Farmers call for “progressive approach” to land reform
Uitenhage: South Africa’s organised agriculture has reiterated its stance against land expropriation without compensation, instead highlighting an alternative, progressive approach to land reform.
This during a roadshow led by a high-profile delegation of representatives from farmers’ organisation Agri South Africa in the Eastern Cape this week.
Land reform and other burning issues such as increasing incidents of farm attacks were discussed during the three-day roadshow, hosted by Agri EC, which culminated in Uitenhage on Thursday (April 12), after stops in Komani(Queenstown) and Graaff-Reinet.
Rural safety was one of the most important and emotional issues for farmers – and also posed an economic risk to the sector – according to Agri SA director of corporate liaison and marketing, Kobus Visser.
“It’s not just our farmers and their families who are affected, our farm workers are also traumatised by rural crime,” said Visser, who advised farming organisations to strengthen their working relationships with the local police, establish farmwatch systems and become more involved in the police reservist system.
Visser said there had been a 22% increase in farm-related crimes and a 27% increase in farm murders in 2016/17. But, he said, this was a reflection of what was happening in the wider South African landscape and was not just limited to the rural areas.
Agri SA president Dan Kriek said he had noted “a progressive attitude” among the almost 500 farmers who attended the roadshow.
“Agri SA confirms our stance against [land expropriation without compensation]. We will defend the Constitution as we believe there are many better alternatives – such as black economic empowerment and functional public-private partnerships,” said Kriek.
Agri SA head of land affairs, Annelize Crosby, said Section 25 of the Constitution was not the impediment to land reform, citing other issues such as an insufficient budget, wasteful expenditure and the slow pace of land reform as more serious.
“It has, however, created an opportunity for us as a country to think very seriously about how to address the land issue and make compromises to take matters forward,” she said.
Crosby said Agri SA’s member organisations had spent R318-million on transformation in 2016/17 – an increase of 58% from the previous financial year. Of this, 108 210 farmers had benefitted from development programmes and other empowerment initiatives during the 2016/17 financial year.
“We can speed up land reform significantly, which is what we’ve always wanted to do, but we need a stable policy environment,” said Crosby, adding that if expropriation without compensation were to go ahead, it would not happen overnight and that the process involved many checks and balances.
Former Agri EC president Ernest Pringle said South Africa needed to emulate the example of many Asian and Latin American countries and encourage rapid economic growth by adopting free enterprise policies. The policy of land expropriation and the alienation of property rights discouraged investment and jeopardised food security, he added.
“We need to change the way we approach growth in this country. Agriculture is a low-hanging fruit for development and stimulating growth,” said Pringle.
When it came to discussing the implementation of the new national minimum wage – of R18 an hour – Agri SA labour and development expert Jahni de Villiers advised farmers that its implementation would no longer commence on May 1. Rather, it would only start once the parliamentary process involving its introduction was completed, she said.
Under the current proposed plan, the agricultural sector will pay 90% of the minimum sector wage for the first two years and the full amount from year three.
In spite of the drought gripping many parts of the country, increased farm attacks and the uncertainty surrounding land expropriation, farmers were generally upbeat.
Cattle farmer Danny Wepener, who farms in Shaw Park near Bathurst, said he and his fellow farmers were committed to agriculture despite the challenges, such as drought and political uncertainty, and were feeling generally positive.
“Issues like land expropriation won’t happen overnight. We as farmers will leave it to the experts to sort out and provide answers to our fellow farmers,” said Wepener.