Dr Pieter Mulder on agriculture

“What an extremely unreasonable and mischievous twisting of my speech.”

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That was my reaction to the comments and cartoon in Farmer’s weekly (2 March 2012) about my speech in parliament. Those who commented clearly did not read the whole speech or they would have seen that it was about uncertainty in the agricultural sector.

The agricultural sector’s potential to create more job opportunities than most other sectors, land reform, Zimbabwe-style land grabs, the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle and amending the Constitution are all controversial issues. The ANC’s new policy documents prove these issues will remain important until the policy conference in June. Should wrong decisions be made, South Africa will be struggling with them for the next five years.

I believe an open debate about these issues is needed because it affects not only the ANC, but everybody. I therefore addressed these issues in my speech. Why does agriculture not perform as desired? Because commercial farmers are uncertain about their future. They don’t appoint new workers or invest in South Africa, but instead move to other African countries.

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Already 800 South African farmers have moved their farming enterprises to Mozambique. What causes the uncertainty in agriculture? The continuous talk about land nationalisation and land grabs. In the past 10 years, many speeches and internet debates have been about Africa for Africans. I am also an African – I have no other passport.

I agree with Africa being for Africans. But the speeches exclude me. In the speeches, “blacks in general and Africans in particular” are spoken of. White Africans are not part of the definition. They are “white settlers of a special kind” who are merely tolerated, some say. I seriously disagree with this approach. Meanwhile, we read on a daily basis of Zimbabwean farmers being evicted from their farms just because they are white.

When “Shoot the Boer” is sung, it is not condemned. I know all the arguments around the song and its place in the ANC’s struggle history. It does not convince commercial farmers. Words have meaning, especially when more than 2 000 farmers have been murdered since 1994 – nine farmers this year already. We hear that “whites stole all the land they have; stolen because every grain of sand in South Africa initially belonged to blacks”. I disagree with this.

Of course these statements are made by radicals, but the government leaders who are present do not repudiate them. ANC Youth League leaders were found guilty, but not because they made these statements. Then, the announcement is repeated that the “willing-buyer, willing-seller” principle will be scrapped with nothing said about what is to replace it. What do ordinary farmers hear? That land will be nationalised and Zimbabwe will be repeated here.

“South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white,” the Freedom Charter and Constitution say. That certainty has been replaced with permanent uncertainty.  In these circumstances, how do I get farmers to create jobs, ensure food security and help develop rural areas? How do you prevent them from leaving for Mozambique, Georgia and the Congo, as some have done? There are 24 other African countries seeking South African farmers.

About 15 years ago, there were 60 000 commercial farmers in South Africa; today there are 37 000. They produce food for 50 million people. Soon, 70% of South Africans will be urbanised. That is why I concluded my speech with: “I dream of white and black commercial farmers who do not have to go to other African countries for opportunities.”

Where did history fit into the speech? I argued that if you want to use history as a departure point for a land debate, none can lay claim to every grain of sand in South Africa. The Khoi and San were the first residents. Different language groups moved from the equator southwards and clashed with the San. The same happened with whites from the south moving north, bringing conflict. The two groups met at the Fish and Kei Rivers.

Neither group can lay claim to every grain of sand; it “belongs to all who live in it”. Therefore I prefer to take the Constitution and the Freedom Charter as a departure point. I stand by these facts and arguments. Read my speech at http://tinyurl.com/7ltqt2x. Then argue with me about what I said, not what you think I said.