Where will help come from?

The advent of a new year has done little to lift our spirits. South Africans are worried about our lacklustre economy, student protests and unabated crime.

We see money disappearing into the black holes that are Eskom, SAA and the SABC. We see money being pumped into an education system that produces matriculants who need university bridging courses. And we see people taking what is not theirs out of need or greed.

Although none of this is new, the prolonged drought seems to have sucked out our last bit of optimism. This is true especially of our farmers. The rain that finally came in mid-January brought welcome relief, but for many it will only postpone the inevitable. What farmers need now is leniency with their overdue loan repayments and additional funding to get them back on their feet.

But where will this help come from? Government might have the funds, but dare it channel money into agriculture, a sector where most resources are still in white hands, from areas where it’s guaranteed to win the good will of voters in an election year? Will government see the long-term benefit in keeping commercial farmers operational? The next 18 months or so will certainly give us a taste of how we’ll fare if we are not food-secure and at the mercy of food imports.

If government can’t or won’t give agriculture adequate support, can we rely on commercial banks to come to our aid? I’m sure they will do everything in their power to assist, but when it comes down to it, their survival depends on their own liquidity, and at the moment the business of agricultural loans has no guarantee of returns.

I’m glad I’m not in charge of an agricultural portfolio at a commercial bank right now. These advisors live amongst their clients; they have to face them at church and at the local grocery store, yet no matter how much they want to be lenient or extend a loan, their hands are tied.

Despite this, how often are banks accused of not doing enough for their clients? When things go pear-shaped we always look for someone or something to blame. If it’s not the banks, it’s the global economy or apartheid’s legacy, or the government.
We can’t deny that mistakes, foolish or selfish, unintended or planned, have and will continue to be made.

In some instances, we’ll be right to lay blame; in others we’ll have to acknowledge our own failure. However, focusing on the negative without moving beyond it, without taking action for the better, will not achieve anything.

The drought has shown the power of this kind of solution-driven outlook. With every water bottle collected and every kilogram of feed delivered, South Africans have shown that there is still hope, and they care for fellow citizens in need. May this kindness extend beyond the drought, to fill even more of our countrymen’s hearts.