Questions have been raised following a mysterious fire that destroyed a Limpopo warehouse at what was formerly the largest citrus producer in the southern hemisphere.
To the horror of beneficiaries, the fire broke out at the Zebediela Citrus Farm southeast of Polokwane in the early hours of Sunday morning.
According to reliable sources who spoke to Sunday World on condition of anonymity, the citrus estate’s junior partners, Humansdorp Co-Operative, and the majority stakeholder, Bjatladi Communal Property Association (BCPA), recently agreed to voluntarily liquidate the business in order to expedite the possible sale of its assets following the appointment of a liquidator.
The sources said the fire broke out five months after the company entered liquidation for failing to pay off more than R170 million in debts, a process that was anticipated to be completed by the end of August.
One insider said there were “people who wanted to destroy the assets because they were upset about the company’s liquidation.”
The sources added that the company has been in business rescue since 2016, and numerous shareholders have made futile attempts to preserve it. Eight Mile, a Russian firm, was among the investors who attempted to rescue the business, investing R100 million into the company in 2017.
The Chairperson of the Save Zebediela Citrus Estate Committee, Ike Kekana, has challenged the police to demand answers from the three security firms hired to secure the assets following the recent theft of computers and the vandalism of steel from the hostel.
“This is unacceptable because these assets were going to be useful in one way or another. Two cases concerning the first incidents were opened with the police, and this one will also be reported. Only the police investigations will reveal what exactly is happening.
“What surprises me is the fact that the building that was recently burned to the ground had not been in use since 2018. And there was nothing inside. The only thing I know is that people were vandalising the building by removing the steel and other materials that were used in the construction of the structure,” Kekana said.
When Kekana was asked if he thought the fire was intentional, he questioned the timing of the incident, but warned against jumping to any conclusions.
“Please, hear me correctly; I am not saying this is linked to the firm’s liquidation, but the coincidence is surprising. This liquidation is the final nail in the coffin for us as beneficiaries and members; however, we will fight until we see justice done to the beneficiaries,” said Kekana.
Jacqueline Malisela, head of the provincial department of agriculture and land reform, said, “We have been trying to facilitate harmony between BCPA and the workers as well as the conflict between BCPA and the Save Zebediela Citrus Estate concerned group. The department estimates R465 million will be needed to redevelop the estate.”
Limpopo police spokesperson Colonel Malisela Ledwaba has not yet answered a series of media questions sent to him via WhatsApp