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Union calls on government to nationalise ‘profit-driven’ Clover

The General Industries Workers Union of South Africa (Giwusa) wants the government to step in and stop Clover’s exit from the North West, and has called for the dairy company to be nationalised.

Poor service delivery led to Clover announcing earlier this month that it had decided to close the country’s biggest cheese factory, located in Lichtenburg in the Ditsobotla local municipality, and move to Queensburgh in Durban. 

“For years, the Lichtenburg factory has been experiencing water and power outages and the surrounding infrastructure has not been maintained by the municipality. Despite numerous efforts to engage the municipality on these matters, the issues have not been resolved,” Clover said in a statement at the time.

“This has negatively impacted production which requires a continuous process and it is no longer feasible for the business to operate in Lichtenburg.”

North West Premier Job Mokgoro swooped in to try to keep Clover in Lichtenburg. He said the municipality could not afford to let Clover to close because of the devastating economic effect it would have. The factory employs about 380 permanent and 40 temporary workers.

“Government depends on private companies which invest in our towns to create jobs …. We are going to do everything in our power to save the over 300 jobs,” Mokgoro said. 

But Giwusa, which is an affiliate of the South African Federation of Trade Unions, has called the North West government’s attempt to stop Clover’s closure “irredeemably late”, adding that there is little hope that this intervention will be successful. 

“This is because Clover’s bosses are only loyal to their profits. Nothing motivates them other than profit-making,” the union said via a statement on Tuesday.

Giwusa said it was prepared to pursue all means to bring Clover’s relocation “to a screeching halt”.

This is not the first time Giwusa has taken on Clover. In October last year, Giwusa members went on a nationwide strike after the company dismissed a demand by the union for a 16% wage increase. It also called for a boycott of Clover products. 

A number of civil society organisations joined Giwusa’s call, pointing out Clover’s ties to Israel. In 2019, the company was bought by Milco, a company owned by Central Bottling Company, based in Israel.

In its statement, Giwusa noted the company’s decision to move from one ailing municipality to another. The eThekwini municipality, the union said, “is plagued with a lack of basic service delivery, corruption and mismanagement”. 

In 2019, eThekwini was identified as one of the 21 KwaZulu-Natal municipalities in distress. In his 2021 budget speech, the province’s co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC, Sipho Hlomuka, said eThekwini is still considered to be in distress.

According to the auditor general’s recent report on local government audit outcomes, in 2018-19 eThekwini was the biggest contributor to irregular expenditure.

Giwusa said Clover’s relocation to eThekwini may result in “a service delivery nightmare of an unimaginable scale that is certain to dwarf the crisis in Lichtenburg”.

Nationalising the dairy company would save jobs and the Lichtenburg factory, Giwusa said. It would also “ensure that production is carried out to provide … much needed dairy products to poor communities in and around Lichtenberg on [an] affordable basis and to abolish poverty and hunger”.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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