Transformation? ‘We’re on it’

Upon returning from a visit to the Bosveld Sitrus group in Letsitele in Limpopo with the Agricultural Writers of South Africa, I was infused with optimism about the future of agriculture in the country.

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These farmers are involved in land reform that works, both for them and their beneficiaries. Bosveld Sitrus’ Milan Thalwitz, last year’s winner of the Agricultural Writers of South Africa Farmer of the Year award, also invited previous winners to join us on a tour of the operation. Milan and his family discussed their farming interests and candidly explained the advantages and disadvantages of the empowerment models the company employed.

Speaking on behalf of Pro-Agri Group (previous winners), Charl Senekal explained Limpopo Agri’s land reform proposal which the group support and which he said had been received favourably by the architects of the National Development Plan. Their proposal, which sees government subsidising the interest on loans obtained by commercial farmers to finance the buying of land for land reform purposes, sounds workable. As Piet Smit, CEO of Bosveld Sitrus said, when involvement in land reform initiatives makes financial sense, commercial farmers won’t hesitate to initiate a project.

Charl was optimistic that government was being reasonable and wanted to partner with the agricultural sector when it came to land reform. There certainly are a plethora of practical (and constitutionally sound) land reform plans that have been put on the table in the last few months.

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Charl said President Zuma had sat in his living room while promising that no white farmer’s land would be taken.Gwede Mantashe said the same thing to the Pro-Agri Group, assuring them that the ANC doesn’t simply want to replace white farmers with black farmers, as this would put food security in jeopardy.

Gugile Nkwinti’s latest announcement, confirming that the government was still committed to land ceilings, was doubly disappointing after our trip. It’s hard to stay optimistic when government says one thing and does another. The minister of agriculture assures us that white commercial farmers have nothing to fear, while the minister of land reform seems hellbent on proving the opposite.

Does government even know what it wants?

One thing is certain: if we wait for government to implement a workable plan that will stand up in the Constitutional Court, land reform will still be an issue in 20 years.

Not only are there workable plans on the table; projects have been running successfully for years. Yes, there have been hiccups, but we must transform the sector. As Charl said, it’s better to be proactive than forced into a corner. So, when government asks you about your land reform plans, say to them: “I’m already on it.”