By Veliswa Mvenya (MPL), Shadow MEC for Social Development:
This speech was delivered by Veliswa Mvenya MPL, in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) in Cape Town today during the debate on International Day of Rural Women:
Honourable Chairperson, Honourable Members, Honourable Ministers present and members of the public. It gives me great pleasure to be given an opportunity to speak on behalf of my women from my home. I was born and bred in the deep rural area of Ngqamakhwe in the Eastern Cape. I was a rural girl and now I am a rural woman.
I still spend my weekends with my family in Ngqamakhwe, so I know exactly what is going on there. As a rural girl, I used to fetch water from the river to cook and bath. Today, I see other rural women fetching water from the river and I can see many of them suffering on hot and rainy days.
I am one of the fortunate women in South Africa who does not have to do this anymore because I can afford to buy water tanks.
In King Williams Town, there is a project that is only four kilometres away from our provincial legislature; it is called Sophakama Sonke Women Coop. It is funded by Social Development. Eight years ago, it applied for an irrigation scheme as they are involved in crop farming. The money was misused by the officials of the department and a subsequent investigation was conducted with no consequences for those implicated.
Women walk uphill for about two kilometres to fetch water from a river in order to fill tanks to irrigate their crops. The Department including ANC MEC [Nancy Sihlwayi] are aware but as long as it is not affecting them or their kids who live in urban areas they are not concerned. Like many in the ANC in the Eastern Cape and the rest of the country, they simply do not care. Yet the ANC states that they develop and care for rural women. Organising women’s events and feeding rural women to win votes does not mean anything as far as making a difference by developing them and giving them an opportunity to get out of poverty.
I used to take food to the fields for my mother when working there with her bare hands for our household food security. Those fields are no longer producing food because the ANC through government promised to provide tractors for rural people but only a few people benefit and those are councillors and chiefs. When tractors are off-loaded, we celebrate in front of TV cameras but when the cameras leave so do the tractors. This contributes to the high level of poverty because we depend on agriculture for food security in rural areas. The people who suffer most are our women.
A rural woman takes care of her husband, the kids, the in-laws and the community at large. With the high rate of unemployment, she is the one who suffers the most because she is the one who is removed by the municipality as a street vendor who has not been informed about upholding by-laws.
She does not even understand the word ‘by-law’, but is removed and the fruit that supports the above mentioned people is scattered in the streets by those who were raised and educated with the same hard-earned money. There is no fairness in our society.
It is even worse when that same woman educates her child [in mud schools] and there are no job opportunities for them, they have to suffer like their parents. In rural areas, a child is born and raised with social grants, bears their own kids, who in turn depend on social grants. This has become their cycle of life and the ANC in government has done little to bring about the change that is desperately needed by our rural women.
We need a country where social grants will be used as a safety net, where a child born in any rural area can get opportunities to take their families out of poverty so as to relieve the street vendor mother who will be able to see the rewards of sending her kids to school under those difficult circumstances. If that cannot happen, then this freedom is freedom that they cannot use.
When government formulated a policy on rural development and even changed the Agriculture Department to the Rural Development Department, I celebrated hoping that our rural lives would be transformed. Seemingly, the concept is not understood, if there are farmers in the Eastern Cape who two weeks ago took the Eastern Cape Department of Roads to court because of how bad the roads are – which has made farming impossible.
Why in 2015, do we still find our rural people in queues at 1 am outside the banks to withdraw their SASSA grants?
Banks are inaccessible during social grant payment days. Why is government not developing rural shops so that there are more ATMs? Why is government not creating a system for more affordable groceries with no delivery costs to make it easier for women with enormous responsibilities to do other things that can benefit their families? The ANC government has proven they cannot help our rural people by doing what was bestowed upon them to do. I strongly suggest, you allow the DA to show you that we are a caring government with the solutions to create jobs, provide a better life for all and to get our most vulnerable out of poverty.
Rural development does not only involve projects or coops but it involves equalising the lifestyle of rural women with that of urban women.
Working taps with clean water, tractors for crop farming, more shops in rural areas, adequate health care, education of a higher standard and access to more job opportunities should have been a priority when we became a democracy.
Sadly, under the ANC all we have seen is a select few benefitting whilst the rest of our people remain poor.
The ANC has proven that they have only given a better life for some and not for all.
There is no fairness, no freedom and no opportunity in rural areas.
Rural women are only recognised when the ANC have to campaign for votes.
But what they do not realise is when you strike a rural women, you strike the heartbeat of the nation. Your time is running out and if you continue to desperately cling on to power, through your corruption, cadre deployment and bad management, you continue to fail our rural communities.
I hope this debate is not just to heckle competition/opponents but that we take the plight of rural women seriously in order to improve their lives.
Rural women like all South African women have the potential to contribute to the growth of our country’s economy.
They collect water for drinking and bathing. They farm chickens to sell and they sell the milk from cows.
With the little money they make, they clothe and feed our children. This is all to make sure that the next generation survives.
Women and especially rural women are the backbone of our nation.
The Democratic Alliance supports the efforts that are made to develop rural women and when we are in government in provinces like the Eastern Cape and soon in South Africa we will prioritise this.
I thank you