Sugar industry players at loggerheads over transformation funding

The SA Sugar Association says over the past five years as part of a five-year transformation plan, it has spent R1.12 billion on transformation interventions/initiatives, especially for the benefit of black small-scale growers. Photo: BONGANI MBATHA/Independent Newspapers

Sugar industry players in South Africa are at loggerheads over millions of rand in transformation funding, with allegations of fronting and racism against black small-scale growers being made

This comes after the SA Farmers Development Association (Safda) on Sunday accused the SA Canegrowers of “fronting”, and “condemned” what it called “disturbing anti-transformation tendencies”.

Safda executive chairman Dr Siyabonga Madlala said black farmers had left the SA Canegrowers at the end of 2015 to form Safda because of the “oppressive colonial legacy”.

Madlala said black farmers were not going to allow SA Canegrowers to have a say in their affairs and dictate terms on the funding that was introduced through their activism for the benefit of black farmers.

“It is disappointing that after a long journey of changing the laws of this industry to accommodate black small-scale farmers, introducing transformation-funding interventions to help sustain black small-scale farmers, and celebrating such strides as being progressive that the SA Canegrowers is showing its colonial colours once more by adopting disturbing tendencies of which is to block transformation funding meant to benefit black small-scale farmers,” Madlala said.

“They are also involved in abhorrent fronting by using black faces to whitewash an organisation that in its core nature and character does not believe in black people, resists their support but wants to bluff the public by wanting to be seen to be transformed and progressive.

“We are going to vigorously resist these tendencies and expose them for what they are. There will be a display of this resistance across the sugarcane belt to send a strong message once more,” he said.

The South African Sugar Association (Sasa), a statutory body duly empowered and mandated to represent the sugar industry, yesterday said it has spent R1.12 billion on transformation interventions/initiatives, especially for the benefit of black small-scale growers (SSGs) over the past five years.

Sasa said its five-year transformation plan which ended in the 2023/2024 season has been extended to 2024/2025, with an allocation of R238.9 million.

In addition, Sasa said a minimum of R60m of premium price payment (PPP) to SSGs was allocated as part of the Industry Master Plan for a period of three seasons (2021/2022 to 2023/2024), escalating annually to R68m in the 2023/2024 season.

As the 2023/2024 season was the last year of the PPP, the Sasa Council in March approved the extension of the PPP to 2024/2025 with an inflationary adjustment, meaning the allocation for this season is R72.5m.

Sasa’s independent chairperson advocate Fay Mukaddam said they were aware of the issue between Safda and the SA Canegrowers, and the matter was being dealt with on an urgent basis.

Mukaddam said Sasa was currently driving the “Reimagined Cane Industry Strategy”, which features diversification and transformation as the main pillars to ensure sustainability of the industry.

“We are going to be leveraging Phase 2 of the Industry Master Plan to achieve the objectives of the ‘Reimagined Cane Industry Strategy’. As Sasa, we remain fully committed to advancing meaningful transformation and sustainability throughout the value chain,” Mukaddam said.

“I would like to call on all industry leaders to join hands and work together towards a common future – we must put aside our differences and prioritise the interests of the industry, especially those of all our growers.”

Meanwhile, the SA Canegrowers rejected as “baseless” all Safda’s allegations, saying it was an inclusive association comprising both commercial and small-scale growers.

SA Canegrowers said its leadership and board wereademocratically elected at its annual general meeting and was made up of individuals who were active small-scale and commercial growers, making it unique among sugarcane farming industry bodies.

“Therefore, Safda’s claims that the SA Canegrowers is fronting are patently false and is an allegation with serious implications,” it said.

“Transformation funding in the sugar industry comes from various sources, which are intended to support and develop previously-disadvantaged individuals, including small-scale growers.

“Industry members have agreed to continue to pay towards these worthy initiatives in the current 2024/25 season, committing R239m which surpasses the amount spent in 2023/24 of R232m,” it said.

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