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Tea estate turns over new leaf

Written by Odas Ngobeni
More than 500 jobs will be created for the community of Greater Tzaneen, Limpopo, following plans to revive the Sapekoe Tea Estate. This number could more than double during harvesting.

The revival of the Sapekoe Tea Estate near Tzaneen will create about 2 000 jobs for local communities.The estate, which is located in the scenic Magoebaskloof area, closed down in 2004 when foreign investors abandoned it, leaving more than 2 000 workers jobless.

Community trust

The Makgoba Community Trust successfully claimed the restitution of rights on the Middelkop and Grenshoek Estates, better known as Sapekoe Tea Estate. Situated about 15 kilometres from Tzaneen, it consists of 501 hectares at Middelkop and 498 at Grenshoek Estate.

The province's Department of Agriculture has taken over as caretakers of the estate and made funding available through the Limpopo Agribusiness Development Corporation. R15 million was set aside during the 2010/11 financial year, and a further R9 million this year.

Engine of growth

Limpopo MEC for Agriculture Dipuo Letsatsi- Duba promised last year that the department would work with the community to restore the estate as an engine of economic growth through the creation of about 2 000 jobs.

She said the department would ensure that the Makgoba community would be offered jobs, as well as opportunities to establish small businesses arising from revitalisation and maintenance program.

Lasting income

The department has appointed the Greater Tzaneen Economic Development Agency to develop a business plan.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Agency Kwena Maphoto said the project aimed to "generate lasting income, create jobs, and facilitate economic growth and capital investment that will address the problems of poverty and low intake of labour force into the economy."

The revitalisation program will be based on what was done at the Tshivhase Tea Estate, which has already created over 2 500 jobs. "Midi" tea brand is now found on the shelves of major retail stores throughout the country.

An experienced team was sent from Tshivhase to assist and transfer skills to the community of Makgoba. The team led by Francis Mnisi, who is managing the project, will transfer skills to four members of the Makgoba Community Trust who are being trained as managers.

Harvesting new skills

Hope Masetla (24) a trainee manager at the Sapekoe Tea Estate, said the experience gained so far from working on the revitalisation project had been invaluable.

Hope graduated last year with a degree in Agriculture: Plant Production from the University of Limpopo. Her father was a headman on the estate, and Hope is from the Makgoba royal family

Much-needed jobs

"We grew up knowing Sapekoe as a major employer, so the closing down of the estate was a big blow to this community. Many people lost their jobs," she said.

She added that they were therefore very excited to be involved in rebuilding the estate to its former glory of 40 years ago, which will bring much-needed jobs to the area.

"We have already learned a lot of relevant skills like how to do correct pruning, but we still have much to learn, including plucking," she said.

Supporting her family

Freda Thogwe, a 42-year-old field worker at the estate, says the project has helped her to provide for her three children. "I have been idling at home since the estate closed down in 2004. I'm so happy to be back working and being able to support my children."

For more information, call the Limpopo Department of Agriculture 015 294 3000.