A Winsorton cucumber farmer says red tape and payment delays by the Northern Cape government have had devastating consequences for his business. The farmer, who has successfully produced cucumbers on his hydroponic farm for two decades, has had to close shop. He lost his contract with a major food retailer and had to lay off 29 workers.

At its peak, Edwin Mabotsa’s multi-million rand state-of-the-art hydroponics farm produced 14 000 English cucumbers weekly. He says the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development’s failure to release an annual grant for operations, has collapsed the project.

“The infrastructure is now idling. We are going to lose our market at Shoprite-Checkers. Our lives are stuck and life gets difficult,” he says.

Workers have been left without an income.

“There’s nothing that we are doing currently. This project does not only assist us with income only; we also acquire knowledge from it,” explains one of Mabotsa’s employees, Itumeleng Thole.

“I have no income at all since this project stopped. I have no parents. I stay alone and there’s no income …that’s it,” adds Irvin Mabotsa, another employee.

Winsorton cucumber farmer bears the brunt of Northern Cape government’s non-payment of grant:

 The soil used for planting English cucumbers is imported and costly. And a constant coal supply is required for the efficient functioning of the green-house. But efforts to get the department to release funding since last year have failed.

“We had a meeting with HOD (Head of Department) on the 10th of July 2020, and then national minister wrote a letter to him in September 2020. In November, we had a meeting and he said there was information that’s outstanding but it was submitted and they confirmed all is in order. But the problem is, they cannot release the money. I don’t know what the problem is,” laments Mabotsa.

Pensioners who have been benefitting from the project over the years are also appealing to the department to release the funds.

“We were getting vegetables from that project. It just needs funding so that it can be restored,” says Akanyang Motsaathebe, a beneficiary of the project.

Beneficiaries say if government support was consistent over the years, the project could’ve been self-reliant by now, providing much-needed food security and jobs to locals.

The Rural Development Department has declined to comment, saying it does not want to engage in a public spat with its shareholders. – Report by Motlalepula Morake