Cape Town - The destruction of a fruit packing warehouse will cost hundreds of farmworkers their jobs.

This has been confirmed by Jan le Roux, owner of Sandrivier farm outside Wellington, after the blaze on Tuesday night.

The shed was a hi-tech fruit processing plant, complete with sophisticated sorting machines and equipment, all of which was destroyed.

Le Roux said the shed had been guarded by officers and dogs, but several fires had been lit on the farm which might at some point have distracted the guards. The shed was then torched. It burnt to the ground.

Assessors had yet to finalise their report, so the precise extent of the damage was not known, Le Roux said.

He suspected that the shed would take at least six months to rebuild and hundreds of workers would be unemployed until then.

“It’s terribly sad, because this farm was started as a job-creation exercise, after I had long discussions with (then water affairs and forestry minister) Kader Asmal,” he said.

“The farm was bought in 1995 and the shed was built in 2003. Whoever caused this fire has caused damage to the people who benefited from this project. It’s a great pity that people will do this to other people.”

The looming harvest of plums would have to be processed elsewhere.

Le Roux refused to speculate on who might have been behind the arson attack.

The site was visited on Wednesday by Agriculture MEC Gerrit van Rensburg, who said in a statement: “The damage to our economy and future job creation is huge.

“The Western Cape government will not tolerate his type of behaviour and condemns it in the strongest possible manner.

“We will work very closely with the police to see that the responsible individuals are brought to book. We will also see to it that the organisations they are affiliated with bear their equal responsibility in this regard.”

Cape Argus