Sugarcane farmers bitter over Tongaat deal


THE Lowveld Sugarcane Growers Association (LSGA), a grouping of small-scale sugarcane producers, is seeking to sever ties with Tongaat Hullet Zimbabwe and its associate companies over what it deems unfair deductions from proceeds of harvests by the former.


LSGA has petitioned the High Court in Harare seeking an order nullifying the sugarcane harvesting agreement signed between the farmers and Tongaat Hullet Zimbabwe (THZ) after the giant sugar producer allegedly started deducting huge amounts from the sugarcane farmers’ proceeds as compensation for its land acquired by government.

Through its chairperson Robson Mavenyengwa, the association filed a court application on September 20, 2018 seeking an interdict to prevent Tongaat Hullet, Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Limited from making unlawful deductions such as roots costs, cane establishment costs, water and maintenance costs from the proceeds due to the farmers.

Mavenyengwa also pleaded with the court to grant another order directing the three sugar milling companies, jointly and severally, to refund the farmers all deductions made for the cited costs.

According to Mavenyengwa, the impasse between the sugarcane farmers and the three firms started when the farmers were allocated land by the government to venture into sugarcane farming.

“The respondents (Tongaat Hullet, Hippo Valley Estates limited and Triangle Limited) have since indicated that they will proceed to make such deductions over a period of nine years to recover their costs.

However, they have no such right whatsoever to make those deductions as there is no obligation on the part of the farmers to compensate the respondents either contractually or otherwise,” Mavenyengwa said in his founding affidavit.

“The obligation to compensate the respondents for all the improvements on the land lies with the State as provided for in the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe.”

Mavenyengwa said sometime in April 2016, the then Minister of Lands and Rural Resettlement, Douglas Mombeshora, issued offer letters to the farmers but withdrew them in December the same year, leading to court battles between the farmers, ministry and the sugar firms.

The farmers successfully challenged the minister’s move at the Administrative Court and the ruling was confirmed by the Supreme Court, bringing to an end the impasse, he added.

However, the three firms refused to buy the crop from farmers until government intervened with stringent conditions.

“The respondents harvested the sugarcane and paid out the proceeds due to the farmers.

However, huge deductions were made from the proceeds under what was termed ‘roots costs, amortisation, water and maintenance costs.

These amounts were unlawfully deducted from the farmers’ proceeds,” he said.

The matter is yet to be set down for hearing.