Strong leadership needed for black farmers

Some of South Africa’s top black farmers are calling for strong agricultural representation and leadership that has farmers’ best interests at heart, saying the National African Farmers’ Union of South Africa (Nafu) hasn’t adequately represented black farmers.

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This comes in the wake of the leadership row between Reverend Otto Mbangula and Joe Gondo, with Gondo saying he’s the democratically elected Nafu president, while Rev Mbangula regards himself as the constitutionally elected president.

Late last year, Rev Mbangula was fired as president following a vote of no-confidence from the union’s national council, which then elected Gondo as a caretaker president. But Rev Mbangula contested this, saying the Nafu council didn’t have the authority to remove him without the approval of the union’s parent body, the National African Federated Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Nafcoc).

"They need to abide by the constitution of Nafcoc. Otherwise whatever they say about my leadership is invalid," he told the Sunday Times newspaper. Gondo responded by saying Nafu has its own constitution and Nafcoc has no power to overturn decisions taken by the union.

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But Solly Ratjomane, a commercial potato and citrus farmer in Dendron, Limpopo, is just one of South Africa’s top black farmers who say Nafu has never been able to represent them, because the union’s leadership know nothing about farming."They don’t take any advice from farmers and think they know it all," he said. "Personally, I don’t think they could give me the kind of information that I get from Potatoes SA."

Ratjomane has been a member of Potatoes SA for 20 years.Steven Mohale, a commercial tomato producer in Mooketsi, Limpopo, said it was imperative to have strong black agricultural leadership as black farmers are faced with grave challenges. He terminated his Nafu membership because there were no benefits in belonging to the union, and joined the Limpopo Tomato Growers Association, which has many former Nafu members.

"The problem with the union is having leaders who are hanging on to power and are more interested in politics than farming," he said. "We desperately need strong leadership that has farmers’ interests at heart. At the moment, farmers in my area have nowhere to go for help, because there’s no one representing the black farmer’s interests."

Aggrey Mahanjana of the National Emergent Red Meat Producers’ Organisation (Nerpo) said the future of black emerging farmers hangs in the balance due to a lack of a strong, viable and professionally-run union that focuses on emerging farmers.He added that Nerpo, in consultation with all relevant and interested parties, has been hard at work trying to revitalise Nafu.

These efforts are bearing fruit, he said, and Nerpo is busy organising a convention of all emerging farmers, to be held in Bloemfontein in December this year. "The convention will give farmers an opportunity to endorse the new constitution, the structure and the long-term strategic plan of the revitalised Nafu," explained Mahanjana.