R148m rescue plan finally paying off for tea estates

TEA TIME: From left, PSJ mayor Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo, Majola estate employee Ntombetsha Nqeketho and Eastern Cape rural development and agrarian reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane hold harvested tea from Majola during a monitoring visit to the tea estate this weekPicture: SUPPLIED
TEA TIME: From left, PSJ mayor Nomvuzo Mlombile-Cingo, Majola estate employee Ntombetsha Nqeketho and Eastern Cape rural development and agrarian reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane hold harvested tea from Majola during a monitoring visit to the tea estate this weekPicture: SUPPLIED
Hundreds of tons of tea are finally being produced by Magwa and Majola tea estates.

Rural development and agrarian reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane has expressed delight in the progress made in turning around the province’s two major tea estates in the former Transkei region.

For years, operations at Magwa and Majola tea estates in Lusikisiki and Port St Johns have been in disarray, with workers going for months without getting salaries until the Eastern Cape government was forced to intervene. It employed a business rescue practitioner last year to try and turn their fortunes around.

A sum of R45-million was also injected by Qoboshiyane’s department as part of a R148-million intervention endorsed by provincial government.

After a monitoring visit to the two facilities on Thursday, the MEC revealed that 330 tons of tea had been harvested in the two estates from September last year up to this month, which is the end of the harvesting season.

“The projected income from the sale of tea is R7.5-million,” he said, adding that he was happy to see workers busy concluding their harvests in the fields and their produce being packaged for local and international markets.

“Many had lost hope when there was no plan, trees were overgrown and there was no pruning, no fertiliser and no direction at all before we came in to help.”

All of this, said Qoboshiyane, validated their decision to institute a rescue plan instead of liquidating. He also revealed that retailers were showing great interest in buying tea from the two estates.

As part of the next step, government was also contemplating diversifying crop production and investing heavily in agro-tourism to help tap into the potential of the Magwa Falls.

The two estates are in the process of being merged to form a single tea estate. Shares from Magwa had been transferred to the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform and were being held by the Eastern Cape Rural Development Agency.

Employees at the two estates told Qoboshiyane they were happy to see production happening.

Ntombetsha Nqeketho, who has worked at Majola for eight years, said it was difficult for her and her family when she did not earn a salary for months.

“My children now have food because we get paid every month,” she said.

Magwa employee Mxolelwa Sibabula said the new workflow had boosted the workers’ confidence, with everyone doubling their efforts to keep the estate operational.

“Now we are getting paid and can now pay school fees for our children,” said Sibabula. — sikhon@dispatch.co.za

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