six projects was R3 million. Beneficiaries produced one harvest before the tunnels were damaged in a storm three years ago. Since then, the project has come to a halt, and beneficiaries complained that their requests for government assistance to fix the tunnels had fallen on deaf ears. But Kenny Ntshandase, director of economic development in the municipality, said it was not the municipality’s responsibility to maintain the project.

The beneficiaries were told they needed to run the project on their own and put money aside for maintenance, he said. “We even sent them on farming and management courses to ensure that they had the necessary skills. But this has not deterred them from extracting all the money from the project and not ploughing anything back. Sadly this is the case with most of the tunnel projects.”

Giel Theron, former ward councillor and a resident of Tosca, said that a lack of extension officers and mentors had hindered the project from the start. “After the first tomato harvest, the plants got red spider mites. The extension officer was asked for insecticide but it only arrived a month later and the plants had been destroyed.”

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He said that upliftment projects such as these required strong mentors, as the beneficiaries often didn’t have enough knowledge about agriculture. “There are torn-down tunnels scattered across the landscape in this province. It’s as if tunnels were once the solution to poverty and joblessness and millions was spent on erecting them. But today most of them are not in working order.”