A contrary state of affairs

The state of the nation address in parliament got off to a shaky start with some robust interaction between EFF parliamentarians and the speaker Baleke Mbete.

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Then, after EFF MPs were hustled out by members of the SAPS, the DA walked out in protest at such blatant disregard for the Constitution. Mangosutho Buthelezi’s voice rang true when he said the country was being torn to pieces by people only interested in self indulgence.

Outwardly unruffled, and chuckling, President Zuma calmly resumed his speech, saying that the House should be grateful to the now-absent members for adding some humour to the proceedings. While one has to agree that a sense humour is critical to survival in our country, it may not be entirely appropriate to see a challenge to the Constitution as funny.

The president said the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Freedom Charter was a good time to redress the wrongs of the past through relevant action on land reform. He put a 12 000ha land ceiling and the 50:50 proposal firmly on the table, saying there were 50 pilot projects in the pipeline. It would be interesting to know where these projects are.

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“Foreigners will not be allowed to own land in South Africa, but will be eligible for long term leases,” added Zuma.

Much of what he said runs contrary to the National Development Plan, which he recently touted in Davos as “an instrument to help us achieve these development goals”. Somewhat strange, then, to bar foreigners from land ownership, but to tell Davos delegates that the government invited “foreign business partners to invest in the South African economy.”

Agriculture was a catalyst for growth and food security, the president said, promising to bring a million hectares of land into full production and funding co-ops in the poorest rural communities to an initial amount of R2 billion. One can only wonder why this commitment has come so late. Still – better late than never, although that does not apply to government’s delivery of maize seed to black farmers long after planting season was over.

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Once the office of the Valuer-General had been established, the law scrapping the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle could be implemented with respect to land acquired by the state, said Zuma.

He also said government helped agriculture by brokering trade agreements with other countries and he made particular mention of China.

Perhaps it is time for the president to consider the Chinese proverb: “Once on a tiger’s back it is hard to alight.”

There cannot be one farmer in South Africa who does not wish that the president spoke the truth when he said, “there is a good story to tell in agriculture.”