Household Agricultural Improvement Project Ackmowledgement Ceremony

By Sicelo Khumalo

Mining companies are required by the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) and Mining Charter to improve the livelihoods and economy of its host communities. Therefore, Richards Bay Minerals (RBM)
, as part of its corporate social responsibility, from March 2013, instigated a household agricultural livelihood improvement project at its labor-sending and surrounding communities namely Sokhulu and Mkhwanazi. The project has yielded the desired results by the Mine and Government, in that it has increased food availability in the communities through fresh organic vegetables being produced in greenhouse tunnels and trench-beds. In addition, the project has also greatly improved the quality of produce grown in the communities and has created temporary jobs for local young people. On 22 November 2013, RBM together with its project implementers, Umsizi Sustainable Social Solutions Umsizi (Umsizi), help a successful celebration ceremony at Esibusisweni Development Centre in KwaMbonambi.

This was an event not to be missed. Dressed to the nines for the event were project beneficiaries, construction team workers, RBM officials, the Umsizi team, Indunas and the media.

The ceremony RBM had invited all the project achievers to be celebrated and honored with certificates. Attendees could not contain their excitement and they burst into songs of praise whilst stepping into the marquee erected for the event. “Mhlayevela uJesu siyakujekula njengamathole” was one of the exciting songs which in English translation mean ‘when Jesus comes we will dance like happy young calves’ and was pertinent to the ceremony. The atmosphere thereafter was one of excitement and joy for the remainder of the event.

Fundi Dlamini, RBM General Manager, sharing the project background, mentioned that, in 2011, she was approached by the Inkosi Mthiyane’s wives who requested an agricultural project tailored to improve women’s farming skills. Therefore, when Umsizi came to the fore with its agricultural project, RBM seized the opportunity to honor the Inkosi’s wife’s request. Jokingly, she stated that the other communities benefited from the project, and that Mkhwanazi community and men who have partaken, should be grateful to be part of the initiative. This statement ignited laughter in the crowd. She further talked about the plight of water shortages in the communities and that the water harvesting system implemented by Umsizi would enable beneficiaries to have access to sufficient water for watering their crops. Finally, she expressed appreciation to every RBM project beneficiaries- for their effective involvement in the programs- and stated that the event was earmarked to honor their achievements.

‘When it was raining, I used to go outside and put containers around my house to collect water from the roof, but now I have stopped since I have my roof tanks”, said Norah Buthelezi beaming with a smile. She had a reason to be excited because she was a beneficiary who received the agricultural infrastructure. She went on to thank her family especially her husband for being so supportive. Unlike some other husbands in the community, he never stopped her from digging trench-beds but has instead assisted her. The training received in the RBM agricultural project required beneficiaries to dig trench-beds; however, within the Zulu culture it is taboo for people to dig trench-beds at homes because they resemble grave holes. Lastly, Norah thanked Umsizi and RBM for bringing positive change to their community through the projects.

From Umsizi, John-Mark Kilian, Managing Director, congratulated all the achievers for their hard-work and praised what RBM has in store for its communities, he spoke about the upcoming projects which include more agricultural household training workshops and a cattle farming improvement project.

Finally, the highly anticipated certificate handover arrived. Beneficiaries were called one by one to the front to receive their certificates. This was the exciting, happy part of the event and as beneficiaries’ names were called out, they sprang to their feet in jubilation to receive their certificates. It was heartwarming to see them posing excitedly with the Umsizi team and holding their certificates in triumph. Remarkably, the certificates had been thoughtfully designed with pictures of each beneficiary standing next to their agricultural infrastructure on their certificates. Truth be told, the construction team has done an excellent job and one can see the infrastructure is excellently built to each house, whether built of mud or brick, each house is beautified by the well-fitted roof gutters. To further ensure infrastructure sustainability, Umsizi also handed out maintance procedures written in Zulu on a laminated A3 paper along with certificates.

The construction team was also praised for their exceptional work and received certificates. Although unfortunate that their service came to an end, they were nonetheless excited to be also honored. One of the construction team workers, Thomas Mdleetshe, said a few words and in his speech dearly thanked RBM for providing infrastructure to his parents, and proceeded to ask RBM to bring other projects to the communities such as a cattle farming project.

The media were there to report on this joyous, celebratory occasion. They interviewed various attendees and were interested in finding out how RBM’s projects have impacted the communities and they were pleasantly surprised because the mine had excelled in their corporate social responsibility. In Zulu culture, a ceremony is not complete without refreshments; therefore attendees helped themselves to a delicious meal RBM had prepared for them. Some beneficiaries ate lunch with their training facilitators and they further expressed their appreciation of the projects to the facilitators.

Undoubtedly, the surrounding communities’ wellbeing is a concern close to RBM’s heart. This is evident from the projects RBM has implemented so far. Lives have been changed through improved diets from fresh organic vegetables being produced at households; beneficiaries are being impacted by learning new agricultural skills, temporary jobs for members within the communities during tunnel and tanks construction. The temporary employment for the construction team members meant that they received onsite training and learnt skills which they can add to their CVs.

Indeed the mine has improved the livelihoods of its neighboring communities and acted beyond the Government’s amendments obligating mining companies to allow host communities to share in the Mine’s development. It is exciting that the communities will enjoy the festive seasons mindful of the projects promised to them. Thank you RBM.

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