South Africa’s Agricultural Woes Yet to Hit us!
Once upon a time, there was Zabediela…
“Remember Zebediela Citrus Estate? Here’s what happened to it:
From 1918 to 1926, more than 565 000 citrus trees were planted on 2 260 ha of this estate’s land. For the twenty five years before the estate was sold to the South African government in 1974, it showed a profit of millions of rands every year. After the sale, Zebediela grew to become “the diamond of agricultural projects”. It was of such great national pride that the Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa wrote in 1978 that “nearly 400 million oranges are harvested each year from the groves of Zebediela, the world’s biggest citrus estate. The output is sufficient to provide one orange for every eight people on earth.
This was written in 2001: Zebediela Citrus Estate, once the largest of its kind in the world with an annual harvest worth R30 million, is in ruins today losing more than R35 million per annum. Taken over by the Agricultural and Rural Development Corporation, its managers were replaced by people who had no farming experience. Half the citrus trees have died and hundreds of employees have been retrenched.
The Lisbon Citrus and Mango Estate, once our largest exporter of mangoes, has met a similar fate. So has the Saringwa Estate in the Lowland which is now R17 million in debt. The Gillemsberg Citrus and Cattle Boerdery, once debt free and producing R14 million per year, has been totally plundered. This once magnificent 25 000 hectare gem is now a huge squatter camp. One of the largest pig farms in the country was also handed over in a ceremony attended by Nelson Mandela himself who claimed that the farm would serve “as a breadbasket of the community”. Today all the pigs are gone and squatters are living in their pens.
Around the country examples abound of the systematic destruction of the last remaining food exporting infrastructure in Africa. As in Zimbabwe, the claim of “racial imbalance” in land ownership is a red herring. With the government owning around 25% of South Africa’s land, there is ample land available for those who want to work it. But that is not being distributed. Instead organised agriculture is being strangled to death by those who seek only to occupy farms and not to continue their productivity.” (Posted on WhatsApp Group called NEWS & VIEWS.)
Today I am at my wits end because this seems to be the trend of failure in South Africa. All the SoEs in South Africa are either bankrupt, corrupted to the core, applying for yet another billion Rand bailout or just a business card of ANC styled management which, with great rhetoric covers the stealing hands. Sad but true, the centre cannot hold and mere anarchy can be let loose on South Africa when food security becomes a stark reality or a daily phenomenon. It appears that only when things are totally defunct, destroyed and dysfunctional then realisation locks in and management steps in to do something. Furthermore, it shows that political parties are very pugnacious in their rightful fight for land restitution and ancestral claims but, do not have a sense of management, strategic planning and technical know how. In fact, it is so common place that there is actual delight in the top brass of SoEs and government spokespersons to beg for bailouts and gloat when their begging of foreigners or the IMF for huge loans to resuscitate a hopeless situation is successful. They come home like heroes. Alas! they have just plundered our dignity too. Then the prodigious looting of natural resources, the noisome use of donations, the mysterious loss of funds and the exuberant, verbose explanations by officials tell us a story of incompetency at levels unheard of in centuries. Believe it or not, we are on the receiving end of officials who honestly think we are fools who truly believe in us taking their stories/explanations as gospel.
Gospel is the word of Allah, the Great. It is irrefragable and distinct from the speech of humans and what is said is said. However, man uses this irrefutable word of Allah, the all Knowing, to bolster an argument, win a debate, augment an opinion or to prevail over opponents. The irony of it all is the overlays of hypocrisy in the name of Allah, the Subtle when we ask and plea for justice but honestly it is only for our personal whims and fancies. Having said that, officials think that their position gives them a sense of omniscience, omnipresence and autonomy which cannot be contested therefore, they can say what they want. In this way they become the gods and ‘godlings’ within their silos and the infinity beyond the silos suffer but, are kept as the rarefied who must always feel like they need these gods and ‘godlings’. To illustrate the point visit every election and note the prophetic like promises of politicians that slakes the woes, fears and needs of the masses who, with understanding of the blighted condition of the leaders, will still vote them in again, and again and again.
Again and again farmers have become victim of political games which land up in food security issues and subterfuge to usurp their land. In this instance take a look at the current farmers’ strike in India. The Farm Bills are best described as ‘anti-farmer Bills’ and are designed to leave the farmers at the obscene mercy of corporates who, by design, are driven by huge profits and power to diminish all opposition. The essence of the Farm Bills is to corporatise farming to such an extent that small and subsistence farmers will be forced into becoming labourers or stand to lose their land to capitalist junkies. We cannot forget that India faced the suicide of 300 000 farmers over the past two decades and the links are debated in relation to genetically modified seeds, the monopolisation of GM seeds, rising production costs, the application of terminator technology and patent control. Put all this in one basket and the farmers stand to lose out and government would gain infinitely.
In India the farmers are fighting to farm and absolutely passionate about making a living that is pure whilst in South Africa we have the BEE scenarios where farmers are reluctant to up skill themselves and maintain what has been given to them for basically free. Consequently, we have huge tracts of arable land going to waste and probably so badly eroded that millions of Rands must be spent to make it fertile. South Africa, between 1860 and 1911, under the British brought Indians to Natal to develop the sugar industry in the province. It was a very successful venture on the side of the British but, a nightmare on the side of the Indians because, of the oppression meted out on them. Today, we don’t have sugar cane farms owned by Indian farmers but, I have this nagging sense of the past playing itself out differently. The fact that there is little or no border control in South Africa and immigration control is like a seed in the hand readied for planting in barren land, farmers from India will come over and will begin to cultivate a new life.
