Land Reform in Action

A new book, “The Great South African Land Scandal,” deals with “the possibility that South Africa could go the same way as Zimbabwe.” The author, Dr Philip du Toit, is an attorney and specialist on land reform and labour law. In his foreword he says: “Stories about the collapse of farms handed over to emerging farmers under the government’s land reform programme have circulated for some time. But over the last two years the desecration of some of South Africa’s productive farmland has increased to such an extent that land is being taken out of production at an alarming rate.”

God has blessed South Africa with food. The country produces enough to feed 100 million people in Southern Africa – even though 27% of the land is mostly drought-stricken and only 12% suitable for cultivation. Food production needs a high level of expertise and is impossible without prayer and hard work.

An Invitation to Famine

In February 2001, in a R43million land agreement, the Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs, Ms. Thoko Didiza, handed over the 1400 ha Letsitele Valley farms near Tzaneen to 1500 people of the Mamathola tribe. These farms had a turnover of R15 million a year, and the tribe was given R4,5 million as operating capital. But after the take-over none of them came to farm and live on the land. Instead, they elected a committee who paid themselves a monthly salary of R12000 each. They did not farm either. Two years later investigators found that the “avocado trees were dying of thirst. While the farm dam was full, the pipes from the dam were broken – there was apparently no money to fix them… The mango trees spring blossoms were out, but these trees were not watered either. The papayas hung from dry trunks, while grass and weeds grew between the expertly laid out plantation rows… Three state-of-the-art packing sheds were empty, loose crates lying about. There was not a soul to be seen. Electricity had been cut off so the cool rooms didn’t work…. As we drove through this once beautiful farm, we came upon neglected macadamia groves. Thousands and thousands of macadamia nuts lay under the trees, unharvested. These are the most expensive nuts on the market. South Africa’s macadamia export production goes mainly to the United States where consumers can afford them… Further on, a citrus orchard’s trees gasped for water in the searing heat. These ‘ghost farms’ are appearing all over South Africa… The farming equipment which had been handed over in pristine condition was virtually unusable, but the R12000 a month salaries were still taken until the farm operation was placed under judicial management!” Before the hand-over to the Mamathola tribe the valley’s 3000ha of intensively farmed fruit orchards had brought in tens of millions of rands in foreign currency every year and supported a labour force of between 2000 and 3000 black workers plus their families.

A similar fate befell the farm Zebediela, the world’s biggest citrus estate in the Limpopo Province. It used to be called “the diamond of agricultural projects,” and in 1978 the Readers’ Digest, in its Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa, wrote: “Nearly 400 million oranges are harvested each year… At the height of the season, about 15000 cases of oranges leave Zebediela every day. The fruit comes from more than 565000 trees irrigated by enough water to supply a city…” (p. 122) The harvest was worth R30 million a year. But after its hand-over to the Agricultural and Rural Development Corporation of the ruling ANC Government the estate suffered a loss of R30 million in 2000 and of R35 million in 2001. The press reported that it was “beyond recovery.” A lemon yield worth R8 million was left to rot because there was no money to pay staff. In March 2001 ABSA Bank stopped all credit and bounced a pension cheque of R56 million. The seller farmers had been only too ready to help the new owners, but their help was rejected.

Some land claims are historically questionable. In fact, the SA Institute of Race Relations asks: “Do we have a land problem in South Africa? … The 30% target for redistribution has been put in place with no evidence of actual demand for rural land and could have major implications for commercial agriculture.” In the past 30 years, the number of commercial farmers of all races has, in fact, decreased from 70000 to less than 35000. In The Great South African Land Scandal Dr du Toit concludes:: “The government’s promise to return the land to the people as outlined in the Freedom Charter is an invitation to famine.” (p. 250)

Farm Invasions and Killings

The book describes agricultural decline in all provinces, but the situation seems most serious in Gauteng and Natal. A farmer in Kranskop, Natal, lost four of his family members to farm murders. In his area, eleven farmers were killed. Since 1994 altogether 1600 farmers have been murdered in South Africa in more than 8000 farm attacks. Farmers suffer cattle and crop theft, intimidation, arson, and land invasions. Self-appointed chieftains sell plots of farmland which does not belong to them. In the past few years, in Kranskop alone, farmers abandoned 14 commercial farms of more than 10,000 ha to masses of squatters. Because of the failure of the police, farmers in KwaZulu-Natal pay R60 million a year to private security companies. Stock theft amounts to c. R120 million a year, and the Government loses around R100 million p.a. in taxation as a result of besieged and abandoned farms.

The Road to Poverty.

Dr Du Toit also deplores that, “until the present government came to power South Africa was not only a leading player in agricultural research in Africa but indeed in the world. Many of its institutes were world famous – Onderstepoort, for example, was South Africa and Africa’s most prestigious veterinary science research institution.” (p. 209) But now world class veterinarians have left the institute – among them researchers in vaccination, tuberculosis, foot and mouth and tropical diseases, etc. Last year 400 researchers withdrew their services from the Agricultural Research Council. 

South Africa’s needs have long outgrown subsistence farming, such as most ‘emergent farmers’ practise. It cannot afford the subsistence mentality. It needs agricultural expertise of the highest standard and a work ethic of singular dimensions. Most of all, it needs to look unto God, the great Provider, the Giver of all good things. For it is He who through obedient hands “raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill, that he may set him with princes.” Psalm 113: 7-8

This article is by Mrs Dorothea Scarborough and is condensed from the latest Gospel Defence League newsletter.

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