Cape Town – The debate on land reform should be opened up to provide some certainty to commercial farmers who are thinking about fleeing the country, Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder said on Thursday.
"Commercial farmers are uncertain about their future. Fifteen years ago there were 60 000 farmers, but now there are only 37 000 farmers. There are 24 African countries asking for our farmers," he said.
Land reform was an emotional issue but had to be discussed by a cross-section of the population to evoke debate and find workable solutions.
Shutting down debate because it was a sensitive issue, he said, would say a lot about the state of the government.
Mulder – who serves as deputy agriculture minister – was speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Cape Town Press Club.
In a debate on President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address in February, Mulder was shut down for saying that black "Bantu-speaking" people had no historical claim to land in SA.
Zuma reprimanded him for his "careless and callous manner" of approaching the land issue.
"That is why we have been very careful on this matter, and I don’t think we should provoke emotions in this country. We shouldn’t.
"It’s wrong, it’s not good leadership, no matter what your constituents may think," Zuma had said of Mulder.
Mulder acknowledged government’s introduction of a green paper on land reform but said people should be free to voice their opinion.
His opinion was that he had seen many black farmers who had been given land and were extremely successful; he had also seen those who had not been as lucky, proving that "land alone does not guarantee wealth".
The views on land reform, however, would continue to be inextricably linked to the perceptions and values of those with a voice.
Mulder said putting food security on the agenda would make the debate more balanced "because if we don’t produce food, we’re in trouble".
According to Mulder, 30% of productive, arable land had been "lost" since 1994, mostly due to failed land restitution.
"That is a big worry because we can’t continue this…(having a situation) of less farmers and more people to feed."