Job losses at tea estate a ‘failed example of ANC’s land reform policy’

LIMPOPO – Over 2 000 jobs were lost at Makgoba Tea Estate, (previously known as Sapekoe Tea Estate) near Tzaneen in what some claim was a failed example of the ANC’s land reform policy.

In its heyday, the tea state employed 3 000 workers and formed part of a block purchase by government for R104 million in 2006 as part of the land restitution programme, benefitting over 600 families.

The loss of jobs at Sapekoe comes at a tough time for the Limpopo job market, following on the heels of Bokoni Platinum Mine announcing the retrenchment of more than 2 000 workers due to company restructuring.

During a visit to the estate this week, CV discovered yielding tea bushes that had been left to grow up to 3 metres high; the agricultural infrastructure had been stripped and removed from the property and opportunities to create employment looked bleak as planned projects had come to little.

A former worker, Emma Moloto is a mother of five who has three grandchildren.

She said she used to depend on her monthly salary of R1 800 for their livelihood, and even then, she was living below the poverty breadline.

“We are living from hand to mouth. Some of my children have even resorted to staying with their boyfriends as I am unable to provide for them,” she said.

A forensic report marked ‘for internal use only’ confirmed that the estate was stripped of assets in excess of R121 million and subsequently, in 2011 the department became the caretaker of the estate,” said DA Provincial Leader, Jacques Smalle, in a statement last week.

Smalle said the department appointed the Greater Tzaneen Economic Development Agency to develop a business plan and pumped R65 742 000 into the dilapidated estate between 2011 and 2015.

“It is now clear that no farming activity has taken place for years.

“Deteriorating tractors, bakkies and graders belonging to the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (Leda) were found on site. It then begs the question what the R65 million was spent on, as it is evident that Leda has done nothing to revitalise this project,” said Smalle.

Bokoni Platinum last week released a statement announcing plans to retrench more than 2 600 employees from its mine.

The announcement has, however, come as a shock to the provincial government, which during the State of the Province Address singled out mining, tourism and agriculture as the main three pillars of the province’s economy. The plan to retrench employees has irked the Mining Forum of South Africa, which said the move by Bokoni Platinum to retrench employees could be interpreted as sabotage following recent amendments to mining legislation with the aim of transforming the industry. The President of the forum, Blessings Ramoba, said the Mining Charter should instead be supported. In the meantime, Provincial Government Spokesperson, Phuti Seloba, said the statement by Bokoni lacked transparency. “There is no way that a company can go bankrupt and claim to resurrect after two years. The writing is on the wall. We as the province need more than that to be convinced.” He said provincial government was enclosed in meetings with mine management to find ways of preventing the retrenchments to protect workers, most of whom he said were breadwinners. Comment on the allegations of sabotage could not be drawn from mine management at the time of going to print.

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Alex Matlala

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