NewsSouthern AfricaSouth Africa's white farmers seek role in land reform as economic pressure grows


Posted on Thursday, 01 November 2018 16:58

South Africa's white farmers seek role in land reform as economic pressure grows

By Reuters

Workers herd sheep on a farm near Durbanville on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, July 12, 2012. Photo: AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam  Over 10 years ago, Sabie Tsuke and 15 other investors achieved a dream that few black South Africans get to experience -- owning farming land.

The 472 hectares farm, situated 180 KM (110 miles) south of Johannesburg, was first bought by the state from a white farmer and transferred to a trust comprised of hopeful black farmers.

Located in the fertile maize belt, today the land lies fallow, the husk of the former silo testimony to its lost productivity. Tsuke and her co-trustees were unable to develop the land due to lack of funding and training.

An unoccupied shack is the only standing structure at the farm.

"This farm does not benefit us, the government has never helped us. As you can see how this farm is, we were never trained and we know nothing about farming," said Tsuke.

Land ownership is contentious in South Africa, a generation after the end of apartheid because most is still in the hands of the white minority.

Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has followed a "willing-seller, willing-buyer" model under which the government buys white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks.

Progress has been slow and most South Africans believe something has to be done to accelerate change, providing it does not hurt the economy or stoke unrest.

As well as voices warning of economic collapse and inter-racial violence either with or without the reform, some are suggesting ways through the minefield.

Nick Serfontein, a white cattle farmer, is on a panel chosen by president Cyril Ramaphosa to help him speed up redistribution without undermining the economy, after writing an open letter asking the leader to consider commercial farmers' views.

Serfontein, who founded and now chairs Sernick Group which focuses on large-scale cattle and beef production, says change is needed as emerging black farmers want to get into the market but often lack direction.

But he warns against a plan to allow the state to seize land without compensation saying:

""Well I'm not in favour of expropriation without compensation I don't think it's necessary, I think it's going do more harm than good."

Serfontein has been acting as a financial go-between since 2016 to help blacks access loans they need to develop land.

Solomon Mosoeu is one of the farmers who has benefitted from Serfontein's initiatives.

Mosoeu has been leasing 640 hectares of farmland from the government since 2011 and has grown his cattle herd from 36 to 160 with the help of loans via Serfontein.

"I like that to be mentored by Nick Serfontein cause he knows what his doing and since he mentored me I can see progress, I can see where am I going," he said.

Serfontein admits that his model is not a panacea but sees it as a stepping stone.

Not the solution

More than 60 black farmers now borrow from Serfontein to buy calves that are raised on Sernick's feed lots.

When their cattle are slaughtered, the farmers repay him and use any surplus to buy more cattle.

Some analysts like Tshokolo Nchocho, chief executive of Land and Agricultural Development Bank of South Africa say initiatives such as government bought land that is redistributed to blacks will not solve the problem, especially if black farmers are not trained on how to develop the land.

"The beneficiaries of the projects have not in our own assessment been provided with adequate technical support measures and if I may say this, even the most well established farmers in South Africa still take advise operational, technical advice on an ongoing basis," said Nchocho.

Some observers have questioned the overall focus of land reform, noting the mounting need for housing among swelling urban populations.

Few polls have been done on the issue but one recent one commissioned by the South African Institute of Race Relations, a liberal advocacy group, found unemployment was the most important on a list of 12 issues among 47% of voters surveyed. Land reform was last at 6%.

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