Emerging black sugar cane farmers caught up in Tongaat Hulett corporate debacle seek life outside old network of industry

Hippo Valley and Triangle Sugar are Tongaat Hulett units that supply Zimbabwe and the EU with sugar. Picture: Supplied

Hippo Valley and Triangle Sugar are Tongaat Hulett units that supply Zimbabwe and the EU with sugar. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 9, 2022


Durban – Even though most emerging sugar cane farmers in northern KwaZulu-Natal were able to negotiate a temporary way out of the Tongaat Hulett debacle, they are still looking for life outside the old network of the industry.

The sugar farmers who are mainly found in rural areas around Eshowe, Melmoth and Jozini in the north of the province were caught off guard when Tongaat Hulett was placed under business rescue following the fraud that deprived it of billions.

Under the banner of the South African Farmers Development Association (SAFDA), the umbrella organisation of 20 000 emerging sugar cane farmers, they were able to ask the business rescue practitioners (BRP) to deviate from established practices and pay them first.

The chief operating officer of SAFDA, Thandokwakhe Sibiya, told IOL that 14 000 of their members who had delivered their harvest were paid first.

“We pleaded with the business rescue practitioners to have small black farmers paid first as they couldn’t afford to go without being paid for a long time.

“So, all of our members who were active this season have been paid what was due to them after that intervention,” Sibiya said.

A few years ago, SAFDA broke away from the SA Cane Growers Association which is dominated by established commercial sugar cane farmers.

Their aim was to prioritise the development of small farmers who were still new in the industry and struggling to find their feet.

On Thursday the SA Cane Growers Association announced that it has also reached a deal with the BRP to have the members paid and sugar crushing in three mills resumed.

On the side of SAFDA, Sibiya said on top of having been paid, they have proposed that the crushing season (harvesting) which normally ends in November or the first week of December, be briefly extended.

“‘We have asked that this crushing season be extended by at least three weeks in December after the recent challenges.

“The extension by three weeks will allow emerging farmers to deliver their harvest. Unlike the big farmers, they cannot afford a rollover,” Sibiya said.

Sibiya revealed that they were looking at establishing three sugar mills in northern and southern KwaZulu-Natal to specifically cater for emerging farmers.

He said they had already done some spade work and the first mill would be in Jozini (Makhathini flats) and the others would be in Ntumeni (Eshowe) and Stanger.

They are also looking at a later stage, establishing another one around Port Shepstone on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast.

He added that the need for these new sugar mills had even been made urgent by the recent closure of sugar mills at Darnall (near Stanger) and the one at Umzimkhulu.

As a result of this closure, he said 2 million of tons of sugar cane couldn’t be harvested and taken for the process by the mills.

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