Not reporting on problems won’t make them go away

Gwede Mantashe’s comments at the recent Afasa congress regarding the media, and Farmer’s Weekly specifically, left me flabbergasted.

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Our journalist attending the evening’s gala dinner had to face a dressing-down by Mantashe, who accused the magazine of reporting on too many negative stories. These, he said, destroy a nation. Farmer’s Weekly has a 103-year-old history of furthering the interests of agriculture and telling it as it is, no matter which party is in power, or which agribusiness gets offended and refuses to advertise with us.

The aim has always been to help foster a thriving agricultural sector, and our current editorial team continues to build on this legacy. To have someone of Mantashe’s stature questioning this contribution to the sector and the country’s well-being, is disheartening. As a regular reader of Farmer’s Weekly, Mantashe should know that the majority of the magazine’s articles are educational and inspirational. We aim to include a successful land reform story in every issue.

And here’s the irony: two years ago at the very same Afasa congress, Mantashe used these stories to illustrate that good reports in agriculture do exist! So the success stories Mantashe is asking for are there; they always have been. Why, then, this change in interpreting the magazine’s content? If it is true that the content is the same, perhaps something has changed in the recipient, resulting in his viewing the content differently.

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Whatever the case may be, Farmer’s Weekly owes it to its readers to continue reporting on both agriculture’s positives and negatives. Just as previous editorial teams could not ignore the agricultural policy blunders of the National Party or the poor decisions of the marketing boards, we cannot ignore the fact that black farmers in rural communities are struggling to access markets and get loans.

We cannot ignore the cattle farmer from Amathole, who pleads for intervention to break the control that the chief is wielding over his grazing; or pretend we don’t know about the man who had his animals stolen because the grazing he found was too close to the township. Should we ignore the fact that white commercial farmers are worried about property rights and the quality of state-funded research and development?

In whose interest will it be if we don’t report on these issues? We have a duty to give the farming community a voice. So yes, we are going to write about the positives, and at the same time we’ll continue writing about the challenges the industry faces, in the hope that someone who has the power to make a difference is moved to take action.

For the good of all South Africa’s farming communities, we dare not do anything else.