Cedric Mboyisa and Khetha Nzimande

Above: Robert Ntuli, standing left, Chairman of Ekhamazi Trust with fellow co-owners. 

" We are now farmers! "

These are the words of Robert Ntuli, Chairman of Ekhamazi Trust, which holds workers’ share. “We are very happy about this development. We have made history. We are proud to be co-owners of this (sugarcane, cabbage and timber) farm. We hope we are going to be able to benefit our people and neighbouring communities,” said Ntuli, who has been working on the farm since 1988. He and fellow farmworkers have become co-owners of the operating company, Ekhamazi Farming, through a pioneering pilot project focusing on strengthening the relative rights of farm dwellers. This project was a first of its kind and has been so successful that it is poised to be rolled out throughout the country.

50/50 Pilot Project Programme

Aptly called the 50/50 Pilot Project Programme, the launch saw Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti, and Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Themba Mthembu under one roof joining the jubilant farmworkers-cum-owners. President Jacob Zuma was scheduled to be the main speaker but had to cancel his trip at the eleventh hour due to inclement weather conditions. The farm owner Andrew Braithwaite was also present and he received kudos from the ministers for his cooperation and advancing the agenda of empowering the workers.

New approach

“KwaZulu-Natal is indeed fortunate to have one of the first pilot projects where farmworkers become co-owners of the farming enterprise that they have helped to build and grow. This is a demonstration of Policy in action. It is also historical because it addresses that demand made by farm workers more than 60 years ago in the Freedom Charter – that the land will be shared amongst those who work on it,” said MEC Mthembu.

Braithwaite said everyone involved in the project emerged as winners. “Today is an historic day for me. It is the day that sees the launch of a new approach to land reform in SA, one that are am proud to be part of. I want to prove that co-owned farming businesses can work and that this business can be grown as any other business can be. Successful agriculture, once it has passed the subsistence and small co-operative level, is a matter of scale if one wants to produce food locally in South Africa that is price competitive with world food prices. I see my farmworkers and everybody as my fellow human beings. I want to see them realise their own dreams, educate their children, and enjoy a reasonable life,” he added.

Above: Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti speaking with farm owner Andrew Braithwaite.

Strengthening of Relative Rights Pilot Programme was initiated in October last year in the Noodsberg area on Westcliffe farm owned by Braithwaite. The initiative came about as the result of local growers and the sugar industry engaging in land reform discussions in an attempt to find a way forward. Braithwaite took the opportunity to participate in the land reform project, and put forward a model which has now been accepted by the DRDLR as a national baseline model for all 50/50 projects going forward. The Department of Rural Development and Land reform has to date approved 14 projects on this programme, and Westcliffe was chosen as the national launching site of this pilot programme.

A total of 48 workers and farm dwellers are benefiting from the project and all of these employees are those that have worked on the farm for more than 10 years. This number is set to increase as more employees reach the 10-year working service threshold, provided jobs are available in the entity.

Project structure

The National Empowerment Fund (NEF) assessed the viability of the project and engaged with the landowner on how to structure the project within the confines of the mandate given, as well as current law. The essential elements are as follows:

  • The State has purchased the property and will  lease it to a newly formed 50/50 entity called Ekhamanzi Farming, the lease being for an effective 50 years (30 years, renewable for 20)
  • Ekhamanzi Farming is 50% owned by Westcliffe Farming , 45% owned by the newly formed Ekhamanzi Workers’ Trust and 5% owned by the NEF (National Empowerment Fund) who will stay involved until the company has established itself and paid back loans to the NEF
  •  Both Westcliffe and the Workers Trust (through a grant) contribute to the working capital requirements of the newly formed operating entity
  • The Ekhamanzi Workers’ Trust will ultimately have about 50 people in the Trust, all of whom have 10 years of prior service in Westcliffe Farming
  • 45% of profits will be paid out to the Ekhamanzi Workers’ Trust to be distributed to the beneficiaries annually
  • The business will be expanded through intensification and further acquisition of land.