AfriForum makes its play in the battle for the hearts and minds of farmers

2019-03-03 06:22
SAAI leadership Theo de Jager (left) and Francois Rossouw.

SAAI leadership Theo de Jager (left) and Francois Rossouw. (Provided)

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On Thursday, at a restaurant called Buffelsfontein Beesboerdery (Buffelsfontein cattle farm) in Pretoria East, a new agricultural organisation called SAAI was launched. SAAI is an acronym for the Southern African Agriculture Initiative, which means "sow" in Afrikaans.

It represents Afrikaner rights organisation AfriForum's long-awaited foray into agriculture and an apparent attempt to counter AgriSA, the largest representative organisation for farmers in the country.

AfriForum and its mother body, Solidarity (that emerged from the white, separatist Mynwerkersunie), now has representation in almost all spheres of society, including its own tertiary institution (Akademia) and media wing (Maroela Media), and are all ideologically aligned.

There has long been unease and even hostility between AgriSA and AfriForum, with the former at the forefront of engagements with government and the ANC about land reform, and the latter opting for confrontation and antagonism as a way to safeguard their members' interests. The two even met last year to negotiate an armistice.

AfriForum

SAAI was launched in typical AfriForum style: a slick and sharp marketing campaign, a launch event at one of the organisation's favourite haunts, clean and modern AfriForum-like corporate logos on drop-down banners, a social media blitz and a flashy new website. All AfriForum trademarks.

It will be led by Theo de Jager, a former deputy president of AgriSA, and Francois Rossouw, a lawyer from Pretoria (with no discernible experience in agriculture).

The leadership team will among others, also consist of Leon Borcherds (a farmer from Limpopo), Meyer de Jager (a member of the Afrikanerbond's national council), and Kallie Kriel, AfriForum's CEO. No women or black farmers have yet been elected or co-opted, Rossouw said.

According to initial reports, SAAI will be supported by AfriForum with assistance in policy formulation to be provided by the Institute for Race Relations. It is open to farmers of all races, and Rossouw provided contact details of two black members.

Rossouw said on Friday that SAAI came about after De Jager – a strong critic of AgriSA and its leadership, and now an opponent – approached him to help with a new organisation.

Funding is provided by AfriForum in the form of a loan, Rossouw said, with SAAI's offices housed in AfriForum's headquarters at DF Malan Avenue in Centurion. AfriForum's human resources department is also helping with logistics. SAAI's lawyers are Hurter Spies, AfriForum’s lawyers, located in the same building (Rossouw said SAAI has been registered as a non-profit organisation but he has yet to provide the registration number).

The confluence of characters is important in order to understand what SAAI's aims are. Theo de Jager is critical of AgriSA's efforts to engage government (and he seemingly left AgriSA on less than amicable terms); Borcherds is president of Agri Limpopo, considered hostile towards AgriSA; Meyer de Jager represents the Bond, while Kriel is seemingly the shareholder's representative. The IRR, which has received funding from AfriForum and a subsidiary organisation in the past, has in recent times become a close AfriForum ally and is also dismissive of AgriSA.

AfriForum

AgriSA on the other hand, is a totally different beast. It not only represents in the region of 27 000 farmers of all shapes and sizes, but also a number of commodity organisations (such as the wool growers' organisation or the red meat producers' organisation) and a number of corporates with interests in agriculture, like banks.

It has actively engaged government and the ANC in looking for a solution to land reform concerns as well as mooted plans to amend Section 25 of the Constitution, the so-called property clause. Dan Kriek - AgriSA's president and an active farmer from the North Eastern Free State - also serves on President Cyril Ramaphosa's presidential advisory committee on land reform.

AgriSA helped organise last year's big agriculture summit in Bela-Bela and has attended all national dialogues about land reform and expropriation.

But AgriSA's critics believe that it is selling out farmers and colluding with government. They believe Kriek has been co-opted into serving a Marxist land-grabbing agenda and that he will eventually sell farmers down the river. Kriek has been depicted by AfriForum's favourite cartoonist as naïve and with his head in the sand, with Kriel retweeting the image of Kriek and adding that if land is expropriated below market value "there won't be sand to put your head in".

In addition, Rossouw explained, AgriSA hasn't taken a "tough enough" stance against proposals to expropriate land at less than market value and has become "removed" from the plight of ordinary farmers.

SAAI will assist farmers with mobile apps and modern farming ideas, Rossouw said, adding that organised agriculture is not "moving forward". SAAI will also help farmers who are victims of land grabs or violence, because they don’t have anywhere to turn to, Rossouw claimed.

Controversial publication 

For its part AgriSA rejected AfriForum's controversial publication of a "list" of farms it said was being targeted for expropriation. AgriSA called it "irresponsible" given that the list couldn't be verified. It was also opposed to Kriel and his deputy Ernst Roets' American junket, where they spent much time promoting Roets' book about farm murders. (Roets, who it is said has ambitions for the top job at AfriForum, is making a YouTube documentary about the land issue titled 'Disrupted Land'.)

AfriForum and Solidarity have been expanding their empire at a rapid pace over the last couple of years. Its vision is in line with that espoused by its patron, Flip Buys, who while at the Mynwerksunie in the 1990s developed the idea of an organisation that could provide its members with critical cultural support and services.

SAAI is but its latest attempt to unite its core consitituency – white, Afrikaans people – under the umbrella of the AfriForum-Solidarity complex. As with its other efforts, like Akademia and Maroela Media, it does so by demonising and undermining existing organisations and depicting them as removed, distant and hostile to the interests of their constituencies. And in an era of neo-nationalism and ethnic mobilisation it has been very successful.

AgriSA represents many white, Afrikaans farmers. But it doesn't portray itself as an Afrikaner organisation. AfriForum seemingly wants to move in on AgriSA's membership, trying to exploit legitimate fears about safety and property security to corral Afrikaners into one camp. Undoubtedly there are fissures in the farming community, with some who believe that any change to the Constitution will spell the end of property rights. And there are those who believe that organised agriculture needs to be part of the process to find a sustainable solution.

AfriForum's public statements and actions suggests that it does not believe in the latter.

Rossouw said SAAI does not want to divide organised agriculture. But on the face of it, that’s exactly what it looks like.

** This piece has been amended. Kriel denies that AfriForum leaders have attacked Kriek. 

Read more on:    agrisa  |  afriforum  |  saai  |  land refom  |  expropriation without compensation
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