Khulu Ngobese has been working on Westcliffe farm in Umshwathi, near Greytown, for more than 20 years. In August, he became a beneficiary of a workers’ trust that will eventually own 50% of the farming business.

“It is unbelievable. It is like a dream … When our boss mentioned it, we did not believe him,” said Ngobese. “This is a story with a good ending. It will be a good story to tell my grandchildren: that I was a farm worker who ended up owning a farm.”

Twenty-four farm workers are now beneficiaries of a farming scheme supported by farm owner, Andrew Braithwaite, and a state programme known as the 50/50 Policy Framework. The programme was introduced with the aim of workers and owners becoming co-owners of farms.

Under the scheme, the Westcliffe employees now have a 45% share in the farm-operating company through a trust. The land belongs to the State, which bought it from Braithwaite. A 5% share in the company and in the profits will go to the National Empowerment Fund (NEF), an institute set up to support Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment. Its role will be to monitor the deal. The new owners will receive training so that they learn what’s involved in running the business side of the farm.

The new operation, which produces sugarcane, timber and cabbages, is called Ekhamanzi.

At the launch of the project on 9 August 2016, Braithwaite explained the structure: The state buys and holds the land, and leases it back to Ekhamanzi Farming, which is owned jointly by the farmer and a trust, of which the workers are beneficiaries. The farmer owns 50%, the trust 45% and the NEF 5%. The farmer and the trust put in equal capital to fund the project and the trust’s portion is funded as a grant. In addition, money is provided by the NEF in the form of a loan to help the business develop.

“The idea is a sound and growing business, where all involved share the benefit.”

“These projects are a breakthrough, and offer a constructive way forward to those who see themselves being involved,” Braithwaite said. “This model provides a win–win–win for land reform, farmer and farm worker, in fact for the country as a whole.”

In his budget speech in 2015, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti, said 50 farms would be part of the 50/50 Policy Framework pilot project by 2019. Nkwinti sees this policy as a way to reduce farm evictions.

One of the workers, Robert Ntuli, said he only understood the story when he was told for the third time. “I did not believe it. It sounded like a fairytale to me. I thought my boss was going crazy. We took ourselves as workers, not as owners. We are now farmers. Our children will have a better future. No one will go to bed hungry and poverty is something far away from us.”

“This doesn’t mean that we will change. We won’t be coming to work late just because we are owners. We will work hard to show the world that the idea was not wrong. We are happy to be part of this historical venture,” said Ntuli.


This article was first published by GroundUp. You can read the original here: 

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