Tackling food supply challenges, realistically

2016-09-07 06:00

Masechaba Ndlovu’s The Great Debate on e.tv, which was about food production and use, proved to be plain good journalism.

In my opinion, the recent show succeeded in sustaining and advancing South African discourse on a matter that is as important and relevant as the devastating consequences of the spread of HIV and Aids, that is, hunger.

The show had dynamic people like former Cosatu general-secretary, Jay Naidoo, now one of the leaders of an agricultural and land initiative called Earthrise Trust, as well as the ANC KZN firebrand, Bheki Cele, now deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fishery. It also featured representatives of white agriculture farming interest in the form of Agri SA.

Naidoo stole the show with his charisma, authority and pragmatism, let alone one of the inserts in the show which was on Earthrise Trust’s people-orientated farming cooperative which he said could be replicated all over the country.

The co-operative comprises former farm workers who now have their own land and crops they are producing and selling.

Naidoo and other non-governmental organisations representing farm workers regretted the fact that South Africa is producing food and exporting it overseas when there are too many people in the country who are reportedly going to bed without food as a way of life.

The e.tv presenter, Ndlovu, made me proud when she wanted answers to the challenge of food production and supply challenges as Cele tried to help her with statistics on the estimated number of people who go to sleep without anything to eat regularly.

She sort of suggested that it is no longer enough for the likes of ANC’s Cele to acknowledge the magnitude of the pain or damage that was caused by centuries of white political, economic and social domination, but they must be seen to be doing something about it as they are now in government or in charge of policy transformation.

However, one must be mindful of the fact that the ANC inherited government in a capitalist or free enterprise context in which government is a democratic player in the interest of the broader public and not a dictator.

Moreover, South Africans have good reasons not to be too excited about commercial land takeover in an African sub-continent where our own black struggle hero, the ageing Robert Gabriel Mugube, the life-long president of Zimbabwe, has in recent years passed laws in that country which allowed blacks to take over white-owned commercial land without compensation.

Unfortunately, Zimbabwe’s agricultural sector and economy as a whole is collapsing. Reclaimed land is underutilised under Mugabe’s watch and one doubts his interest, competence, commitment, vision and capacity to develop or establish marketing networks.

One of the highlights of the show was a white lady who was quite vocal about the insulting absence of food chain shops in the show and how this confirmed their nonchalance and disregard for the plight of the hungry.

The participation of a Department of Social Development official was most appropriate given the fact that this department has a programme dedicated to addressing the challenge of hunger or starvation known as social relief of distress.

Cele’s honesty and openness to criticism saved him from a debate that clearly suggested government was still collaborating with white dominated capital in the production and supply of food in a manner that benefits capital and not the hungry.

Yet again the presenter’s understanding of her panel and subject matter made me proud and I realised that our country is indeed in safe hands if we have such young critical thinkers who are not only talented as television show hosts, but show genuine sensitivity to the challenges that South Africa has.

Cele’s assertion that government had to be seen to be supportive of commercial agriculture because South Africa was competing at an international level made sense.

But judging from the input from others, it seems that it has dawned on the voice of the voiceless like Naidoo and other NGOs that being seen to be viable as a country must also translate to our capacity to feed the hungry at home. And that this is crucial and non-negotiable.

It is true that the ruling party or ANC government is addressing the land and agriculture issues. I am aware of the growing number of people who are re-claiming their ancestral land that previously got taken away by white farmers.

It is initiatives like The Great Debate that make me continue to believe in the power of journalism in promoting relevant debates in South Africa. Such shows assist civil society’s capacity for dialogue, engagement and the subsequent realisation of the aspirations of the previously marginalised.

• Simphiwe Mkhize writes in his personal capacity.

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