'Farmer' premier cashes in

2011-01-02 20:53

Johannesburg - Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale ­received a R400 000 government grant in 2007 to buy shares in a farming project meant for emerging farmers.

Mathale, who was ANC provincial secretary at the time, has admitted to benefiting from the multimillion-rand Mabete citrus project.

He is a director of Mabete Sitrus, a private company that owns six portions of the Mabete farm at Letsitele, outside Tzaneen, spanning 1 285ha.

Mathale’s spokesperson, Phuti Mosomane, said: “There is no new revelation in the premier being a director at Mabete Sitrus. This has been in the ­public domain and has also been declared to government.”

In July 2007 the Limpopo agriculture department awarded R6.3m to a group of 132 farmworkers and R400 000 to Mathale’s Moruo Trust to purchase portions of the farm from Bosveld Sitrus.

The money was channelled through national government’s Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme.

Farm owner Piet Smit said last week he met Mathale in 1998, before he became a prominent ANC politician in the province, and had also been involved in other businesses with him.

He claimed Mathale’s involvement in the Mabete project had nothing to do with his political influence in the province.

Successful

Smit said the Mabete project was one of the most successful BEE farming projects in the country.

He was concerned that highlighting Mathale’s involvement in the scheme would undermine the credibility of the project.

According to Smit, he and the farm’s other owners started the project.

Additional loan facilities were provided by Standard Bank.

“The BEE component owns 42% of the company.

The company owns the land. Mr Mathale owns 5% of the company,” said Smit.

Mathale was elected in 2002 as provincial secretary of the ANC - a position for which he earned a full-time salary from the party.

In July 2006 he became a director of Mabete Sitrus. A year later the provincial agriculture department approved the LRAD funding for him and the 132 farmworkers to buy into Mabete.

Kenny Mathivha, spokesperson for the Limpopo agriculture department, confirmed the department gave Mathale R400 000 of the LRAD grant to buy shares in Mabete.

'Nothing untoward'

He insisted the premier had applied for the grant like any other previously disadvantaged individual and his status as a senior ruling party politician had had no influence in the decision to award him the grant.

Mathivha said there was nothing untoward about Mathale benefiting from the grant because the LRAD programme “is not aimed at the poorest” and the premier was not a government official at the time.

During her 2007 budget speech former provincial agriculture MEC Dikeledi Magadzi hailed the Mabete project as a “breakthrough” but did not disclose the names of the “black business partners” who had benefited.

When City Press visited the farm, worker shareholders complained that their living standards had not been ­improved.

They said four years after Mathale had personally asked them to sign papers for the shares they still had no shareholder certificates and did not even know the value of their shares.

They reached a verbal agreement with the premier, which was followed by handwritten letters from the firm’s management confirming their status as shareholders.

Since then they had been paid between R1 000 and R1 300 a year each as dividends for their shares, they claimed.

Lives not changing

“We are not happy because they say we own shares in this farm but we are getting very little money. Our lives are not changing and we are still suffering,” said 57-year-old Maria Ramalobela.

She added they had no toilets or running water and the roofs of their houses were leaking.

“What can you do with R 1 000 a year? They are just playing with our minds,” said a tractor driver who requested anonymity for fear of victimisation.

A supervisor said management told them at a meeting four weeks ago that their dividends would increase to R10 000 a year in 2016.

He added they were told that was the year the company would stop deducting money from their dividends as repayments for their shares and contributions towards input costs.

Smit did not respond to the workers’ claims, saying he was on holiday and needed more time to respond fully.

Read more on:    cassel mathale  |  polokwane  |  bee  |  agriculture
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