‘I thought my life would improve – but it did not’

2011-01-02 10:06

When a 60-year old farmworker heard in 2006 he would now own part of the multi-million-rand citrus farm he had dedicated 30 years of his life to, he was overjoyed.

The tractor driver says Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale, then the powerful ANC provincial secretary, personally approached him on Mabete farm’s premises and offered him free shares.

These were shares government had bought to benefit farmworkers like himself and the impression was created that they would benefit “handsomely”.

The married father of six claims that Mathale, flanked by the company’s managers, told him he was buying shares in Mabete Sitrus (Pty) Ltd and convinced him and others to sign papers to become shareholders.

“He said if I signed the forms and become a shareholder everything else would be fine in my life.”

The shares formed part of the 42% of Mabete the Limpopo provincial government had purchased for farmworkers as part of the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme.

LRAD was aimed at assisting previously disadvantaged rural black people improve their standard of living by gaining access to valuable agricultural opportunities.

The tractor driver was not informed about the value of his shares, neither did he receive a shareholder certificate.

The verbal agreement with Mathale, followed by a handwritten letter from the farm’s management confirming his status as a shareholder, was enough for him.

It was an offer that promised to change the life of the impoverished man, who had to make ends meet on his salary of R1?300 a month.

He still sleeps on a bed made out of wooden pallets and cardboard boxes despite having toiled on the farm for more than three decades.

His family of seven share a two-bedroom house with a leaking roof and hardly any ablution facilities.

The man had hoped to use his dividends to educate his children and start a decent life, but during a recent visit he told City Press that his hopes had faded.

“If you come to my house you will be shamed and see this man is really suffering. We are not benefiting anything from our shares. They are just playing with our minds,” he said.

A foreman on the farm said Mathale told him he would be “well looked after and compensated” for his shares but that was yet to happen.

“If you ask me to show you any material to prove I own part of this company, the only thing I will show you is my old T-shirt with the word ‘Mabete’ printed on it,” he said.

The farmworkers said they had each been paid up to R1?300 a year for their shares since 2007 and were told that amount would increase to R10?000 a year from 2016 after they had paid for their shares.

“But that is a long wait and I might be dead by then. What will happen to my shares?” asked the tractor driver.

Noria Mathebula (36), another farm worker, said she had been battling for years to get the dividends for shares owned by her late husband, Steven Mafunisa, who worked as a farm supervisor and died on December 23 2007.

She said Mafunisa died after receiving the first payment for 2007, but since then Mabete managers had been sending her from pillar to post each time she demanded his money for 2008, 2009 and last year.

His 2008 payment was made only a year later. The rest is yet to be paid.

“When I went to head office to tell them I did not get money for 2009, they said I must submit an affidavit, which I did, but I did not get it (the money).

“For 2010 they said I must submit a statement, but I have yet to be paid despite others having received their money in September,” said Mathebula.

Mathale did not respond to questions regarding farmworkers’ complaints about their living conditions and alleged lack of benefits from the Mabete project.

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