No answers for community plunged into debt

The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) still has no answers for the Muyexe community near Giyani, in Limpopo.

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The community was left in serious debt after allegedly being conned by the man appointed by the department to assist the community’s Macena Women’s Garden Co-operative in 2010. The department recently appeared before parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Rural Development and Land Reform to report on, among other things, the progress made with the investigation into these allegations. But it could only admit the investigation is still ongoing.

Committee chairperson, ANC MP Stone Sizane, insisted on some kind of report from the department’s forensic audit and investigations director, Rikus Janse van Rensburg, who then said the department is working with the Special Investigations Unit to help it form “an independent view on the matter”.

Janse van Rensburg added that, “we have also engaged with departmental officials and we have collected all the documents that we could, but this took much longer than we anticipated, because we had to engage with more officials than we anticipated.”

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According to committee member, DA MP Athol Trollip, in 2010 the DRDLR commissioned Raphael Manhire, director of Ralman Consulting Group, to assist the Muyexe co-op. Manhire then allegedly convinced the project’s executive committee to sign a R1,39 million Old Mutual loan, from which he then drew a monthly salary of R95 000. He also reportedly borrowed an additional R250 000 before disappearing. DRDLR director-general Mdu Shabane re-iterated that “the investigation” has not yet “reached finality”.

The next step
He confirmed, though, that there’s evidence of an attempt to enter into a partnership with Old Mutual to support this project, but the department had not signed any agreement with Old Mutual, which means there was no formal contract between the two entities. According to Janse Van Rensburg, the next step in the investigation will be to meet with Old Mutual, but the department is still waiting for the company to set a date for the meeting.

Committee members asked the officials to provide a time-frame for the investigation, but both Janse van Rensburg and Shabane said that it isn’t possible at this stage to say when the investigation would come to a close. Sizane urged departmental officials to make swift progress with the investigation. He pointed out that the implication of this investigation, should it turn out that corrupt transactions took place without the department picking up on it, is that the structures created by the DRDLR to monitor rural development projects are very, very weak and wanting.