A youth-led farming enterprise known as Tlhapi Zizi says their dream of growing from up-and-coming to commercial-scale farmers now hang in the balance. This is due to government’s dispute with pig farmer Ivan Cloete over Colenso, a West Coast farm.
Earlier this month, Cloete, a land reform beneficiary, was given seven days’ notice to leave the Colenso state farm after it was allegedly re-assigned to a MK veteran.
This has led to a heated public debate with deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Mcebisi Skwatsha admitting that the 56-year-old Cloete was not treated fairly.
Now, in an exclusive interview with Food For Mzansi, the new beneficiaries say they are caught up in a dilemma that they certainly didn’t see coming.
To their knowledge, they are the legal and soon-to-be only occupants of Colenso. Contrary to public perception, they say they are also agriculturists at heart.
Tlhapi Zizi’s chief operating officer, Pholoso Malatji, and his partners reject allegations of political affiliation and “underhanded dealings” brought forward by the DA’s shadow minister for agriculture, Annette Steyn.
“This is very disturbing to us; to be faced with meddling from politicians and government. That is not our interest at all. We want access to the farm so that we can start working the land,” the 34-year-old Malatji says.
“The government procedure which we followed is open for scrutiny because it was clean, clear and to the point. We did not entertain any underhanded or any irregular processes through our application.
“Our team is comprised of experienced professionals in various fields, including animal sciences, which was a requirement.”
Cloete’s removal from the Colenso farm in Darling, about 80km from Cape Town, was debated widely since he first shared the news with Food For Mzansi.
Last week, it was even debated in parliament after DA leader John Steenhuisen questioned President Cyril Ramaphosa about it.
“I am very emotional,” Cloete told us.
”I am a farmer. They (the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development) placed me there. It is not like I came here and invaded this property. The department placed me here. I don’t know anymore.”
In the last decade as a beneficiary of government’s proactive land acquisition strategy (PLAS), Cloete faced many uphill battles. Colenso – an 870-hectare mixed farming enterprise – would be the third farm he is being kicked off.
His Colenso state lease include 1 200 sheep, a piggery unit with capacity for more than 300 sows, and over 400-hectares of arable land.
A department under fire
While Skwatsha conceded that officials may have flouted a 30-year lease agreement with Cloete, Steyn also questions government’s integrity. She revealed that Cloete was being replaced by a group of “ANC-linked MK veterans” operating under the banner of Tlhapi Zizi.
According to Malatji the entity was registered in 2020 and it is comprised of a majority youth and black women.
Food For Mzansi has independently verified that Tlhapi Zizi’s registered directors are Lesedi Baisitse (55) and Mziwamadoda Kalako (65). Its registered non-executive directors are Pholoso Malatji (34), Phemelo Malatji (37), Roger Paulus (36), Bakang Monegi (27) and Kauthar Woodman (35).
Tlhapi Zizi directors who face public scrutiny include businessmen Baisitse and Kalako, a former ANC member of parliament who ended his political career in 2014.
Steyn however speculates that this could have “played a role in influencing the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development’s decision to evict Cloete from the Colenso farm.”
Steyn, and other media reports, also suggested the Tlhapi Zizi directors were already individually successful farmers in the Western Cape.
Malatji tells Food For Mzansi when applications for Colenso opened in July 2020, Kalako had already served his 12-month recusal period as a parliamentarian.
Kalako was approached by them based on his status as an uMkhonto we Sizwe veteran, which boosted their application in terms of the requirements set by government.
Baisitse (55) is a director and owner of a minority stake in Piketberg Sunrise Farms. Malatji is co-founder and head of operations for Africa For Cannsun Medicinals, an Atlantis-based farming operation wholly owned by Cannsun Medhel Group PLC registered in Dublin, Ireland.
“They jumped the gun,” insists Malatji. “It was apparent that the claims made by the DA and allied parties were ill-informed – obviously because they received short-sighted information.”
While the Tlhapi Zizi directors have at least 20 years’ joint farming experience, Colenso would be their first time farming as individuals separated from their respective businesses.
“We saw it fit to approach Mr Kalako as a military veteran because that was one of the criteria on the application, and he consented to that,” says Malatji.
“We did follow-ups on the process and until recently, on 31 January 2021, the department invited us to come to the farm so that (Cloete could) hand over the keys.”
Interim farm caretaker
Malatji also disputes reports that Cloete had “productively farmed” on Colenso. For the past year, he says government had, in fact, assigned André Kirsten, a commercial farmer with over 20 years’ experience, as the interim caretaker of Colenso.
According to Malatji, Kirsten has been farming grains productively, commercially producing lupin, lucerne and oats while overseeing the state investment.
“Mr Cloete has misled a lot of people. He has misled the media. He has even misled political commentators. He has even posted videos with machinery he has never used. Even with the feed that he posted, it belongs to Kirsten. He has never produced grains on that farm.”
However, when officials visited the farm on 1 February, not only did they serve Cloete with an eviction notice, they also terminated Kirsten’s contract as caretaker.
Kirsten confirms this to Food For Mzansi. He explains that he and Cloete had entered a joint venture during their time on the farm. He had farmed grains commercially while Cloete took care of the livestock, including government’s sheep flock.
“They put me off the farm the same day they evicted Mr Cloete. We had a type of a joint venture where I had provided feed and everything for him and he was in control of the sheep farm,” says Kirsten.
However, he dismisses Tlhapi Zizi’s allegations that the Colenso farm was not used productively. Kirsten says, “How can they say he (Cloete) was not productive while they were not on the farm?”
Cloete meanwhile confirms to Food For Mzansi that he will fight his eviction from Colenso in the courts.
He says, “They (Tlhapi Zizi) are not the new owners. They think they are the new owners. They are the unlawful owners. We are taking this matter to court. They are not the new owners until this matter is resolved.”
An emotional Cloete adds, “What they are trying to do is take my bread and my family’s bread out of our mouths. That is what the department is doing. This is my income.”
New season approaching
Malatji and his partners are concerned that Cloete’s refusal to evacuate Colenso might compromise their own operations, as grain-growing season is expected to start in April. “We do not want to lose the productive period. The process between government and Mr Cloete is none of our concern.”
Furthermore, Malatji notes that Cloete is the legal holder of a 30-year lease agreement on his previous farm in Porterville. His stay on Colenso, he believes, was therefore merely temporary – a statement corroborated by Skwatsha.
“We don’t want to be meddled up in issues between the department and Mr Cloete. That is for them to handle. We have rightfully applied and been allocated the lease to Colenso,” says Malatji.
“We have the adequate capacity to operate the farm to its full potential. We have the financial capacity. We have the skillset. We have the experience and know who to approach in the market for us to be able to trade.”