Right of reply: Help save jobs at Magwa and Majola

I note and welcome the decision by the Democratic Alliance MPL Athol Trollip and his bank of friends to visit Magwa and Majola tea estates as a possible change from his knee-jerk reaction to embrace our business rescue process aimed at making these estates sustainable and profitable. 

The lurid statement issued by Trollip about the situation at both tea estates partly shows the extent of challenges that inspired us to embark on the business rescue process of both estates.

It also exposes incorrect and false information Trollip paddles as truth about the situation in the estates and payment of employees.

What might be a rude awakening moment to him and his bank of friends is nothing new to us, hence we have been engaging the workers through their union in both estates and the owners of the Majola tea estate, the worker’s trust, on rescuing these estates to protect their jobs.

Now that he has been to the estates, we trust that his view about our support will evolve to embrace the business rescue process aimed at addressing the situation and the low tea production in the estates.

I call on any MPL and MP to read our business rescue plan so that they can use their positions in both provincial legislature and the National Assembly to support our efforts to save jobs, protect the livelihood of many families whose lives are affected by the current situation in the tea estates.

The current situation in these estates demands more than a one-day tour of the estates, it needs a long lasting solution to ensure sustainable livelihoods for the workers, rejuvenation of the rural economy, protection of jobs and creation of more opportunities for local businesses, youth and community at large.

The workers of both estates are fully behind the business rescue process and understand the dynamics faced by both estates more than the visiting Trollip and his army of friends, who appear to have been flashing their pricey cameras and taking video footage more than listening to the issues at hand.

National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) threw its weight behind the business rescue process and sent us their letter to that effect.

Perhaps their (DA) missing of the boat is inspired by Trollip’s refusal to drink the cup of tea I gave him during the legislature meeting.

His deliberate misinformation paints a clear picture of a person who, instead of drinking the cup I made for him, grabbed the wrong and empty cuppa and not the cup that runneth over offered to him.

The focus of the business rescue process is to make sure that Magwa and Majola tea estates produce and package their tea properly for the markets in the same packaging of the tea box Trollip requested from the MEC Qoboshiyane after the committee meeting.

His statement from their Magwa safari is riddled with incorrect and deliberate misinformation about the situation in the estates.

It is incorrect to say the workers were last paid before the elections. Subsequent to our engagements and agreement with workers, provincial government’s economic transformation cluster, discussions between the Premier, relevant MECs, ECDC and the ECRDA, we held a meeting with Nehawu, which represents workers on both estates.

The last payment we made was in January 2015.

Contrary to Trollip’s false claims, this January we paid about R3.1-million to both estates with about R1  933 763.72 for Magwa salaries, R901 340.00 for Majola salaries and about R264 896.28 paid to the South African Revenue Service (Sars) to settle the tax debt of Magwa tea estate, which had forced Sars to freeze their bank account. 

The debt owed to Sars meant that any money made from tea sales serviced the existing Sars debt, which we have now settled.

Now that this debt has been settled, Magwa tea estate, which is operating at a minimum capacity level, will be able to cover operational costs from the profits of tea sales.

Magwa and Majola tea estates workers have, among other things, agreed that their remuneration will be variable costs linked to production and sales rather than fixed costs with no determinable output requirements. 

The business rescue process of both estates has received overwhelming support from all stakeholders in the province, with each prepared to play their part in rescuing these businesses.

Our focus as government is to fix administrative and management aspects of the estates in order for production to go back to full capacity, for tea production to unfold unhindered for the benefit of the workers, local economy and the Worker’s Trust that owns Majola estate.

The solutions and systems we will put in place will not be ephemeral like the DA’s interest in the estates and their one-day visit, but will be long-lasting to ensure that there is a sustainable livelihood to be had on the estates, in communities and in the rural economy.

We have been engaging a number of local communities, the workers and ANC leaders who are closer to the estates and who made a number of proposals that are included in the business rescue plan.

Unlike the DA, they didn’t go there to make political football out of the plight of the workers. Instead, they went there and came back with proper solutions, which we are pursuing.

These are people closer to the situation than the touring Trollip and his crew.

We call on the DA not to make the plight of the workers and the tea estates a political football but to rather join the work done to protect and save jobs in order to develop communities.

Mlibo Qoboshiyane is the Eastern Cape rural development and agrarian reform MEC, Eastern Cape PEC, PWC member and provincial spokesperson.

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