An offer by Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane that I should “drink tea and relax” is nothing more than an empty cuppa.
I took his advice and went in “pursuit of a cup of tea” at the Magwa and Majola Tea estates this week as part of a DA oversight tour, visiting former parastatal projects of the former Transkei and Ciskei that have been and are being “revitalized” by the ANC government.
The DA-team consisted of myself, Annette Steyn MP (Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries), Ross Purdon MPL (Shadow MEC for Economic Development Environmental Affairs and Tourism) and cllr Rory Gailey (from Sarah Baartman District Municipality and DA deputy provincial chairperson).
This turned out not only to be a futile exercise but also an empty offer by MEC Qoboshiyane. What we found first at Majola was a very sad scene where the tea bushes, though some having been pruned, were all over grown and unfertilized. There has been no plucking of tea at all this season which should have started in September! The plucking season ends in March and there is absolutely no sign that any harvesting will take place this season.
The same situation prevailed at Magwa but on a much “grander” scale. The tea plantation here was in what can only be described as a parlous state.
On both the estates the workforce, including management, have not been paid for months (Majola, nine months and Magwa up to thirteen months).
This and the fact that there is no money for electricity and coal to run the antiquated factories is the reason why absolutely nothing is happening here and why the so-called beneficiaries and workers are starving.
At Magwa we met and spoke to desperate workers who had just been to the plantation to collect meagre food parcels donated to them by a local grocery chain store. These people said that despite being consumed by hunger their status of no work no pay or more pertinently no pay/money no work they could not send their children to school either.
It seems that the last time they were paid for actual work done was just before the elections in May 2014, which seems like a wages for votes scam. They said that they were given a months’ wages in December, which though might sound generous, is in fact a slap in the faces of people who want to work for a living.
The question which kept cropping up, was where has all the money gone? These plantations have received in excess of R200 million in bailouts from the state to date, yet the state of productivity and viability is worse than ever.
The current managers are also constantly under pressure from a belligerent and desperate unionised workforce and they say that their lives are sometimes threatened.
It must also be said however that their viability is bedevilled by low workforce productivity and high minimum wages that make the plantations and their tea production uncompetitive. These factors are however only compounded by very poor or non-existent management and proper professional support by the government.
These plantations are national assets and are strategically situated to provide work to desperately poor and remote communities.
The fact that they have been allowed to deteriorate to the state that they are in is a crying shame and the ANC government must bear the blame for this travesty.
The ANC’s so-called revitalisation process along with the recapitalisation of newly acquired agricultural land, for land reform purposes, consumes a vast amount of the land reform and rural development budgets of both National and Provincial departments.
The DA team’s week long oversight tour in the Eastern part of the province was to go and see for ourselves what is happening on the ground, so to speak. These unannounced oversight visits gave us an important perspective of how little is actually happening despite the budget and transfers of millions and millions of rands to these projects.
What is also hardly believable is the fact that the MEC who boastfully offered me a cup of Magwa tea has not even visited these plantations to see what’s actually going on there. There are none so blind as those who don’t want to see!
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