Farmers who make it work in difficult circumstances


The conclusion of the recent court case between Afriforum and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) will be seen by some as a license to express sentiments around ‘killing’ and ‘burning’, writes Robert Davel, CEO of Mpumalanga Agriculture. He says it is important to ask whether this kind of rhetoric is political theater that South Africa can afford. It also unpacks:

  • How, as an organization representing the agricultural economy, Mpumalanga Agriculture has a vested interest in the matter.
  • In a 2017 study across the country, approximately 70% of farms had experienced some type of crime (violent crime, theft, vandalism, etc.). In Mpumalanga it was over 78%.
  • Agriculture contributes about 3% of GDP and about 5% of employment, which makes its contribution to the economy indispensable.

Robert Davel, CEO of Mpumalanga Agriculture. Photo: Supplied/Food for Mzansi

In a rule of law, it is important to respect the judgment of the courts even if it is going to be appealed, as indicated by Afriforum.

Agriculture is not an easy vocation. It’s hard work, with often limited rewards. Farmers face all the challenges of a harsh and changing climate, unpredictable markets, failing infrastructure, a difficult and hostile regulatory environment, and constant threats to physical security.

These challenges would be familiar to most South Africans, but for those of us working in the agricultural sector, they are compounded by the isolation in which we live and work. We are often alone, with only our own resources and the help of our neighbors to turn to.

The agricultural economy also occupies a special place in the South African political imagination. Terence Corrigan of the Institute of Race Relations wrote about the “brutal farmer stereotype”. in 2018 He presents the idea of ​​a “farmer” or a “boer”; not as a fellow citizen engaged in a certain type of work, but as a symbol of a larger societal problem.

Corrigan wrote: “The concept of ‘farmer’ has been deployed as a sign of depravity and an expression of abuse in rural South Africa. (I wonder if any other professional group has had the dubious honor of attracting or being targeted by a political chant: ‘Kill the Farmer, Kill the Boer’?)”

Sometimes accusations are made against “farmers” when no real farmer was involved.

Farming communities vulnerable to violent crime

It is not surprising that inflammatory rhetoric of this nature deeply disturbs farming communities. This implies that farmers are not an integral part of our country and our communities. Indeed, such rhetoric suggests that the threats facing farming communities are understandable, even justifiable. It normalizes what a constitutional democracy – based on common citizenship and the rule of law – should not and never can accept.

Such language also touches on very real concerns. Often beyond the reach of quick help, farming communities are vulnerable to crime. Many in these communities have personal experience of crime. I would say every farmer can attest to that and invariably knows or knows someone who has been murdered – so they feel extremely vulnerable.

Let’s put some numbers on that. Agri SA conducted a study on crime trends in 2017 to establish the costs and frequency of agricultural crime. Nationwide, about 70% of farms have been victims of some type of crime (violent crime, theft, vandalism, etc.). In Mpumalanga, my own province, it was over 78%. The total cost of crime has been estimated at over R7.7 billion. Only a quarter of farmers bothered to report every crime they experienced, with many believing it would be a waste of time.

An Afriforum report released earlier this year estimated the number of people murdered on farms and smallholdings – farmers, farmworkers, residents, visitors – at 364 between 2016 and 2021. This only refers to actual killings , not to the higher number of “agricultural attacks”. ”. Depending on the year, between 8% and 22% of murders were accompanied by torture.

In this context, is it any wonder that farmers find language glorifying murder and destruction threatening? It does, whether metaphorically intended or not. It also undermines the cohesive and united future to which the overwhelming majority of South Africans aspire.

This concerns all farmers

And it’s not a “racial thing”. The threats to life and property that agriculture faces are as much of a danger to black farmers as they are to white farmers. Anyone who disputes this hasn’t been paying attention.

Former Agri SA chief Dan Kriek once said, “The whole narrative, of black farmers and farm workers being attacked and murdered, gets lost in the whole conversation. How can we, in a country with our history, convince the whole of society that this is a problem that we all need to solve? »

We farmers are practical people. We prefer to focus on lasting solutions to real problems.

Agriculture contributes about 3% of GDP and about 5% of employment. If we add up its contribution to value chains, agriculture is essential to more than 10% of GDP. During the Covid-19 pandemic, agriculture took hold in the country. As the country faces inflationary pressures and rising costs of living, remember that these problems would be much worse without a robust national agricultural economy.

If we care about South Africa and its future, we must care about its agriculture and its farmers.

It’s no mystery to us that we need good relationships between the various stakeholder groups. As organized agriculture and as individual farmers, this is a priority for us. No other industry is mandated to take responsibility for our employees like we are. Overall, we do. Of course, there are inevitable conflicts – as in any industry – but these must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

We do not tolerate poor farmer behavior; we are firm on this for legal reasons and because much of our commercial access depends on maintaining ethical standards. In case of failure, the door of Mpumalanga Agriculture is always open to solve any problem. But it causes immense frustration when we are faced with baseless allegations presented as facts, or vague assertions without details that would allow investigation, or when complex assertions and counterclaims are reduced to platitudes and easy certainties. . We call for more discernment and reflection on these issues.

Let there be no doubt that we as farmers are here to stay, to bring our skills and energies to South Africa and our communities. This is our offer, a practical offer, and it is much better than divisive political rhetoric.

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