About R220m meant for drought-stricken farmers in KwaZulu-Natal has gone missing and farmers and opposition parties are calling for heads to roll.

Four years ago, the government gave the money to the province for drought relief after it was declared a disaster area due to  a crippling drought.

 Co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC  Nomusa Dube-Ncube said it was not clear where the money went, but her department had launched an investigation to trace it. 

Sandy La Marque, head of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu), said it was alleged the money was paid to government-connected individuals.  She said Kwanalu did not have a list of beneficiaries.  

“However, most of our members reported that no assistance was received by bona fide farmers. Reports of individuals, officials [and] organisations who misappropriated the funding and fodder were raised extensively by farmers.

“In some cases, farmers were told they had to join the organisation [distributing the grants] to benefit or pay to get the grants” and prosecutions should follow, she said.

La Marque called on the KwaZulu-Natal government to work with credible, mandated and accountable farmers’ organisations to distribute such money in  future to prevent opportunists and corrupt officials from colluding to defraud the state.

“We have a very sound and credible governance and fiduciary structure in place, which would provide a solution and put a stop to the lack of accountability and stop the same people being involved in the interventions, grants and assistance never reaching bona fide farmers,” she said.

The KwaZulu-Natal Red Meat Producers Organisation also called for stern action against those involved in the alleged scam.

Boysey Gumede, interim provincial secretary of the UDM in KwaZulu-Natal, accused ANC leaders in the province of gross corruption.

“Firstly, R220m cannot just disappear into thin air and secondly, there must be a paper trail. It cannot take four years for someone to walk to the finance department and look at the batch of documents that would have been prepared to authorise the payments,” said Gumede.

The UDM called on Dube-Ncube, the ANC and “all opposition parties in the legislature to at least respect voters’ intelligence and let the public know what is going on under their watch,” Gumede said.

Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for Dube-Ncube, was not available for comment at the time of publication.

Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal's  co-operative governance department   has said that seven of the 11 districts in the province had been put on drought high alert. Residents, farmers and industries in these districts were asked to use water sparingly with dams at “alarmingly low levels”.  

Another drought is feared.