MUKURUKURU MEDIA: LIMPOPO
Plans underway to sweeten the legendary Zebediela Citrus Estate
Once it was reputed to be the biggest citrus farm in the southern hemisphere, but it’s now on the brink of collapse. Lucas Ledwaba captured the Zebediela Citrus Estate’s dilapidated state in pictures as efforts are underway to restore its shine.
In another time the name Zebediela would have drawn an animated response from those who knew the place.
Then, the Zebediela Citrus Estate, near the village of the same name in Limpopo, was reputed to be the largest citrus farm in the southern hemisphere.
As the moniker dinamuneng attests, the estate was the largest producer of dinamune (oranges in Northern Sotho) in the country and the pride of the nearby community.
But today the estate is a shadow of its former self and has been for years. However, efforts are being made to return it to its former glory, with a search for an investment injection of R465-million.
In 2003, the estate was transferred to a community-owned enterprise after the land was restored back to 21 communities through the government’s land restitution programme.
It has since been under the ownership and management of the Bjatladi Communal Property Association on behalf of the claimant communities.
In its prime the estate boasted more than 3,000 hectares of planted citrus. But over the years it has fallen on hard times as a result of a lack of investment, failed joint ventures and alleged mismanagement, which resulted in unpaid electricity bills, late payment of workers and a drastic cut in labour and production.
A status report on the estate by Limpopo’s agriculture and rural development department notes “limited investment” in the farm over the past 30 years. More than 80% of the orchards on the estate are older than 30 years, it said, while the packhouse dates back 50 years and uses a rope-and-roller sorting system with manual classification.
“The dual challenge of low yields from old trees and inefficient sorting and classification from an outdated packhouse is exacerbated by ageing infrastructure and irrigation systems.”
The department estimates R465-million in capital will be needed to redevelop the estate. This “requires private investment and partnerships since the government alone cannot afford it, even in the medium to long term. The outcome of the revitalisation programme would be an estate with 734ha of citrus, a modern-technology packhouse, efficient electricity infrastructure and a sustainable water source.”
The department said various funding options have been explored to implement the business plan, including a submission to the Presidency Infrastructure Programme. The department was also engaging with the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) to help with the revitalisation.
It was envisaged that, through partnership funding from the government, the IDC and private investors, the estate would be “recapitalised and operated in a financially sustainable manner”.
On Tuesday, 15 December, a team from the Presidency toured the estate as part of a fact-finding mission to save the farm. While the farm is still in operation, albeit on a smaller scale, the tour exposed the sad reality that it is fighting for survival.
The infrastructure from irrigation pipes and dams, the packing, sorting and storage houses, workers’ compounds and some orchards, are old and rotten. The few remaining workers have an air of despair.
The department said it had initially set aside R10-million to upgrade water sources and electricity distribution, but the money had been used to address the Covid-19 pandemic, as directed.
If the plans eventually bear fruit the Zebediela Citrus Estate could well reclaim its glory as the capital of dinamuneng! DM/MC