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Farmworkers left high and dry in BEE fronting saga

Published Nov 17, 2018


One of the biggest fruit and vegetables suppliers in the country is among those accused by farmworkers and pensioners, of swindling them out of shareholding and, by extension, land in the Ceres area.

Aaron Nonkasana, 65, retired from the Dutoit Group a heartbroken man.

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He is one of hundreds of farmworkers, most of whom are uneducated, receiving assistance from the Witzenberg Rural Development Centre in equity schemes that have left them broke, landless and in anguish.

The equity schemes are BEE policies aimed at creating economic equality among the farmworkers and farmers, but some farmers have allegedly used this opportunity to push the farmworkers out of the contracts - after benefitting from the equity schemes - as the government fails to supervise the deals which it facilitates.

“We worked the land thinking we were part-owners of the farm because that’s what the government and the Dutoit group told us. Today we’re without shares or money.

“We held shares for a number of years and were then paid out R30 000 and were told the farm wasn’t making any money,” a visibly emotional Nonkasana, who worked in the vegetable section of the company, said.

“Just look at my house. Do I look like I ever held shares in any company?” He was pointing to his hostel home.

The shares of the workers were terminated in December 2016, farmworkers said.

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The Dutoit Group is among several farm businesses accused of using farmworkers to benefit from the government’s BEE policy, even though the farmworkers allege the company didn’t give the workers a say or allow them to see the financials.

“The government explained shareholding to us, but the government said the firm (Dutoit group) would handle the formalities after the government bought four farms for us,” Nonkasana added.

He is one of the hundreds of shareholders who held shares in the Crispy Farms project.

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Things went south for the “shareholders” when they demanded their dividends. Nonkasana said they were told the land no longer belonged to them. “I still don’t understand that,” he said.

Nonkasana alleged the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform made them sign papers without explaining and never returned to check on the equity scheme.

Department officials - provincial head Juanita Fortuin and acting director-general Rendani Sadiki - did not respond to numerous requests for comment in relation to the allegations against the department, questions over the policy and BEE fronting on farms.

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Pieter du Toit, managing director of the Dutoit Group, rubbished the claims of BEE fronting.

“We do not understand how any existing or former Crispy shareholder can accuse us of swindling them out of shareholding.

“The process where Crispy Investments made an offer to all its shareholders to buy back shares was a fair, open and voluntary process guided by stipulations of the Companies Act involving intense communication efforts to allow for informed decision-making,” he said.

Naomi Betana, Witzenberg Rural Development Centre paralegal, assists hundreds of farmworkers who have been duped by Boland farmers.

She said farmers refuse to open the books for the farmworkers; tell them the farms aren’t doing well and offer a few thousand rands to buy them out.

Weekend Argus

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