The Bathlabine community in Lephepane village, outside Tzaneen in Limpopo, has seemingly returned to a state of poverty only five years after receiving R12.7 million in funding from the department of rural development and land reform to operate a 464 hectaee farm.
The community’s communal property association (CPA), which oversees the daily running of the farm, allegedly failed to pay the salaries of more than 110 employees for the past five months.
The farm has 325ha of mangoes, 44ha of macadamia, 25ha of litchis, 35ha of bananas, seven ha of carambola and 35ha of avocados.
Farmworker Anna Maponya, a single mother of seven from Lephepane, said she had been going hungry for the past five months.
“I was forced to borrow money from a mashonisa (a loan shark) and now he is threatening to take my furniture away because I failed to pay his money,” she said.
Farm general manager Bennie Stopforth said the CPA was unable to pay salaries because “we have lost about R1.5 million due to a protracted strike in June and July”.
“We export fresh produce to China and America. But due to our employees taking to the streets, we lost a lot of money,” said Stopforth.
CPA chairperson Peter Matome Letsoalo confirmed there had been “protracted ugly wars” between the CPA and the 253 beneficiaries regarding the election of a new committee.
According to Letsoalo, the last bruising election attempt was marred by controversy between the board of directors, the department and the management.
“This resulted in the farm producing little … That is why, even today, the production of the farm leaves much to be desired.”
Stopforth said management hoped to pay salaries this month because “we are waiting for a financial injection from China worth millions.”