Last year, Eastern Cape MEC for rural development and agrarian reform Mlibo Qoboshiyane – who also doubles as provincial ANC spokesperson – invited the province’s Democratic Alliance, Athol Trollip, to have a cup of tea and relax. This came in the wake of a scathing newspaper opinion piece Trollip penned about the state of the Magwa and Majola tea estates.
Trollip turned down the offer of tea, instead opting to carry out a surprise “oversight tour” to the cash-strapped estates last week, accompanied by Annette Steyn, the party’s shadow minister for agriculture, forestry and fisheries.
After the visit, Trollip said he had been disappointed when he went to search for a cup of tea.
“This turned out not only to be a futile exercise but also an empty offer by MEC Qoboshiyane,” he said.
“What we found first at Majola was a very sad scene where the tea bushes, though some having been pruned, were all overgrown and unfertilised. There has been no plucking of tea at all this season, which should have started in September.
“The plucking season ends in March and there is absolutely no sign that any harvesting will take place this season,” he said in a statement.
Trollip said these tea plantations have received in excess of R200-million in government bailouts – yet the state of productivity and viability had worsened.
“The current managers are also constantly under pressure from a belligerent and desperate unionised workforce, and they say that their lives are sometimes threatened. It must also be said however that their viability is bedevilled by low workforce productivity and high minimum wages that make the plantations and their tea production uncompetitive.
“These factors are compounded by very poor or non-existent management and proper professional support by the government.”
Declining the ‘cup which runneth over’
Trollip’s visit and subsequent statements raised Qoboshiyane’s ire, who responded, through his spokesperson Mvusiwekhaya Sicwetsha.
“His [Trollip’s] deliberate misinformation paints a clear picture of a person who, instead of drinking the cup made for him, grabbed the wrong and empty cuppa and not the cup which runneth over he was offered.”
The DA alleged that the workers have not been paid for months, with Steyn bemoaning the millions spent “with no production”.
“This mismanagement runs counter to government’s responsibility to create an enabling environment for agriculture by providing finances and support to deserving projects. The National Development Plan projects that one million jobs could be created in this sector but this will remain a pipe dream if the circumstances we encountered on our oversight are allowed to continue,” she said.
Qoboshiyane disputed the claims that workers had not been paid.
“It is incorrect to say the workers were last paid before the elections. The last payment we made was in January 2015.”
The back and forth between the two, which started in November last year, continued on Tuesday, with Trollip stating that the proof of the tea would be in the making.
“The MEC’s offer of a “cup of tea that runneth over” is typical of the empty ANC promises that the people of this province have been hearing for the past 20 years. The proof of the tea will be in the making”.