With a split in the ANC and an alarming decline in agricultural production, ANC president Jacob Zuma and Mosiuoa Lekota, leader of the newly formed Congress of the People (COPE), wasted no time traversing the platteland wooing commercial farmers. Zuma tried to counter the damage done by the government’s Expropriation Bill, while Lekota lobbied for support in the upcoming elections.
But the country’s roughly 40 000 commercial farmers won’t make a difference at the polling stations, and while placating the producers of food and fibre may be good politics, analysts and agricultural leaders agree that this year politicians will pay lip service to the desires of the masses, especially in the area of land reform.
Agri SA deputy president Theo de Jager fears that politicians may dangle the “land carrot” to lure voters, thus further damaging investor confidence in agriculture.
TAU SA general manager Bennie van Zyl predicts a checkmate situation as politicians will stir up emotions and make promises they can’t keep, while officials will be overly cautious not to do anything that might harm their jobs under a new or different Cabinet.
He believes that in the jostling for position in the build-up to elections, little action will come from threats such as taxing unproductive land and the progress on the enactment of the Land and Assistance Amendment Bill may grind to a halt.
Meanwhile, the Expropriation Bill is still lurking on the post-election horizon. De Jager and Van Zyl agree it will be resuscitated. While both have emphasised South Africa’s existing expropriation legislation is dated and a new Act is needed, they hope this time the proposed Act will serve the needs of the country and not the ideological ambitions of one party, as did the Bill tabled in parliament last year.
Both are optimistic that whoever wins will struggle to reach a two-thirds majority in this year’s election, making it difficult to steamroll legislation through parliament as the ANC has been doing in recent years.
But opposition power is worthless withou
t opposition lobbyists, and herein lies another future challenge. Organised agriculture is concerned that experienced politicians such as Dr Kraai van Niekerk and Maans Nel are on the verge of retirement. In the loose scrums of parliament – portfolio committee meetings – these two were often the only lobbyists fighting for commercial farmers.
With more potential for stronger opposition coalitions in post-2009 election politics, lobbyists such as Van Niekerk and Nel may well be more successful, but will they be there?
The DA’s Helen Zille said agriculture is too important for the DA not to have considered continuity in this portfolio. “I can confirm that someone has indeed been earmarked to take over from Van Niekerk when he retires,” she assured Farmer’s Weekly. Meanwhile politicians and observers agree that coalitions will be in the order of the day after the elections. IFP spokesperson on agriculture, Henry Combrinck said the strength of cooperation became evident with the Expropriation Bill.
“Political opposition presented a united front in the face of government’s plans to expropriate land through radical legislation,” he explained.
And this year, agriculture will be expecting a lot from political leaders, before and after the elections. “Opposition politicians must immediately start lobbying for the implementation of the sector plan for agriculture,” said Grain SA’s Neels Ferreira.
“We need people who understand the dynamics of the plan and push for its execution. Opposition parties must keep abreast of what’s happening, as there are people on the portfolio committee who are clueless about commercial agriculture.” – Annelie Coleman & Jasper Raats