Mail & Guardian

Don't use bantustan solutions

31 Mar 1995 00:00 | Staff Reporter

The concerns of commercial farmers should be taken into account, argues Graham McIntosh

ALTHOUGH some of our farmers have a racist prejudice that blacks can't be good farmers, they represent a lunatic fringe.

Commercial farmers who produce the nation's food are hardy, realistic, resilient, cautious and adaptable. They are a precious national asset and their views on land reform should be taken seriously.

Any programme for the redistribution of rural land should begin with the strengths that are inherent in South Africa's land system. These include a strong commercial farming sector which employs huge numbers of people and produces for the country and for export.

On many farms these days, reasonable wages are provided, as are housing, primary health care and schooling. Farms are a safety net for poverty in the countryside, which protect society's most vulnerable: extended families, widows, pensioners and single mothers. And our modern system of human rights and labour legislation now applies to agriculture.

We must harness and transform these advantages, not discard them. But the commercial farmers who have created this system have serious concerns about the kind of land reform that is being implemented by Minister Derek Hanekom's department.

Hanekom appears to ignore rather than facilitate the inevitable process of urbanisation. As the rural population decreases, the Land Ministry should encourage an end to migrant labour and facilitate stable family settlement in the cities. At present the land reform efforts in the Weenen area look to be a perpetuation of bantustan solutions which will extend rural slums and reinforce, rather than challenge, tribal forms of land control.

If he really wants to promote development and care for the poor, the minister must recognise that the poorest of the poor reside in communal areas of the old homelands. He needs to find a formula that will persuade chiefs to give up their hold on the land, where the major thrust to establish freehold title and viable commercial farming should be.

Land reform should also not destabilise commercial farming and the rights of property owners by talking about moratoriums on dismissals that lead to the eviction of labourers. Fair dismissals in terms of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act and subject to appeal from the Agricultural Labour Court are basic to effective commercial operations.

Compensation and alternative accommodation can be negotiated in these forums. But by his attempts to deduce a land or tenure right from a simple labour contract, Hanekom is reversing South Africa into the feudalism of the Middle Ages or Czarist Russia.

The only way forward for rural land reform is to concentrate on developing and placing on freehold land a class of emerging black commercial farmers -- and established white farmers will do all they can to help that process.

Graham McIntosh is a farmer in the Weenen area and a former MP for the Democratic Party

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