Many Indians and Pakistanis have come and are coming into South Africa as undocumented immigrants and have established themselves in business from ‘spaza shops’ to wholesale business such that they have a place in every sector of society now. They saw the gap and filled it with their own brand including filling local club cricket with Indians who arrived in South Africa less than a year ago or perhaps a little longer than that. Extrapolate on this and it is a very possible scenario that they will merge onto farms that are hopelessly run down and begin farming and would give the BEE owners a run for their squatters. Eventually, they will have purchasing power and the land will change hands and whatever will happen to the Black Land First movement will be for historians to write. This is not far-fetched because already we are learning of Indian farmers growing Indian dietry vegetables for the growing Indian population and the huge Indian and Pakistani restaurants and food take-away shops. They are not going to wait for handouts and then worry of paying debts because, their current history in their own country is hard and an unforgettable lesson.
Indians were imported as it was found by colonial authorities that local black Africans were economically self-sufficient, and thus unwilling to subject themselves to employment by colonial farmers. (https://zululandobserver.co.za)
The unforgettable memories that plague the minds, hearts and souls of the White farmers is the continuous spate of murders of farmers. According to Farmers Weekly.co.za online news statistics collected by TAU SA, 71 murders occurred nationwide in 2020. Furthermore, the stats provide evidence that this was a 26,8% increase on the 56 murders on farms and smallholdings during 2019. Now ponder deeply and ask yourself some probing questions:
- What happens to the farm when the farmer is killed?
- Who will take ownership of the farm?
- How will the land be cultivated and if there is crop and who will harvest it?
- Why has the government not termed this as a terrorist activity and made it a huge national concern?
- With more fallow land, what will be the impact on food security and produce in South Africa?
Protests to highlight the grim reality. Will it help?
The answers to the questions above are not one word answers. They require a very strategic thinking mindset because, it affects all South Africans. It is my thinking that we need to revisit our education system and make agricultural studies part of the curriculum in a way that it makes the study of genetics, terminator technology, genetically modified seeds and biotechnology subjects that should be taught across the curriculum. In this way, South Africa can be saved from the horror of what happened and what is happening to Indian farmers in India or land up like Zimbabwe where there is a colossal shortage of food because, farmers cannot farm at an optimum or farm at all. Integrated teaching of economics, engineering, artificial intelligence, augmented realities and robotics should be taught within the holistic farming reality so that the science behind farming can be appreciated and enhanced. This means that farm schools must become little havens of this century’s schools of the future. Empowerment of the labourers will be concretised and it would open the doors of opportunity for their children to be educated farmers with grass-roots experiences unlike the general hopeless farmers that have taken over the likes of Zebediela. The brutal fact is that Apartheid polarised us in South Africa and the oppression meted out to non-whites cannot be forgotten. This has etched hate in the minds of the oppressed and it has never been addressed in context. On the other hand, it appears that there is a bigger hand at play behind the killing of farmers, the ‘handing over’ of great farms to incompetent BEE farmers and taking loans from the IMF and foreigners to revive dead farms.
The dead farms in South Africa, enlivened by foreign investors for me, means the introduction of huge multi-national corporates into South Africa. In its wake South Africa will lose billions of Rands and millions of Dollars to foreigners and will keep the scraps that will be looted. South Africa will be a beggar in its own house and will be scavenging for food in its own rubbish heaps and dumps. We will then ask, “Where are the farmers?” We will find them in Russia and other countries probably exporting their produce that they once harvested in South Africa, to South Africa at even more exorbitant prices. Faugh! we will then face the reality of our voted government looting the profits and serving us crumbs from their table more abundant with food than that of the ‘Last Supper.’
In conclusion, I remember with great fondness how my Aunt would take me to the farms in Malane in Mpumlanga to buy export quality long green mangoes and litchis directly from the farmers. It was a delight back then to watch the operation, the sorting, the packaging and the general work. Today, in hindsight, I can feel the organisation of those huge operations because, as a Principal of a school I am more aware of human resource management and strategic planning as high priority for effective growth. I am fully aware that the oppression of Apartheid had interminable and pejorative socio-economic consequences then and, its effects still linger on but, I cannot fathom how we have, after more than 20 years of democracy messed things up so badly that we are begging the architects of neo-colonialism for money, expertise and technical know how as if we are a people without brains. Education before liberation or liberation before education is just another argument now and all the data points that we are a nation of a challenged education system but, not yet liberated from the shackles of desirous begging and making people believe that Africans are born into charity. This toxic mindset is the biggest ignominy we need to elevate from. We need to show the reality that Africans can be independent. It is time that the political rhetoric has to move off the pulpit and into the realm of action.
One day, you will wake up and you will smell the coffee. If you don’t there will be no bread to enjoy it with because, there will be no harvest of all maize. In the haze of the craze you will put your cheap imported branded coffee down sold at gold prices, because Checkers and Pick n Pay will have empty shelves, and you will scream, “Where are the famers!?”. The answer: “Gone with the Wind!”
Zebediela. In its heyday.