Production has come to a standstill at the Emmanuel Haven Farm, funded by public and private sector money, in Motherwell, Port Elizabeth. After not being paid since May, workers went on strike two months ago on 1 September.
This is not the first time the farm has been in trouble. It ceased operations in 2012 and resumed in 2015.
The farm was established in 2005 as a not-for-profit farming project aimed at improving the health of poor communities in Port Elizabeth. Vegetables were grown and sold to local communities and supermarkets. In 2016, the Rural Development and Agrarian Reform MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane Awards for Women Farmers gave it a R50,000 prize.
The farm has two one-hectare greenhouse tunnels, two large water pumps and artificial water tanks.The farm also has two lorries, a tractor and eleven large shipping containers. They lie unused.
Dr Mamisa Chabula-Nxiweni, who owns the farm, admitted she is currently unable to pay her workers. She said she was expecting a VAT return with which to pay the workers.
"The project has had a bad spell. It was vandalised a couple of years ago and we restarted in 2015. Unfortunately, this season our crops were destroyed by whitefly insects making it difficult," said Chabula-Nxiweni. She said she had explained all this to the workers.
"All the money we got was accounted for. We got donations from the the Mining Forum. We held meetings every Monday with the Mining Forum, myself and the manager representing the workers. We did not keep the money ourselves, but it was kept by a third party [the attorneys for the Mining Forum], who would only pay us after presenting valid vouchers. So no mismanagement of the funds happened," she said.
PPC Cement representative Kobie Botha said PPC, as a member of the Mining Forum, contributed to a Social Labour Plan, regulated by the Department of Mineral Resources, that funded projects including Emmanuel Haven Farm. "We have since exited the Emmanuel Haven Farm project. We are dealing with new projects now."
The farm's 16 employees are all on strike. Nomfundo Peter, one of the longest serving employees, and a mother of four, said she was last paid in May. She earned R1,395 a fortnight.
"We [workers] invested a lot of time and skills to restart this project after it failed again in 2012 under mysterious circumstances. We were unemployed until 2015 when the project restarted only to fail again in May 2017," she said.
Another employee, Nosicelo Mathala, said, "We are tired of being kicked like a ball by the owner ... We have the knowledge and experienced honed after all these years at this farm."
"I don't have any intention to lose these workers, because they are highly experienced and hard workers. They have a lot of professional knowledge after working on this farm for many years," said Chabula-Nxiweni.