Meeting over tensions at Zebediela Citrus Estate leaves beneficiaries with bitter taste

Zebediela Citrus Farm in Limpopo.

PHOTO: Deon Raath/Gallo Images/Report

  • A meeting to resolve tensions over Zebediela Citrus Estate was fruitless.
  • The provincial department of agriculture and rural development rejected some requests.
  • Concerned beneficiaries have accused the government of sitting back.

A meeting aimed at resolving tensions at the Zebediela Citrus Estate in Limpopo ended without an agreement after the provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development rejected some of the demands.

The meeting was convened on the instruction of Prime Minister Stan Mathabatha, after receiving complaints from affected beneficiaries, under the auspices of the Save Zebediela Citrus Estate Committee, of alleged financial malfeasance.

The estate was one of the largest orange producers in the southern hemisphere before being returned – as part of the land reform process – to the Bjatladi community in 2003.

The committee had accused the Bjatladi Communal Property Association (CPA) of failing to submit financial statements and siphoning off funds after currently suspended lawyer Tumi Mokwena took over management of the estate in 2016 .

READ | Limpopo PM calls for urgent resolution to Zebediela Citrus Estate fury

The committee demanded a forensic audit and investigation into how Mokwena came to manage the estate.

The department convened a meeting at its provincial headquarters in Polokwane last week to try to resolve the tension.

However, the meeting fell apart over the forensic audit and Mokwena’s issues.

Rows of plants and vines at Zebediela Citrus Farm

The Zebediela citrus grove being restored, seen on October 6, 2017 in Limpopo.

Images Gallo Deon Raath

Department spokesman Joshua Kwapa told News24: “The department did not give in to the request for an audit because the CPA is an independent company and the government would not have such authority and jurisdiction. Further, the requested process is not prescribed by the CPA Act.”

However, committee chairman Ike Kekana accused the department of dereliction of duty.

Kekana said:

The government is taking tax dollars to buy Zebediela Citrus Estate for us. When the farm is stolen or hijacked, the same government tells us they don’t want to hear about the theft. Shocking.

The CPA indicated that it would report the results of the meeting to its members.

CPA Deputy Secretary Walter Tlolane said what the department had said was “enough”.

On how the matter would ultimately be resolved, Kwapa said the department would appoint a mediation team to help the two groups work toward a lasting solution.

“The government is currently engaged in developing a master plan that will guide the process. [The] the goal is to get the estate back into full production,” Kwapa said, reiterating what has been said in recent years about resuscitating the estate.

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