Durban - The Department of Agriculture is planning to invest millions of rand to revive the struggling Ntingwe Tea Estate in Nkandla.
Over the next five years, according to a report tabled recently before members of the Agriculture Portfolio Committee, the department will invest about R57.1 million to make the entity profitable.
About R12.7m will be invested in this financial year.
However, the plan has been criticised by the DA, who say the project is a “financial nightmare”.
Ntingwe Tea project is jointly owned by the Department of Agriculture, which owns about 62%, and the Ithala Development Finance Corporation, which owns around 38%.
A report on the project said it had about 400 hectares of clonal tea and could produce high quality black and green tea.
It employs 74 permanent staff and around 282 seasonal workers. By the end of the five years, the estate should employ around 400 workers, according to the report.
It said the objective of the project was to facilitate socio-economic development in the area, and the creation of job opportunities.
“Unfortunately, the South African tea production industry has been in terminal decline since 2004 due to high production cost and global competition.”
According to the report, the department and its partners had already spent millions on the project.
Since its inception, the government has spent around R135 million on the estate.
In 2004, it spent about R40m to resuscitate the estate after it was vandalised, and the following year it spent around R17m to purchase a Green Tea pilot factory. In 2011, it paid a R1.1m grant for fertiliser, and the government provides R4.5m in wage subsidies annually.
The report said the aim of the project was to make the entity profitable and transform it to an agri village that would expand tea production to the rest of Nkandla, together with other commodities such as avocados and citrus fruits.
However, DA MP Sizwe Mchunu, who sits on the agricultural committee, said: “Since the government took over the project, it (the project) has never been profitable and has never met any of its objectives.
“Every MEC and head of department who comes to the department always has turnaround plans, and that has never worked.
“One of the proposals being made is to give a portion of the land to people; they are setting those people up for failure because what are you supposed to do with a failed project?” asked Mchunu.
IFP member Nhlanhla Msimango said they supported the attempts to breathe new life into the project.
“That project is in the rural areas and it’s the only source of income for some people in Nkandla.”