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Mushroom business ‘picked apart’

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A once thriving multimillion-rand mushroom business on the old Barkly Road has, in just over a month, literally been reduced to a pile of rubble as a result of theft.

Pictures: Danie van der Lith

A ONCE thriving multimillion-rand mushroom business on the old Barkly Road has, in just over a month, literally been reduced to a pile of rubble as a result of theft.

The owner of the business has pointed fingers at the police for doing nothing despite several cases being opened.

The business, Gourmet Mushrooms, which has been in existence for 38 years, was purchased three years ago by a local businessman, Hennie Bergh, for R5.5 million.

Business operations were, however, put “on ice” at the end of last year due to economic reasons.

Until two months ago, the business was still fully equipped, with an administration block, including washroom facilities for the staff, nine temperature-controlled rooms where the mushrooms were grown, a package facility with its own cold rooms, a boiler room for sterilising under pressure the crates in which the mushrooms were grown and a strong room.

By yesterday, however, all that remained were a few brick walls on what looked like a demolition site.

Bergh, who is now based in Bloemfontein, said that every time he came to Kimberley, more of the building was gone.

“This only started around the beginning of August, but since then the facility has literally been ripped apart and carried away. There is nothing left.”

He stated that groups of as many as 50 people arrived at a time to dismantle and take whatever they wanted.

According to Bergh, the first to be stolen was the electric fence. “I hired security guards to protect the property but it didn’t help because those plundering the place, many of whom were youngsters, threatened them with spades and axes and they had to run for their lives. In one instance, the security guard even left this shoes behind in his haste to escape.”

He added that the security guards contacted the police when they saw activity on the premises. “When the police did come out, they didn’t make any arrests. On one occasion, the security guards took the police to where the materials had been taken but they didn’t arrest those involved. In the second instance, the police did not even want to go out with the security guard.”

Besides all the materials stolen from the site, including nine industrial air conditioners, the metal roof with metal beams, the electrical cabling and even the bricks, the thieves also stole three 12m-long containers.

“I arrived one day to see a low-bed trailer, belonging to a local scrap metal dealer, loading the containers. When I asked what they were doing, the dealer said he had been contacted to remove the containers. According to him, he is under no obligation to check if the items are stolen, all he has to do is to keep the items for seven days. I reported it to the police but no one was arrested and they only issued a warning.”

On Thursday last week, Bergh arrived at the premises and took a video which shows several people casually dismantling the walls with hammers and neatly stacking the bricks ready for removal as well as helping themselves to other materials.

A visit to the site yesterday showed even further devastation since Bergh’s last visit.

The facility resembled the remnants of a demolition site. Trenches had been dug to remove the electrical cables while the site was littered with polystyrene, which was all that remained of the wall panels of the coldrooms after the inner metal sheet had been removed and presumably sold for scrap metal. There were no doors, no windows or any fixtures left.

In the ablution block, only half walls remained – the toilets, hand basins, taps, pipes and all other fixtures were gone. In the office complex only scraps of paper littered the floor, while a safe lay on its side.

Prefab offices, which Bergh said he rented out, were missing, along with a front-end loader and a TLB machine.

A boiler, used to sterilise the wooden containers in which the mushrooms were grown, had been totally stripped.

“I believe that the thieves must have had help from someone like a contractor because many of the items, including the air conditioners, were too heavy to carry away. Someone must have had the equipment to take them down, as they were high up, and transport them away.”

Police spokesperson Captain Sergio Kock said yesterday that the police are aware of the cases of theft and malicious damage to property that have been opened by the complainant.

“The Roodepan SAPS management and the management of the specific business had a meeting regarding the reported incidents, as it is a concern to the SAPS. The police are also doing crime prevention patrols in that area. No arrests have been affected as yet, however the police are continuing with investigations,” said Kock.