Farmers cautioned to stay calm despite land reform turmoil
The land reform debate will become more heated as South Africa approaches the 2019 election, but farmers have been cautioned to stay calm and find ways to get involved in transforming agriculture rather than becoming victims of negative sentiment. Economist, Dr Roelof Botha, said at the recent Macadamias South Africa information day in White River, Mpumalanga, that uncertainty created by calls for expropriation without compensation could worsen as the upcoming election approached, but he still believed there would be no “land grabs”.
“It will be a rough ride to the elections, but we are on the verge of a golden era and must be patient. The biggest reasons for our economic slump over the past few years are now out of the way. This includes the systematic incompetence of [former president] Jacob Zuma’s era, the worst drought in 100 years, and the world recession.”
Nick Serfontein, chairperson of the Sernick Group and a member of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s advisory panel on land reform, said the priority would be “broken” land first in terms of land redistribution. This includes the 120 000ha irrigation schemes that were part of land reform projects, but were non-functional.
“Then there is an additional 10 million hectares of land available without touching commercial agriculture, ” Serfontein said.
He implored farmers to get involved in land reform initiatives and to mentor and train black farmers. Serfontein related how he started helping emerging farmers in 2015. “We didn’t have a clue how, but we started with a farmers’ day where 300 people [arrived], of whom half were women. It shocked me to see the hunger in their eyes for information, not for land, and the desire to farm.
“I experienced first-hand the hell that developing farmers go through. For 24 years these people, with genuine intent to farm, with dreams and aspirations, have been forsaken by the system, due to corruption and lack of political will. It’s criminal to give land to someone without mentorship and training.”
Serfontein noted that good progress had been made with land transfer, but not with land reform. The latter required training, finance and mentorship, he said. – Lindi Botha