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R100 million life buoy for Zebediela Citrus Estate

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Tumi Mokwena, a lawyer and director of once thriving citrus farm, Zebediela Citrus and acting on behalf of the Bjatladi Community Property Association, managed to broker a new long-term investment agreement which will see 8 Mile, a sister company of Fruitco Ltd making a capital injection of R100 million into the farm over the next five years.
This investment will be used to plant new trees, improve irrigation systems and mechanise the pack-house and save jobs that were on the line. A lease agreement will span a period of 25 years.
The deal was signed on 17 January and ratified in a mass meeting held a fortnight ago in Zebediela, according to Mokwena.
“In terms of the new deal, the community gets annual rental of two million five hundred thousand rand which will be split among these claimants. They will enjoy a 50% profit sharing. 8 Mile will manage the farm and also provide running capital of between R60 to R90 million per annum in running the farm. All improvements will belong to the community at the end of the lease period without any cost to it,” Mokwena said.
Many citrus trees on the estate are over 30 years old and no longer productive. The pack house is also inefficient and the management could no longer keep up with the monthly electricity costs of R700 000.
Zebediela Citrus, once hailed the biggest citrus producer in the southern hemisphere, ran into a series of legal and financial troubles since the land was restored to its indigenous owners through a land claim process in 2003. The estate, which used to supply first-grade lemons and oranges internationally, was on the brink of collapse and faced lawsuits after it had breached its contractual obligation to supply its last harvest destined for international markets to a contractor.
The previous partners were evicted from the estate by a court order as they failed to keep to the initial agreement. The community had since asked Mokwena to stay on and assist with the transition and management of the farm.

Story: NELIE ERASMUS
>>nelie.observer@gmail.com

Feature photo: A healthy citrus tree.