My father left his farms, for which he was paid by the government, this past Saturday the 31st of May 2014. Like all his neighbours’ vacated farms there is no plan from the government for producing food off these farms.
What happens in rural KwaZulu-Natal is that the the land comes under the nominal control of the strongest man and under his supposed watch the land becomes overgrazed and then the greatest export that area then has is it’s topsoil. Growing marijuana is the second ranking economic activity followed by cattle theft.
Lets put 120,000 hectares in context. 1 hectare is 100 metres long by 100 metres wide. 120,000 hectares is 100 kilometres long by 12 kilometres wide. That is from our farm on the west side of Stellenbosch to the other side of Stellenbosch and then up to Citrusdal and back.
A 7 year old cattle herder on his lunch break complete with whip, gumboots, hat for the African sun and of course a litre of Liquifruit. I had to make sure the calves followed their mothers to the dipping station and back.
Catching sheep is much easier for little boys. So much so that you can afford to comb your hair, wear a Brokeback Mountain outfit and work barefoot.
It was not all work and no play. Nothing like a farm dam to cool down in after a hard day of animal husbandry…another tough day in Africa.
When I grew up all those 120,000 hectares were commercially farmed. There was minimal soil erosion, crime, food price inflation and South Africa was an exporter of food. Today erosion is the norm, crime is a major problem, we have some of the highest food price inflation in the world and South Africa is now an importer of food.
For the record this is what happened. The cut off date for land claims was 1998. In 2002 a land claim was gazetted against my father’s farms. None of the claimants had lived on the farm when it was proclaimed in 1852 (my father bought it in the 1970’s) At some stage the government issued him with a letter of intent to expropriate. Finally, in 2013 they bought him out at a reasonable price.
Many of the farms in this 120,000 hectares were abandoned because the farmers could not handle the lawlessness (cattle theft and farm murders) and the uncertainty of land claims and accordingly they never got paid out by government.
I am not suggesting that the ownership of the land should have necessarily remained in white hands, however if you are going to take productive land away from white farmers then logic dictates that you must have a plan to keep that land productive. The continuous failure of our government has been a refusal to plan to keep the land productive. To expect someone who has been a farm labourer for all his working life to overnight gain an understanding of working capital, managing and planning the planting season, cash flow management, tractor maintenance, fodder flow for animals etc etc is ludicrous. To understand the aforementioned takes time and accordingly an acknowledgement that the transition to the farm being managed by former labourers is a lengthy process. There was absolutely no consultation with my father or his farm manager as to how best to manage the farm once they had left.
My brother’s and I on Christmas morning in 1986. Christmas in Africa is a summer activity hence no blazing fire in the hearth behind my, then, little brother.
This photo was taken on Friday night from the same place. There is no fire in the hearth either.
It is highly unlikely that an electric light will illuminate that space again. When my father left he stopped paying for the electricity and the new inhabitants will certainly not get themselves organised enough to pay for electricity. I employ the three best men from my father’s farms down here and one of them returned from leave yesterday. He confirmed that there is no electricity on the farm.
Our government has repeatedly shown (witness the debacle of state education where we spend more than all other African countries combined on education but are ranked 148 out of 148 countries globally for maths and science) that none of their policies are aimed at the long term benefit of the country. In fact I challenge any reader to produce an example of something our government is doing a more prosperous future.
Whilst we are on the subject of the various struggles farmers have there are a few other observations.
For many years those in support of land claims from white farms have been saying that a third of the commercial farmland in white hands was previously in black hands.A recent editorial in the Landbou Weekblad made the prescient observation that the value of agricultural land is R155 billion and that a third of that was roughly R50 billion. The government has already spent R70 billion.
Farm murders. On average 31 out of 100,000 South Africans are murdered. For farmers it is 200 out of 100,000.
The failures of land claims are so many that I could fill the blog with the list. One example is the Letsitele Valley in Limpopo where approximately 2,500 workers lost their jobs since the land claim.
From 1994, when the new farmer unfriendly government took over, to today the number of farmers has shrunk from just over 100,000 to close to 35,000.
To rub salt into the farmer’s wounds our president has appointed a new Minister of Agriculture who like all his predecessors has absolutely no idea about Agriculture let alone his other portfolios of Forestry and Fisheries. This minister also pays his cattle herdman R26 a day which is almost R100 a day less than the minimum wage. In addition to this we have a new deputy minister. This non farmer was fired previously when he was Chief of Police for corruption. What is the role of deputy ministers apart from being parasites on the state?
I have come to realise that our obese politicians (the fattest people in the third fattest nation on earth) have not made the connection between agriculture and their obesity. Hence the tough times are going to continue for us farmers until Members of Parliament start to realise that is farmers who produce the food they so LOVE eating.
Finally there are approximately 2.3 million small scale farmers in this country. The government does precisely nothing to help these guys. The future is to help them. A project like this amazing Harvest of Hope/Abalimi Bazekhaya should be so easy for our government to replicate countrywide. Sadly, the last 20 years have show us that our government is purely concerned with enriching itself and it’s cadres.
Some day an abused and malnourished goose will stop laying the golden egg.