Farmers can learn a lot from our neighbours

I read with great interest the editorial ‘Lessons from Zim’ (17 February, pg 4) as well as the interview with David McDermott Hughes ‘Belonging awkwardly – White Africans’ (pg 36).

Dairy farmer Karin Pretorius, the 2010 Gauteng Female farmer of the Year, with long-time employee Phineus Mmamadi are proof of the goodwill between SA farmers and their workers. She helped Phineus to build up his own dairy herd and let his animals run on the farm rent-free.
Photo: FW Archive

As a livestock farmer I share the concerns of my fellow South African farmers and believe a lot can be learned from our neighbours to the north. While I do not disagree with either the editor’s or McDermott Hughes’s comments, conspicuous by its absence was the fact that there was no mention of the man who caused all the problems in Zimbabwe, namely President (for life) Robert Mugabe.

It was this man’s avaricious greed that successfully chased the white Zimbabwean farmers off their land. It would not have mattered if white farmers clubbed together with black Africans as was suggested, since Robert Mugabe needs a cause celebre. Farming in South Africa is not easy. For the most part, farmers in the rest of the world concern themselves with the weather and the marketplace.

Here in South Africa we must worry about land claims, farm murders, stock theft, government labour verdicts, unfair import and export tariffs. Maybe, if there is time left, we worry about weather and the marketplace. The South African commercial farmer must feed the nation! I did not ‘steal’ my farm from any indigenous group nor did I inherit the farm. I simply bought it from another farmer who had had enough.

Why doesn’t the South African government start by giving away some of its vacant land to our indigenous population? How can I be expected to make a living from this farm when folk suggest I give part of it away to my labourers as a sign of good faith? Shall I make certain labourers redundant since I will then be farming on less land? How will that be accepted by the local population?

Does the outside world know how much goodwill exists between South African farmers and farm labourers? On this farm I am their banker, finance manager, doctor, transport manager, housing officer, teacher, counsellor, provider and friend. Is the farmer asked to do all this in the US, Australia, or New Zealand? So many questions, so little time.

I find it quite interesting that a US academic (David McDermott Hughes) can come to South Africa and make recommendations on how we should deal with the land issue. It was suggested that we act more humble and shed our colonial attitudes. We have had similar recommendations from certain Australians as well.

May I point out that the US and Australia do not have our land issue problems simply because they eradicated their indigenous population – something white South Africans never did. White Americans drove the Native Americans off their land, confining them to reservations in the middle of nowhere. Similarly, white Australians chased the Aborigines into the centre of the country, wiping out the majority of their native population.

Let’s not forget that farmers in the US, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere profited at our expense during the sanctions era. I know, because I have also farmed abroad. Overseas farmers will again profit if white farmers in SA are chased off their land. It is my considered opinion that we must solve our own land issues without the help of foreigners, however well intentioned they might be.