Eastern Cape provincial government director-general Marion Mbina-Mthembu walked out of a high level meeting meant to find solutions to troubles facing the multimillion-rand Home of the Legends project last week.
The project is said to be on the brink of collapse as a result of bad blood between the custodian of the project, the office of the premier (OTP) and implementing agency – the National Heritage Council (NHC).
Home of Legends is a public campaign by the provincial government to position the province as a tourism destination on the basis of the legends it has produced and its rich history and heritage.
The meeting on Monday was attended by the NHC’s top management team, including chief executive Sonwabile Mancotywa, a team of respected researchers such as Mcebisi Ndletyana, and OTP, officials, including Mbina-Mthembu and OTP deputy director-general Mahlubandile Qwase.
Mbina-Mthembu’s walkout may now throw the whole project, launched in 2012 by the OTP amid much fanfare and handed over to NHC for implementation, into disarray although it is said to be more than 80% complete.
The Dispatch can reveal that the meeting last Monday was meant to give an update on road travel and to request funding for the remaining segment of the project.
What is holding the project to ransom is a chapter of a book on the province’s paleontology, archaeology and natural heritage estimated to cost about R2-million.
The OTP is yet to transfer the funds to NHC for this phase to continue.
The paleontology chapter was initially not part of the plan but was included by NHC upon request from the OTP pending the transfer of funds.
But now the whole campaign, on which millions have been spent with less than 20% of work still to complete is on the brink of collapse should the NHC fail to transfer the outstanding funds, as NHC is said to have already dug into its own coffers to cover some of the costs.
An insider, who attended the meeting, described it as “unnecessarily dramatic”, and said there were fears that if the project is abandoned at this stage, “that would be tantamount to wasteful expenditure because a lot of money has been spent already”.
Mbina-Mthembu is reported to have walked out of the meeting after being accused of speaking in a condescending manner and disrespecting people in the meeting.
The meeting emanated from a progress report the NHC had submitted to Mbina-Mthembu late last month which the Dispatch has seen which raised concerns about challenges stalling the project.
Among other frustrations raised by the NHC were several attempts to meet OTP officials which were apparently delayed or ignored.
The NHC also wrote that it had been “embarrassed” after the OTP dragged its heels and failed to transfer funds for the contracting of specialists to deal with the natural heritage chapter.
Among other challenges, the NHC listed the slow pace of coordination and confirmation of dates for roadshows in the districts, saying the council was forced to spend its own money to facilitate research team activities, and negative comments from the OTP.
To this end, the NHC wrote it was compelled to bring the project to a halt as it found it difficult to finance it with its own resources in future.
Provincial government spokesman Sonwabo Mbananga said yesterday: “The executive management had a discussion with NHC. NHC will finalise the book in the next three months. The delay was due to the additional chapter on paleontology and archaeology depicting the unique features of the Eastern Cape.
“We are also securing a specialist on branding and marketing to review the branding and marketing strategy of the province and align it with the Home of Legends campaign.” — firstname.lastname@example.org