As I was contemplating this opinion piece, I remembered the old adage; if you tell a lie several times, you may end up believing it. Moreover, some of your listeners may start to believe your lie. That’s exactly what happened in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwean government and its governing party’s propaganda created an impression that white farmers owned most of the country’s farming land. This was not true; Zimbabwean white farmers only owned about 20 percent of the land. The Zimbabwean government portrayed white farmers as the author of poverty among blacks. Again, this was not true because there were actually thriving black farmers in Zimbabwe, but their participation in farming was disrupted when the land grabs destroyed the value chain and agri-business. The government sponsored land grabs in Zimbabwe exacerbated poverty in that country.
There are lots of disturbing similarities between Zimbabwe and South Africa (SA). The South African public policy in agriculture and land affairs was meant to empower black people and to eradicate poverty. However, since the African National Congress’ (ANC) government introduced the minimum wage regime in the farming sector, more than one million jobs have been lost and the biggest losers are black farm workers. Where Zimbabwe once had a thriving agricultural sector, it has now been all but destroyed. This is also happening in SA – thanks to ill conceived public policy this country has now become a net importer of food and things are getting worse. While the Zanu PF government in Zimbabwe discouraged investors through its indigenisation policy (black empowerment), the South African government is contemplating a 50/50 redistribution land plan.
I don’t foresee the unconstitutional 50/50 redistribution land plan being implemented, but it has already created huge damage by discouraging foreign direct investments. Of course, local investments will also be negatively affected; farmers and banks will largely suspend investments in the agricultural sector due to policy uncertainty. Like the Zimbabwean farmers, some South African farmers will continue to leave this country. We used to have a thriving agricultural sector in SA, but our farmers have been forced into early retirement and migration. Twenty seven countries have approached the agricultural union, AgriSA to recruit our farmers to their countries. More than 800 South African commercial farmers have migrated to Mozambique; yes – SA is importing their products. Half of the farmers in Zambia are South Africans. Some foreign countries are offering 0% VAT on primary supply of agricultural products to our experienced farmers and some of these farmers have already benefited from the Georgian offer of 0% of property tax on property transaction.
The ANC and its government have created a narrative which portrays white farmers as thieves of land that rightfully belongs to the indigenous people of this country. Although these farmers benefited from the apartheid system, it’s disingenuous to attribute the 1913 Land Act to them; they were not yet born. On the other hand, the government’s bad public policy and corruption are responsible for escalating poverty in SA. It’s unfair to blame white farmers for the mismanagement of the land restitution; the blame should be attributed to the poor project management within the government. Most of the land that was attained by black farmers through the land restitution process is commercially redundant. The government failed to craft a Local Economic Development (LED) framework that will assist traditional communities to use the land commercially.
The Royal Bafokeng and Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela were able to formulate their own LED framework and governance structures. The upshot of this has been impressive economic development by these two traditional communities. My ‘thumb-suck’ estimations are that there are about 10 million beneficiaries of the land restitution policy who could maximise the acquired land commercially and become economically empowered. Interestingly, these people automatically acquired the mining rights when they received the land. It is very clear that the government has no plan for how to assist the people who have already acquired land.
If we are serious about fixing South Africa, we should create a public policy that would enable the ‘boer’ (farmer) to come back to farming and ‘maak ‘n plan’. Experienced farmers (white) and new (mostly black) farmers should work together. Black farmers will bring the land while their experienced counterparts bring their massive experience.
The ANC government and unions should start to appreciate the role of farmers in providing food security and creating jobs. Our public policy should be formulated in such a way that most experienced farmers can still own land because in the absence of land, banks won’t give them funding. Actually, all farmers should be given financial support and subsidies regardless of their race.
While the Asian countries and Europeans appreciate and empower their farmers, here in SA the ANC government treats them with contempt and suspicion; this should stop. Massive economic development in China and Asia were stimulated by a thriving agriculture sector. Growth in agriculture boosts productivity in manufacturing and services sectors – this leads to job creation.
Dagada is a Development Economist based at the Wits Business School.