Clover factory can still be saved, says North West government - as mayor hits back

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Clover is leaving Lichtenburg after years of service deliver issues.
Clover is leaving Lichtenburg after years of service deliver issues.
Deon Raath
  • The North West government believes Clover can still be convinced to keep South Africa’s biggest cheese factory in Lichtenburg.
  • The company has already started moving its operations to Queensburgh in eThekwini, blaming the local municipality for poor service delivery.
  • But Ditsobotla’s mayor, Tsholofelo Moreo, has hit back at Clover, saying that company's stated reasons for relocating were "misleading and devoid of truth".

The North West government believes Clover can still be convinced to keep South Africa’s biggest cheese factory in Lichtenburg.

Earlier this week, Fin24 reported that Clover was shutting down its Lichtenburg production facility and moving to KwaZulu-Natal, after years of service delivery issues and unsuccessful engagements with Ditsobotla Local Municipality.

Water and electricity disruptions, as well as impassable roads, were at the heart of Clover’s issues in Lichtenburg.

But Ditsobotla's mayor, Tsholofelo Moreo, has hit back at Clover, saying that its stated reasons for relocating were "misleading and devoid of truth".

"The municipality has constantly been engaging Clover about its intention to leave Lichtenburg, and in the same breath attending to all service delivery impasses, which are of great concern to the company," Moreo said in a statement.

He added that the municipality assisted Clover with a borehole to help address water issues, and pointed out that Eskom was responsible for the supply of power, not the municipality.

Moreo said Ditsobotla was working with the district municipality to resolve Lichtenburg’s water issues and the North West's, and that the Ngaka Modiri Molema District Municipality was implementing a bulk water project to improve water supply in town and the Boikhutso and Blydeville areas.

"As far as the terrible state of Beyers Naudé Road [which Clover objected to] is concerned, the municipality has been in constant engagements with the Department of Roads and Transport Management about the refurbishment of the road as it belongs to the department. Furthermore, the municipality has been doing its utmost best to maintain the road."

Provincial government 'not aware' of problems

North West Premier Job Mokgoro has however dispatched a political task team, which is headed by Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Desbo Mohono, to meet with Clover’s management, in a bid to persuade the company to stay in Lichtenburg.

On Wednesday, Mokgoro’s spokesperson Vuyisile Ngesi said the provincial government had not been aware of the issues Clover was having with the municipality, until the news of its move broke. He said the dairy producer had only taken its concerns to the municipality (and not provincial government), but the two parties "weren’t finding each other" on the issue.

Mokgoro believes that the intervention of the task team will result in Clover cancelling its relocation, despite the fact that Clover has already started moving operations.

"It might seem late but we believe it [the factory] is still salvageable," said Ngesi.

He added that resolving the town’s services issue were crucial for the local agri-processing zone, which employees thousands of people. If Clover, which employed more than 300 permanent workers left, other companies could follow suit, which would turn mining and agriculture dependent Lichtenburg into a "ghost town", he added.

The engagements the task team is having will include other companies in the area, as well as power supplier Eskom.

Clover did not want to comment on Fin24’s questions about whether it will consider maintaining its presence in Lichtenburg, and did not react to a new request for a response following statements from Moreo and the provincial government.

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