R38m-boost for land project

KZN land reform estate, CHARLESTOWN ranches, received a major boost last month with the launch of a R38-million raspberry-exporting venture that will eventually be owned by land claimants.

A big component of the deal, which was largely funded by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), will be technical support and skills transfer.

Former Free State raspberry farmer Frans Fourie has invested R3,8 million worth of expertise, equipment, plant material and machinery for a 10% holding in the initiative. The remaining stake worth R34,2 million will be held by the IDC and the NEF.

Dividends generated by the project will finance the investment, and the IDC and the NEF will transfer the shares to the Charlestown ranches at a nominal value. Charlestown ranches is wholly owned by the 1 100 beneficiaries of the land claim. In this way the land claimants will be majority shareholders. The IDC and the NEF say that at maturity, salaries and wages of R9,8 million will be earned annually and spent within the local community.   

The Charlestown community received 8 500ha through the government’s land restitution programme. Amajuba Berries got its name from the historic Amajuba area where the farm is established, the site of a renowned battle during the South African War.

Charlestown community trust owns 12 farms worth R25 million. IDC’s divisional executive for resources Ufikile Khumalo said the beneficiaries had approached the IDC to assist in the development of a sustainable horticultural project. He views the initiative as a KZN flagship project. “In meeting EU certification standards for the R2 million packhouse, as South Africa’s largest raspberry producer the farm will export 70% of production,” he said.

Khumalo says in gearing production towards 70% export, the project demands experienced management and production under protective plastic structures to ensure export quality and visual appeal. Bheki Kubheka, CEO of Amajuba Berries and a Charlestown resident, said the project will boost the Charlestown community’s depressed economy. He said the estimated unemployment rate is up to 70% of the district’s population. “The project creates 91% permanent and 704 annualised seasonal workers,” Kubheka said. “It also caters specifically to the predominantly female population.”