Remember Zebediela Citrus Estate? Here’s what happened to it:
From 1918 to 1926, more than 565 000 citrus trees were planted on 2 260 ha of this estate’s land. For the twenty five years before the estate was sold to the South African government in 1974, it showed a profit of millions of rands every year. After the sale, Zebediela grew to become “the diamond of agricultural projects”. It was of such great national pride that the Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa wrote in 1978 that “nearly 400 million oranges are harvested each year from the groves of Zebediela, the world’s biggest citrus estate. The output is sufficient to provide one orange for every eight people on earth.
This was written in 2001: Zebediela Citrus Estate, once the largest of its kind in the world with an annual harvest worth R30 million, is in ruins today losing more than R35 million per annum. Taken over by the Agricultural and Rural Development Corporation, its managers were replaced by people who had no farming experience. Half the citrus trees have died and hundreds of employees have been retrenched.
The Lisbon Citrus and Mango Estate, once our largest exporter of mangoes, has met a similar fate. So has the Saringwa Estate in the Lowland which is now R17 million in debt. The Gillemsberg Citrus and Cattle Boerdery, once debt free and producing R14 million per year, has been totally plundered. This once magnificent 25 000 hectare gem is now a huge squatter camp. One of the largest pig farms in the country was also handed over in a ceremony attended by Nelson Mandela himself who claimed that the farm would serve “as a breadbasket of the community”. Today all the pigs are gone and squatters are living in their pens.
Around the country examples abound of the systematic destruction of the last remaining food exporting infrastructure in Africa. As in Zimbabwe, the claim of “racial imbalance” in land ownership is a red herring. With the government owning around 25% of South Africa’s land, there is ample land available for those who want to work it. But that is not being distributed. Instead organised agriculture is being strangled to death by those who seek only to occupy farms and not to continue their productivity.