R34m vanishes from Marikana community project
Woman was beaten up when she started asking questions about it
A Marikana woman is living in fear after she was beaten and kicked by a man who lives in her street, allegedly for asking questions about R34-million for a community upliftment project that has vanished into thin air.
Wilhelmina Phiri, 50, met with municipal officials at the Bojanala District Municipality in Rustenburg earlier this month to speak about the Marikana Agri-Hub project that was meant to have started last year.
She was appointed as chairperson of 24 co-operatives that were formed to benefit from the multimillion-rand initiative. In October 2016 Phiri and the Department of Trade and Industry signed a service level agreement with Westhouse Hydroponics, a company owned by Pretoria businessman Johan van der Westhuizen.
Westhouse was appointed to erect more than 60 hydroponic tunnels for the growing of vegetables which would be packaged and sold to retailers.
Funding for this project was to come from an initiative by former president Jacob Zuma called the “Special Presidential Package for the Revitalisation of Distressed Mining Communities” under which R18-billion would be spent to uplift poor mining communities.But on the same day Phiri returned from the municipality to ask why more than a year later no progress had been made, a young man clad in an ANC T-shirt approached her and asked her to stop asking questions about the project.
“He wanted me to stop going to the municipality to ask questions about the project. I refused,” she told Times Select.
“He said I was abusing the councillor,” she explained, referring to the Ward 31 councillor, John Molubi, who has been tasked with liaising on behalf of the community with the municipality about the project.
An argument broke out, according to Phiri, and before she could stop him the man kicked her in the lower back and stomach at least twice.
“He said he has got the power to beat me. Because the councillor gave him every power to do everything he can do. He said if I don’t listen he will kill me. So he started to beat me, and threaten me.”
After the assault, Phiri said she confronted Molubi, the ward councillor.
Molubi has denied any involvement in the attack, saying she was the victim of an assault by an intoxicated man.The project in question was meant to operate on 180ha provided by mining company Lonmin. It would have created 100 jobs initially and at least double that in its second phase, according to the service provider.
But when Times Select visited the property last week there was no sign of any new developments, with only a dilapidated building on the site.
Phiri reported the assault to the police because she said she did not feel safe.“I changed my mind because that man is still angry and wants to beat me again. I am not safe. It is only me and the children. I don’t have a husband who can defend me.”
Police spokesperson Colonel Adele Myburgh confirmed that a case had been opened at Marikana SAPS but statements were still being taken. No arrests had been made.
Phiri, originally from Virginia in the Free State, lost her construction worker husband in 2007, leaving her with three children. None of her children have work and she relies on a government grant to survive.
Van der Westhuizen, the service provider, was among nearly 100 people who attended the official opening of the project in November 2016, when it was announced that R34-million had been approved. He said he was asked that December to submit a business plan before the New Year.
“We presented an extremely comprehensive business plan to the DTI in January 2017. But after that, we heard nothing.”
All attempts to meet with the DTI official who was managing the project since its inception failed, he said. He kept trying for months to get feedback from the department, without luck.
The DTI did not respond to queries at the time of writing.