Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Farms lie fallow while leaders remain idle

Everyone wants land reform in South Africa, or so went the discussion at the annual Nampo Harvest Festival in the Free State, held this week: farmers, farm workers, the government, political parties, financiers, consumers and voters.

The money is available, to the tune of R15-billion from private lenders over the next 15 years, plus whatever the government chooses to add out of the national budget or through state lenders such as the Industrial Development Corporation.

There are black people who want to farm and white people who want to teach them how to do so profitably, as well as any number of organisations to provide education, advice and support.

There are even large tracts of viable but fallow land in government hands or under communal control, which can be put into production tomorrow without expropriation and the attendant difficult question of compensation. Or emerging black farmers could lease land as a way to dip their toes into the water with neither huge capital requirements nor the delays inherent in even an uncontested transfer of land.

So why is land reform caught in a cauldron of ever-changing plans and heated political argument?

“I don’t think anybody [disagrees] that there has [to] be land reform in a manner that makes for comfortableness,” Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana told the representatives of farmers on Tuesday, to nods of agreement all round.

Ally of white farmers
In his role as minister, Zokwana is the ally of white farmers, helping secure export deals for their produce, arguing for infrastructure to support their production and, as he is keen to tell them, putting food security above other considerations in government debates.

Wearing a different hat, Zokwana is the face of the enemy for some. He is also the national chair of the South African Communist Party, which in turn is the home of an ideology of dispossession.

“It is not about land; it is about ownership,” Agri-Sector Unity Forum chair Japie Grobler told the Nampo event this week.

In his view, Grobler said, reaching back to the language of the communist scares of the 1980s, the question of land reform camouflaged a “total onslaught on ownership”.

“The other day it was mineral rights … The question is: What comes next? Shares on the JSE? Part of your home?” he pondered.

Compromise
Yet land reform is not hampered by the vast difference between Grobler’s politics of individualism, shared by many white farmers, and Zokwana’s organisational creed that property is theft.

Both have already accepted compromise: Zokwana because unchecked dispossession of farmers could bring hunger; Grobler because he believes transformation in farming is inevitable and must be managed to minimise harm. The gap between them should be unbridgeable, but pragmatism closed it long ago. There may even be a hint of trust between the two.


Minister Senzeni Zokwana is putting food security above other considerations in government debates. (Gustav Butlex, M&G)

What should be a fundamental divide between workers and farmers is, likewise, far less stark than it has the right to be.

Many farmers are still prisoners of an archaic approach that “continues to regard trade unions as the enemy”, Nosey Pieterse, the president of the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (Bawsi) and the general secretary of the Bawsi Agricultural Workers’ Union of South Africa, told the conference.

Pieterse remains something of a bogeyman for that industry, having been central to protests on the pay of seasonal workers that at times crippled the De Doorns area.

But Pieterse does not hold farmers solely responsible for an anti-union stance. He blames consultants who advise those farmers on labour relations and their “gogga maak vir baba bang stories [infantile scare stories]” through which such consultants “create their own employment”.

Collective bargaining
For their part, the representatives of farmers maintain that those farmers are not opposed to unionisation, because collective bargaining would actually make their lives easier. Farm-by-farm wage negotiations on an annual basis are cumbersome, they hold, and do not provide the longer-term certainty on wages that business craves.

Although these groups and individuals who should be poles apart have found one another approachable and agreeable, the same can apparently not be said of Cabinet ministers.

By his own admission this week, Zokwana has little to no say on land reform. That is the domain of Gugile Nkwinti, the minister of rural development and land reform.

For farmers, Nkwinti is a shadowy presence who occasionally lobs a grenade into the discussion – new proposed ceilings on land ownership, or a suggestion that farmers should give half their land to their workers – and then disappears again.

Nobody is quite sure where these pronouncements originate; farmer representatives say they were never canvassed on the ideas before they were made public, and unionist Pieterse says his members don’t even want to own land, but just want decent working conditions.

The best Zokwana could do this week, when challenged on Nkwinti’s approach, was to admit he could see “there is still anger”, to express trust that resistance to policy would crumble once those policies were properly explained, and to invoke ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

“The best person who can call us together is the [secretary general] of the ANC,” Zokwana said, of a planned meeting at which Mantashe would be called on to address “discomfort about some pronouncements”.

But the same would be true if there was, say, a disagreement between two different government departments on how land should be redistributed: the best thing is to “go back to the organisation that deploys us”, and discuss the matter at ANC headquarters Luthuli House.

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and receive a 40% discount on our annual rate..

Phillip De Wet
Guest Author

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Zanele Mbuyisa — For the love of people-centred...

She’s worked on one of the biggest class-action cases in South Africa and she’s taken on Uber: Zanele Mbuyisa speaks to Athandiwe Saba about advocating for the underrepresented, getting ‘old’ and transformation in the law fraternity

Update: Standard Bank rejects climate proposal

Climate considerations are pressing Standard Bank shareholders to push for the recusal of those with fossil fuel ties.

More top stories

Wildlife farming vs Creecy’s panel

The departments of environment and agriculture legislation are at odds over modifying the genes of wild animals

Drugs and alcohol abuse rage in crime stats

Substance abuse has emerged as a reason for the spike in crimes during the first quarter of 2021.

UPDATE: Magashule tries to tip the scales on Ramaphosa in...

The suspended secretary general argues that the rules the party relied on to sideline him are invalid but those informing his attempt to suspend the president are lawful

Modack charged with Kinnear murder

Nafiz Modack is the second person to be charged with killing Charl Kinnear and five others are accused of conspiracy to commit murder, among 61 other charges
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×