JOHANNESBURG Stock Exchange-listed Tongaat Hulett's Zimbabwe operation Triangle (Pvt) Ltd is embroiled in a row with sugarcane out-growers over non-payment of delivered sugarcane worth millions of dollars.
Close to 600 outgrowers supplied hundreds of tonnes of sugar cane to Tongaat Hulett late last year but they have not received any payment, with the company claiming the money covered milling process costs.
Last year, the company reported that 611 indigenous private cane growers, farming 11 138 hectares and employing 5 569 people supplied 772 000 tonnes of cane generating close to US$50 million in revenue. However, sources at Triangle said the majority of farmers who delivered the sugar cane were not paid leaving thousands of farm employees stranded during the festive season.
"I delivered 23 tonnes of sugar cane expecting to be paid US$15 000 after deductions of milling costs," said one disgruntled farmer who requested anonymity. "I was shocked that the company did not disburse my payments and when I approached the officials they said all the money was spent on the milling costs because sugar prices had depreciated."
The farmer said the non-payments also affected his 22 employees who had worked throughout the year without wages.
Zimbabwe sugar milling industry workers union secretary-general Admore Hwarare took a swipe at Triangle saying the company is bent on destroying the lives of the new farmers.
"We are in a state of shock because Tongaat Hulett wants to gain at the expense of farmers," Hwarare said.
"Normally farmers only get 85% payment of their deliveries and then the other 15% at the end of the year but nothing has been disbursed," he said.
"As an association we have filed papers to the courts with our lawyers so that this company can pay the farmers."
Repeated efforts to contact the Tongaat Hulett's public relations manager Adelaide Chikunguru failed as her cell phone kept on ringing without being answered throughout the week, while an SMS message was not responded to.
Triangle managing director Sydney Mtsambiwa refused to comment referring all the questions to Chikunguru whose mobile number he supplied, but when told it was not being answered he said "keep trying".
"The only person who can respond to all your questions is our public relations manager Chikunguru," Mtsambiwa said.
Sources blamed Mtsambiwa for the non-payment of farmers.
"There is too much politics in this company because Mtsambiwa sits on the pricing board, he owns a farm and he is the director of the company," a source said.
"Farmers have nowhere to complain because there are a lot of politicians involved in this company. Our patron is vice president Joice Mujuru but we have no access to her."
The out-growers believe some Zanu PF officials are trying to push them out of the farms.
"Last year we fought running battles with close to 200 Zanu PF supporters with offer letters for sugarcane plots," said another farmer.