Farm shares scheme row
Workers who left company unhappy they no longer benefit
In just over a decade two farming trusts in Patensie and Addo have paid out dividends of more than R7m to farmworkers.
The Endulini Development Trust and the Sundays River Development Trust were started by the Ferreira family, who have been farming in the Gamtoos Valley and Sundays River Valley for more than 60 years.
About 10 years ago, they were among the farmers who took the government up on its land reform programme which saw the state give money to farmworkers for them to buy shares in the business.
Pietie Ferreira, who is the CEO of Endulini – the umbrella company overseeing the two trusts – said the trusts had been developed to empower their staff and also reward those who had been loyal to the company.
The farms were acquired under the name of two companies – Galactic Deals and Endulini Sundays River Fruit – where the two employee trusts hold minority shares – 49% of the Endulini Development Trust and 41% of the Sundays River Development Trust.
Endulini started the project to empower its workers financially, saying it wanted a success story. It also saw it as a way of sharing the wealth and creating wealth for the farmworkers’ families.
Profits are distributed to shareholders by way of dividends annually.
The trustees of the two trusts are six people – four from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, Ferreira and an auditor.
Speaking on behalf of Endulini, attorney Jacobus Schoeman said the success of the project was due to the fact that trustees and beneficiaries made sure there were funds available for development and to first pay off loans before the company could declare dividends.
The loans were to develop infrastructure on the farms.
“It was an agreed policy that the establishment loans be settled and the companies be on a sound and profitable position before dividends are declared,” Schoeman said.
“So, first get your company on a good footing, pay your debts, and then declare.”
Endulini employs more than 600 permanent staff members and 1,350 seasonal workers annually.
Though the trusts have dished out millions of rands to beneficiaries over the years, not everyone is happy.
Former beneficiaries have lashed out at the Ferreira family, saying they are still entitled to dividends, which they are not receiving.
This is after some were either fired from the farms or resigned, which according to the trustees’ policy automatically kicks them out as beneficiaries.
Regional land reform director Nomfundo Mbewana criticised the trustees’ policy that states a person would cease to be a beneficiary and would not receive dividends if the person was dismissed as an employee of Endulini.
“If you are fired you’re no longer a beneficiary.
“These people used the grants they received from us to buy shares in the farms.
“Being a beneficiary should not depend on being employed at the farm,” Mbewana said.
Members of the Kouga Farm Workers Union said they had been sidelined from the companies and that Endulini refused to pay them dividends.
Buyelwa Kota said that two years after she started working at Endulini she had been told they would become shareholders in the farm but that it would be five years until they received their dividends.
Kota said she had signed papers without knowing what they meant and in the time she had been a beneficiary, she had only received dividends once.
“Around 2009, I received an amount of R2,000 and I didn’t get it because in those five years we’ve been apparently paying off this loan we took.
“I worked very hard in order to receive just that money,” Kota said.
She said life was hard since leaving the farm as she had to take care of her mother, her two children, her sick sister and her sister’s two children.
“I was evicted from the farm and when I inquired [about] what happens to my shares I was told I was no longer a shareholder,” Kota said.
Former Endulini employee Abey James said he had been working on the farm for four years when Ferreira told them “he would make our day by making us shareholders”.
“No-one ever received anything and then treatment at the farm changed for the worst for us and now we’re unemployed and no longer beneficiaries,” James said.
But Schoeman labelled the allegations as false and defamatory, saying there was a concerted effort and “vicious” campaign against the Ferreira family and Endulini.
“There was nothing sinister in these transactions and it was done under the control and auspices of the department [of land reform],” Schoeman said.
“The transactions were above board, transparent, properly documented and can be verified.”
Schoeman added that Kota and James were no longer beneficiaries because they were “bad leavers” – they were either fired or had resigned – a clause clearly outlined in the trust agreement.
Mbewana confirmed that the land reform department helped the beneficiaries to buy shares in the farms through the equity share scheme.
She said the department assisted farmers through the Land Redistribution for Agricultural Development (LRAD) programme.