Now real negotiations can begin

Last week saw South Africa’s two largest agricultural farmer unions hold their annual conferences, virtually back to back and at the same venue.

As usual, AgriSA’s conference was dominated by white farmers and Afasa’s by black farmers. But the tide is slowly turning. A few years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find any white faces at Afasa’s gathering and vice versa. The media coverage of Afasa’s conference used to be half-hearted at best and AgriSA was still tip-toeing around land reform.

Since then, Afasa has proved itself a well-run, level-headed organisation with growing support among black farmers. Many organisations, including agribusinesses, have come to realise the importance of ‘emerging farmers’ from both a business and political perspective. These farmers will, after all, grow in customer value as their businesses grow and they are bound to remember those businesses and organisations who stuck out their necks to give them loans or advice.

AgriSA appointed its first black vice-president, Phineas Gumede, last year and after 20 years the organisation finally has everyone’s buy-in on how it should be involved in transforming the agricultural sector. Getting thousands of farmers with a predisposition towards stubbornness to agree on its plan for land reform was no mean feat. As Minister Zokwana has said repeatedly, land reform is an emotional issue. But the plan has been revealed and Nkwinti is seemingly happy.

Afasa also has a plan, however, as do other organisations, and the minister was careful not to champion any plans at the expense of the rest. His referral to a ministerial task group on land reform indicates that more planning and negotiations are on the cards. As AgriSA’s Sandy la Marque admits, her association has not yet consulted widely with communal farmers on the organisation’s land reform suggestions.

If it took 20 years to get a group of commercial farmers with broadly the same vested interests to agree on land reform, we have a long way to go towards reconciling the demands of politicians, black and white commercial and upcoming farmers and traditional leaders. But as long as all the role players see the discussions as genuine negotiations and not a smokescreen for autocracy, there is hope.

That both ministers and ANC secretary Gwede Mantashe attended the conferences is proof of their good will towards AgriSA and Afasa. Farmers, successful and emerging, just want to get on with the business of farming. They approved their organisations’ plans at the conferences; now it’s up to the elected leaders to get these plans incorporated into government policy. May these leaders receive the patience, level-headedness and wisdom they need to see it through.