I recently visited a commercial farmer – let’s call him Roy – in Swaziland. Through careful management, his cattle were in good condition, despite the drought. As we were driving around, I noticed a settlement across the valley with a number of neat homesteads, each with a small cultivated area and a few cattle. I enquired about land reform management in this area.
“Do you have any trouble from those guys on your boundary?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Roy. “A family there persisted in driving cattle onto my land. I spoke to them but it continued. I eventually went to the chief. He told the head of the family that unless he stopped his cattle from crossing over, his kraal would be moved well away from my boundary.
“That was six months ago, and since then, I’ve had no further trouble.”
Back at the farmhouse it struck me that during our time together, Roy had uttered not one word of concern about safety.
I had also noticed that there was no security fencing around the homestead. I asked him about it.
“Yes,” said Roy, “we do have the occasional theft of small items, but so far we’ve never had anything like the violence that SA farmers experience.”
This was Swaziland, and I found myself yearning for the days when we in South Africa would spend a morning on a farm talking about the business of farming rather than discussing the cloud of uncertainties created by a hostile and incompetent government.
And yet I often wonder how much of the doom and gloom caused by the SA land issue is real. On my return to South Africa, I read Frans Cronje’s recent Farmer’s Weekly article, in which he refers to government’s land reform programme as a sham.
The state doesn’t have the money to implement it; more than 90% of the beneficiaries of land restitution have chosen money rather than land; when they do choose land, they don’t get ownership and it’s no use for raising finance; and the vast majority of government’s land reform projects have failed dismally.
In another recent article, ‘The land time bomb is urban, not rural’, Piet Croucamp highlighted the futility of addressing rural land reform to solve South Africa’s problems. The country is becoming one of the most urbanised in the world, with millions flocking to our cities in search of jobs, better schooling, medical care and so on.
It is in the urban areas that we see the ongoing service delivery protests, almost never in our country towns. It’s the authorities and residents in our urban areas who should be losing sleep about land reform, not farmers.
As Croucamp writes, the moral imperative of restoring land to those who were dispossessed is undeniable, but the manner in which government is going about it has little hope of addressing the issue. The many land reform management initiatives taken by farmers themselves have dealt with it far more productively.
So stop worrying, and focus on building the best farming business you can. Expend your energy in making profits and, when you get the chance, develop projects to put deserving folk who were dispossessed back onto the land and producing food.
Don’t leave it to government. It’s not going to happen.