Dr Pieter Mulder, leader of the Freedom Front Plus and current Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has been slammed for his recent comments in parliament on who has the ‘right’ to land. Whatever he may have said, no one can ignore his argument that land reform could threaten the country’s food security – especially since eight years from now our farmers will have to feed nearly 60 million people.
Being able to supply this amount of food will require highly productive commercial farms run by South Africans, whatever their skin colour. Government has spent a great deal of money trying to reduce the movement of people to the cities by attempting to create a vibrant agriculture sector in the rural areas. But will this work?
Not according to Sunday Times editor Mondli Makhanya, who says simply, “We are wasting valuable time and energy trying to restore people to their peasant ways”. The reality, he argues, is that the vast majority of black youth don’t want to farm, but “go to cities and work in the modern economy”.
“Large-scale, highly mechanised commercial farming is now the way of the world,” says Mondli, adding that it is impossible to “turn the clock back four decades”. As has happened elsewhere in the world, young people will continue to gravitate toward the cities. “We keep wanting to fight the logic of large-scale commercial farming,” he notes. The money being spent on getting ‘peasants’ back into subsistence farming would be better used creating “a strong class of black commercial farmers who actually do farm for commercial rather than sentimental reasons”.
I couldn’t agree with him more. Not everyone wants to farm. In addition, the shift to urban areas is a lifestyle issue. To young people who’ve spent most of their lives in rural areas, wearing designer labels and strolling in malls seems far more appealing than walking around in khakis on a farm somewhere.
Some of my city friends don’t have the best jobs, but they would rather stay where they are than return to ‘work the land’. Whenever I suggest that they could go back, they look at me as if I’m crazy. The point I’m trying to make is that the only people who want to work the land are those who are already doing so. The government should focus its resources on these farmers rather than continuing “to nurse the notion that we can reverse the inevitable march to an urban future”, as Mondli puts it.