Zebediela Citrus seeks to overturn export ban


Polokwane - Zebediela Citrus, a major South African producer of citrus fruit, seeks to overturn a suspension order by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries barring the company from exporting its produce in the aftermath of a fraudulent packaging scandal.

The company, a premier supplier of citrus fruit to the European Union over past decades, experienced strong government action as measures were taken to protect international consumers from unfair trade practices.

But the Bjwatladi Communal Property Association (CPA), run by the community which wholly owns the citrus estate near Polokwane and which led the expulsion of its strategic partner Henley Properties Group, wants to repair the damage done.

The department placed four sections of the estate under monitoring, and halted exports by the company in November last year following revelations by the Hawks that it had deceived the European market.

Bjwatladi has long been concerned about Henley Properties Group, attempting to end the company's association with the 5 000 hectare citrus estate.

However, it did not succeed until it won a court bid last week after a fraudulent packaging scandal by Fruitone - Henley Group's sister company, which it used to export citrus to the EU and other international markets - emerged in court papers.

CPA is assembling a team of experts to work at its estate, restore trade and boost its revenue, saying is going to meet with the agriculture department to seek restoration of its citrus export status.

CPA’s chairperson Masepekele Masetloa said a trade partner they believed would help improve the company's assets and revenue instead caused it to suffer damage.

He said they wanted to make a submission to the department to show that they were not to blame for packaging citrus that was not certified for the foreign market into the same packaging as certified produce.

Fruitone came into disrepute after it emerge that some citrus destined for the EU and other international markets had blackspot, a fungal disease which at present is not found in Europe.

As a result, CPA opened a case of fraud against Henley Property Group which is pending at the Magistrate Court Mokopane.

Masetloa promised measures had been taken to protect the estate and its reputation. However, government still needs to be convinced.

“We want to show that this was not of our making, it was Henley Group, so they can give us another opportunity and reverse the ban,” said Masetloa.

He believes that the action taken would not hurt the reputation of Zebediela Citrus as it acted swiftly to end the unfair trade practice. "If they give us chance, we can do better, because it is our property and we want to maximise the profit and increase job creation," said Masetloa.

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