The once blooming Tshivhase Tea Estate. Now, less than 20 hectares of the 1,700 hectares are being maintained, with no harvesting taking place. Photo supplied.
Retrenched employees from the Tshivhase Tea Estate are losing hope that it will ever recover. The once thriving estate has seemingly collapsed completely, despite the government’s investing nearly R200-million in the project since 2006.
Financial difficulties and dysfunctional equipment have halted tea harvesting for almost two years in a row. While the estate produces black tea called Midi Tea, this is no longer available on supermarket shelves. With more than 1,700 hectares of tea plantations, less than 20 hectares are being maintained and rehabilitated, with no harvesting taking place. The rest have been abandoned because of a lack of resources, including workers.
During its peak, the tea estate employed more than 2,000 workers but currently has only about 200 workers. The lack of maintenance over several years has rendered vehicles, tractors, graders, and packaging machines useless and beset with mechanical faults.
Mr Richard Thagwana, who has been working at the tea estate for 40 years, blames the Limpopo Economic Development Agency (LEDA), saying that the government entity was not providing enough support. “We are not producing at the moment because we don’t have harvesters, we don’t have maintenance money, which means the machinery is not maintained, the fleet is not roadworthy, everything here is shattered. And it pains me because I know the magnitude of this tea industry. Apart from black tea, we can even do another variety of tea, but LEDA is not doing due diligence in this matter; they are always talking about decertification,” he said.
The nearly 200 workers who are still reporting for duty are responsible for maintaining and rehabilitating a few hectares of the tea plantation to prevent overgrowth. They expressed their frustration at the situation. “The problem is that LEDA is not servicing our machines. We are getting paid, but we are doing nothing here. We need LEDA to bring parts and service our machines, so that we can pack tea and save the shop. We are very few since LEDA took over. Now we have a problem because we don’t know if we will continue working. We want the revitalisation of the tea estate, so that more people can be employed,” they said.
The head of communication and marketing at LEDA, Mr Patrick Monkoe, said a task team was busy looking into decertifying the business as tea was no longer considered a viable business. The government agency said it would probably abandon the tea plantation as it cost taxpayers R40-million a year. “We came to realise, after we invested in the tea estate, that this investment is basically not giving us a return, so we decided to create a task team to look into the decertification of the business project, which came to a halt,” he said.
Date:18 November 2023
Kaizer Nengovhela started writing stories for Limpopo Mirror in 2000. Prior to that he had a five year stint at Phala-Phala FM as sports presenter. In 2005 Kaizer received an award from the province's premier as Best Sports Presenter. The same year he was also nominated as Best Sports Reporter by the Makhado Municipality. Kaizer was awarded the Mathatha Tsedu award in 2014.