Government should take hands with us

A farmer in the Cathcart district of the Eastern Cape, David Wardle gives his views on the public hearings on the Expropriation Bill held in Queenstown on 9 June 2008, and commercial farmers’ attitudes towards land reform.
Issue date : 04 July 2008

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I was not impressed by the organisation of the public hearings in Queenstown. The planning was poor and the venue, date and time were only passed on to us at a very late stage. whole process was very confusing; the panel of experts and representatives from the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee of Public Works were over an hour late. The speakers used the occasion as a political platform to punt political views. group from parliament spent a lot of time pushing the political achievements of the ANC, drowning out other political parties and pushing their views of why the Expropriation Bill is necessary, instead of allowing the people time to express their views on the proposed law.

One got the feeling the meeting was just a formality and the law was already passed; everything seemed so rushed. W hy did we have to breeze through the hearings in a flurry of rushed meetings? Give us time. I believe the ANC representatives at the meeting were bullies and hijacked the meeting to further their own ends. There wasn’t enough debate and they wouldn’t allow criticism of their views. The parliamentary representative continually misled the people by telling blatant untruths about subsidies for farmers, inflated land prices, farmers resisting land reform, farmers stalling the willing-buyer, willing-seller process and farmers having things too easy. I strongly object to the political bullying.

Unfair portrayal of farmers

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As a farmer I believe I speak for the vast majority of forward-thinking farmers and other people for that matter. I believe farmers in general are very accommodating and willing to give more in life than they take out. I believe SA farmers are unfairly portrayed as people unwilling to accept change and as people treating their workers badly.

The opposite is true: farmers are African in most ways; farmers understand culture and live with it daily; in many instances we take part in cultural activities; farmers speak languages; farmers have a long and deep-rooted relationship with the land and we love our country passionately; farmers live closely with their workers and we have a personal relationship with them. Our children grow up with worker’s children and in most cases are their closest friends; farmers are most unlikely to move to other countries. They will stay in and keep their expertise here.

Not opposed to restitution

I believe most farmers believe restitution is right and an important part of land reform. If people have been dispossessed of land, they should get it back, but the process should be efficient. However, what has happened over the past 14 years? Something is wrong. It’s very much in the interest of commercial farmers that land reform and change is brought about in a peaceful and orderly manner. Our future as farmers and our contribution to the economy depends on this.

He want to help with the process of land reform, but government should take hands with us to find solutions beneficial to all stakeholders, and stop alienating and demotivating us. You might be very surprised at how much goodwill and positive change we could bring about. e do, however, reject the need for the new expropriation law. It won’t be a quick-fix for land reform and it certainly won’t bring about peaceful and orderly change. The proposed law is threatening, counter-productive, totally unnecessary and potentially open to abuse by government officials and municipalities.

What we already know

We know that without urgent steps the masses will become agitated and impatient after all the promises and the subsequent lack of capacity in the relevant departments. e know that owning land doesn’t make you a farmer; farming is in your blood. It’s a responsibility, not a right. It’s a commitment to feed the nation and to ensure maintaining sustainability and continuity. Vast knowledge and skills within commercial agriculture are not being passed on to new farmers.

We know that buying land only makes up 42% of the cost of establishing an enterprise. The other 58% is the investment in livestock, infrastructure, machinery, debt repayment and feed. We know that the real new farmers will be the next generation, who will attend agricultural schools and understand the attitudes and mentality of commercial agriculture. e know that in no country can the whole population own land. All over the world you have landowners and those who don’t and never will own land. We know that in the Eastern Cape there is a reasonably good relationship between organised agriculture and the Department of Land Affairs and Agriculture, and this is a wonderful opportunity for meaningful change.

Some solutions

Commercial farmers could form partnerships with new farmers. Business agreements could be signed and checked by professionals and commercial farmers could sign rental agreements with new farmers. These could involve rent being paid in female livestock to new landowners until new farmers are established with livestock. Commercial farmers in mentorship roles could drastically reduce the cost to the state.

They could also become advisors, skills developers, contractors and problem-solvers. Commercial farmers know what land is for sale, who is ready to retire or thinking of giving up farming, so they could help identify possible sources of land. They know many people who have the necessary skills and also possible recipients of these skills within organised agriculture, such as in the National Wool Growers’ Association (NWGA), the Eastern Cape Agricultural Union (ECAU) and the Red Meat Producers’ Organisation. Organised agriculture has experts who could help facilitate land reform and speed up the process.

As farmers we know what we want and hope for from land reform, especially no violence, intimidation and invasions. We need to know that landowners will be adequately compensated. After all, our land is our only asset and we didn’t steal our land. We have invested a lot of time, passion, commitment, money and heartache in it. In fact, many commercial farmers are still paying for their land. It takes about 25 years to pay off a bond and we want sustainability, orderliness and continual productivity. We would eventually like to see an end to a system of ownership based on skin colour.

Eventually agriculture should be open to all who wish to follow the vocation, without prejudice and based purely on ability. We don’t want to be dispossessed or driven away from the country we love, just because we’re white farmers. We need to know we’re citizens and should be treated as such. As commercial farmers we have a lot of good will and aren’t the enemy. We have expertise, business skills and capacity. We therefore have a lot to offer to the process.

We need the NWGA, the ECAU and their partners to commit to a solution. Organised agriculture should vigorously insist that we’re committed to the process, insist that we can have a better success rate than the state and insist that the state and its departments project a positive image of farmers. We’re part of this country and need to be part of the solution. Contact David Wardle on (045) 843 1745. |fw