US President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Kingdom Parliament last week roundly set out the ties which bind nations and peoples - what he called “values and beliefs”. The fact that there are people in the world who do not have similar values and beliefs is a corollary to his statement, and is an integral reason why some of South Africa’s commercial farmers - and indeed many South African whites – leave the country of their birth for other lands. To put it bluntly, they can’t take it any more. Values and beliefs are very important – they are vital when one is surrounded by people who do not share them. Obama wasn’t talking in Baghdad or Beluchistan, he was addressing people of the same language, the same logical processes, the same ideals – he was in London. In South Africa, diversity is not all it’s cracked up to be by the media, by the commentators who live far away, or by those whose efforts resulted in South Africa falling apart. Diversity didn’t work in the new Yugoslavia, in the new Czechoslovakia, in the Sudan and even in sophisticated Belgium. It’s not working in South Africa either.
It defies logic – the logic to which many subscribe – that the ruling ANC government would target so viciously and relentlessly the commercial farming sector. Without this small group - .01% of the population, the South African government could find itself painted into a corner as food riots roil the land. Food security is the most vital linchpin upon which the SA government can depend. Without that, all the promises in the world won’t placate empty stomachs. Yet the government continues to harass this crucial community to the point where its members leave for other lands, maybe not permanently, but they take their skills which are unique and irreplaceable.
Since the ANC came to power, it has targeted commercial farmers with a barrage of legislation to force them to take on the upkeep of millions. Commercial farmers are the welfare mop. The government is now presenting a draft Land Use Management Bill which will impede the freedom of land owners to develop their land. Much of the proposed legislation is based on the Freedom Charter – “the land shall be owned by those who work it” - and those who thought the ANC had forgotten this relatively antiquated document should think again.
In May, the minister of land development and reform Mr. Gugile Nkwinti declared that the date from which land claims could be counted – 1913 – must be set back even further, this despite that land ownership before that time was not legally owned in terms of a title deed in many areas of South Africa, especially in tribal areas. (It should be remembered that tribes wandered and settled at will in South Africa and the 1913 Land Act at least tried to formalize land ownership in terms of title deeds and contracts. So to go further back from 1913 will present enormous problems as people claim land for which in many cases they have no proof of ownership. Perhaps this move was as a result of Julius Malema’s calls that land was stolen from blacks by whites.
Farming skills are leaving South Africa as have skills in other areas of human endeavour. It needs a high degree of hopelessness and angst for a farmer to leave his country. The Zimbabwe scenario looms large for some. There are more than one thousand South African farmers and entrepreneurs doing business throughout the African continent, from Mozambique to Republic of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and other lands. Georgia in the Caucasus took note of SA’s 37 000 commercial farmers’ ability to produce food for nearly 50 million people, and invited them to go to Georgia. Some have already relocated there. African states have also taken note – they have completed their phases of ridding their country of whites, have seen their people starve, have exhausted their money on food imports and have now come to the conclusion that the only people who can set them on a production path are the white farmers of South Africa.
Nigeria has 79 million hectares of arable land and 70% of the population is engaged in agriculture. Says Loyiso Langeni of Business Day: “Notwithstanding these factors, Nigeria each year imports food and agricultural products to the value of $4 billion.” Sierra Leone has 5,4 million hectares of cultivable land, 90% of which is available for commercial agricultural opportunities. Its government has targeted agriculture as a top priority.
Some SA farmers leave for the money – African countries are paying well for SA expertise, and farmers go for a period to earn income to possibly buy a farm in South Africa. Others are so fed up with the state of the country – the degeneration of everything that was built up over 350 years- that they are prepared to move, lock, stock and barrel. Farm murders continue apace – last week a farmer was tortured and killed and dragged along a road behind a truck.
One need look no further than local government to pinpoint a grievance among farmers. Despite the empirical evidence of wholesale incompetence, corruption and nepotism (how often do we see this trilogy describing the ANC?), the government simply refuses to deploy the right people for the job. Farmers pay handsomely to municipalities, and receive virtually nothing in return. Yet the logic of competency over patronage either escapes the government mindset, or is deliberately ignored in order to keep support. After municipal elections which saw the masses voting for those who despise them, the ANC is now going to “investigate ways to provide struggling municipalities with more money as they are unable to raise sufficient money through rates and taxes” says Gwede Mantashe, ANC secretary general. Naturally there will be a summit in July to discuss and review local government funding, when the whole world can see that it is not funding that is the problem, it is the people running the municipalities. This is diversity at its worst, and farmers (and others) simply cannot abide to live with a mindset such as this. Mantashe is talking about yet another “turnaround strategy” which will be by way of a “budget review” where taxpayers will be burdened with yet more contributions to the ANC municipal bottomless pit. Is it any wonder people leave the country?
Obama said in his London speech that “lasting prosperity comes not from what a nation consumes, but from what it produces, and from the investments it makes in its people”. Nothing could be further removed from this than the policies and behavior of the South African government and many of its followers. Farmers are being driven away because of the SA government’s short sighted policies. Certain of its invincibility, it moves towards the abyss. Who can stop these people? Will the captains of industry, the food wholesalers, the giant milling companies, the exporters, and the mining groups not pool their resources to bring the SA government to heel concerning the precarious position of SA agriculture? Have these businessmen objected to the government’s latest Land Use Management Bill? Have they even read it?
The only thing to bring the SA government to heel is the threat of food shortages. Millions are employed in food production, food retailing, food transport and food manufacturing. If the farmers cease to produce, and many could simply down tools if driven into a corner, then the food industry will have nothing to sell. The full-page vegetable and fruit ads (R20 for a full pocket of potatoes!) will disappear and we will have Zimbabwe-type empty shelves. Who will now stand up to the ANC with respect to this latest lunacy?