Categories: Bottomline

Not all bad:The political environment for agriculture in South Africa

Many concerns, such as immigration and unemployment, affect the environment in which the ANC will have to make critical choices. But, speaking at the 2010 Agricultural Business Chamber Congress, emeritus professor of political science Willie Breytenbach said there are still reasons to stay positive and opportunities for constructive contributions by agriculture. One such opportunity will be the Green Paper on land reform.

The forthcoming Green Paper on rural development and land reform is a difficult document to compile. When it’s finally made, public stakeholders will have to read between the lines because it will be a cry for help. It will say, “Let’s engage”.

The agricultural sector must take this opportunity and participate. Remember that agriculture remains a relevant stakeholder in the ongoing debate about greener and renewable energy sources. Agribusiness and organised agriculture must make it their business to contribute to this debate as much as possible.

Factors that will influence decisions
During a recent conference of the World Future Society of South Africa, various points such as energy, climate change, immigration, employment and ethical values were highlighted as major concerns that will determine the environment in which the ANC as ruling party will have to make some critical choices in the immediate future.

Let’s look at some of these issues and the implications for farming in South Africa.

Energy & climate change
Eskom energy will never be cheap again. Tariff increases of 25% per year for the next three years amount to a 92% price increase by 2013. The climate change debate means the World Bank (where the US and the UK have veto rights) is unlikely to fund another coal-fired power station in South Africa again.

The World Bank prefers solar and wind power, and a bigger role for “independent power providers” in the form of South African corporations and foreign investors.

This will open the energy environment to private and overseas roleplayers such as the US, France, Germany and China. The energy and climate change factors therefore make for less, and not more state control in South Africa.

Here the focus is on stopping the brain drain, recruiting skills and on managing the almost unstoppable inflow of migrants from other parts of Africa. In using new alternative energy futures, skills need to be recruited for technology transfers into South Africa.

No one knows how many African immigrants are living in South Africa now. What is clear, though, is that this places an additional stress on many of South Africa’s already burdened municipal services.

The current unemployment rate of 26% is rising. A larger risk for the political environment is that about 75% of the unemployed are 35 years or younger. This is the future generation of middle-aged citizens who may remain trapped in poverty and inequality and who might also lose trust in democratic institutions.

This class of rootless youth could become the breeding ground for political populism in future decades. Julius Malema’s conservative, elitist tendencies will make him a target for the poor.

These underclasses also threaten the ANC. Expect more pro-poor social movements which are certain to be pro-left and driven by grievances. Anti-ANC protests in many townships are symptomatic of this trend.

Ethical values and corruption
Both Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma declared war against corruption. The euphemism for this is the “restoration of ethical values”. Although BEE is not corrupt, some of its institutional devices created undesirable outcomes in the hands of rent-seekers.

Not all BEE beneficiaries are rent-seekers, but some rent-seeking became the foundation of race-based capitalism and enrichment. Some of these elements even call for the nationalisation of the mines. ANC structures are likely to discuss this publicly quite soon.

After Polokwane
In the post-Polokwane political environment, new sites of power quickly emerged to compete for influence and dominance within the tripartite alliance – the ANC, Cosatu and the SA Communist Party (SACP).

In Jacob Zuma’s corner, for instance, there’s the nationalist and capitalist camp, which is supported by preferential procurement and tender beneficiaries. These include the ANC Youth League and older BEE interests such as the Black Management Forum and Public Investment Corporation.

Broadly speaking, the other camp comprises “socialist” elements, such as Cosatu and the SACP, plus many civil society associations who represent the urban and rural poor. William Gumede speaks of a “battle for the soul of the ANC”. This battle is far from over.

The latest site of struggle will certainly be the National Planning Commission (NPC) with Trevor Manuel as chairperson and Bobby Godsell and Cyril Ramaphosa as heavyweights. Although it’s supposed to be an extension of the presidency, hierarchically above the National Treasury, it’s doubtful that the NPC – instead of the National Treasury – will decide what goes into the budget.

The ANC’s political environment begs the question – is the NPC not too removed from Luthuli House, as ANC membership is not a criterion for appointment to the NPC?

Restitution and land reform
Restitution should be completed by about 2014 (the date for the next general election), but land reform in its present form will probably fail because of its complexity and cost.

The split between agriculture and land reform, as well as between agribusiness organisations, will not be beneficial.
The left will argue for the nationalisation of all resources, including private land, whereas the capitalist formations will argue for the retention of private property and even for the denationalisation of state-owned enterprises.

An independent judiciary also remains available to protect civil and political rights and to adjudicate on the legality of state policies and legislation.

Cases in point are the recent ruling in the Baphiring case (February 2010) where the Land Claims Court decided against a land claim on the basis that food production would be detrimentally affected if the application succeeded, as well as the Constitutional Court’s ruling (May 2010) that the entire Communal Land Rights Act (CLARA) of 2004 be invalidated.

SA is not Zimbabwe
The transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe was never accompanied by black advancement policies such as affirmative action or BEE as in South Africa.

BEE has created an urban dynamic in South Africa that was always absent in Zimbabwe. The power base of the ruling party in Zimbabwe remained rural and Mashona. When electoral defeat loomed in 2000/02, it played the “land card”, and won. There was no “urban card” to play. In South Africa, however, the future of politics is urban not rural.

Food consumption is also an urban issue. I foresee the retention of private property rights in South Africa. But that doesn’t solve the issue of land reform. The present political environment only removes the short-term risk. It buys time for all stakeholders – government and business and civil society – to accelerate attempts to solve this problem.

The solution is neither land expropriation, nor the status quo. It has to come from the middle ground and must be negotiated by all relevant stakeholders. It isn’t too late for a “Land Codesa”. Agribusiness can assist in creating such an environment where it can compete successfully. This is one lesson that Zimbabwe has taught us.

Contact Prof Willie Breytenbach on 021 887 5583 or e-mail

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