Ex-combatants on a mission to stave off poverty in rural Eastern Cape

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Ex-combatants from liberation movements affiliated to different political parties are playing a significant role in fighting poverty through agricultural programmes in the Eastern Cape’s O R Tambo region.

They are working on eight hectares of land that produces quality potatoes at kwaMbiza village outside Ngqeleni. Through the municipality’s financial injection, the project has also created jobs for the unemployed youth.

OR Tambo Mayor, Thokozile Sokhanyile, has described this as an outstanding project.

“It’s project that is meant for those people that were fighting for this freedom and those people are from the military’s veterans of the MK, SANDF and the others whereby, we have said that they must come up with the project and they came up with these potatoes,” says Sokhanyile.

Such projects assist with food security. Those involved in this project say feeding the poor is their priority.

Jongilizwe Mpokwana, one of them, says, “Since we are the former soldiers, when we came back from the bush we learnt something, like to produce some potatoes. So far, we are happy we learnt. I am very much happy.”

Xoliswa Mpongwana’s late father spent years in exile. He also played a part in the formation of the potato co-operative before he passed on.

Mpongwana says at least her father left them with skills to till the land.

“So far, I have learnt that utilising the soil is much better because there are no more jobs now. People have lost jobs due to COVID-19. So, by using this soil, which our father left us with, I think we are going to live for the future,” she says.

The participants in the project aim to get into commercial farming.

Mayor Sokhanyile says, locally, the market is doing well as potatoes are in demand.

“After reaping these potatoes, they will go to the fresh Kie produce market, where they would be sorted and washed and there is a market already. There are people who are going to take these potatoes. So, even the village here, the people are assisting and they are going to get skills necessary,” adds the Mayor.

The former freedom fighters want to venture into commercial farming and are hoping for more land to realise their dream amid fencing, transport and farming equipment challenges.