Tea estates in disrepair despite R200 million in govt support

Two tea estates in the Eastern Cape which have received more than R200 million in state funding have become completely unproductive.

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A team from the DA conducted impromptu oversight visits this week, visiting former parastatal projects of the old Transkei and Ciskei that were receiving support from government through the land affairs department’s recapitalisation programme.

The team, which included DA MP and spokesperson for agriculture Annette Steyn, and the DA leader in the Eastern Cape, Athol Trollip, said they were shocked to find very little activity at the Magwa and Majola tea estates.

“What we found first at Majola was a very sad scene where the tea bushes… were all over grown and unfertilised,” said Trollip in a statement.

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“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.”

The situation at Magwa was even worse. According to Trollip, the tea plantation was in a “parlous state”.

Majola workers told the DA team they had not received any payment for the past nine months. At Magwa, workers said they had been without pay for 13 months.

This and the fact that there was no money for electricity and coal to run the antiquated factories was the reason why nothing was happening on the farms, said Trollip.

“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 government to date, yet the state of productivity and viability are worse than ever,” he said.

The viability of the business was further compromised by low workforce productivity and high minimum wages that make the plantations uncompetitive. In turn, these factors were compounded by very poor or non-existent management and proper professional support by government, said Trollip.