The Great Trek to the Congo

2011-05-21 16:11

The atmosphere is that of a change room before a big rugby match.

But the “jerseys” being handed out are khaki shirts, each one with the “player’s” name on the chest and the flag of the Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) on the shoulder.

Then this team of 45 farmers starts discussing tactics.

They will soon be on their way to hack commercial farms out of the bushes of the Niari Valley in south western Congo where 80 000 hectares have been divided ­into 40 plots for them.

Among them is Andy Tladi – the ­only black farmer in the group.

Tladi, who farms in Hammanskraal and Rustenburg, spoke enthusiastically about the Congo. He was there in March to look at his 2 000ha stand.

“It’s a paradise. There’s a lot of ­water – it’s only dry for four months out of the year. Anything will grow well there,” he said.

Tladi sees farming in the Congo as a good business opportunity and also as a way to trade skills with the Congo.

He realised that people might find it strange that he, a black farmer, would take part in a project like this.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for white and black workers to come together to our communal advantage and also to the advantage of the people of the Congo.

I’m still trying to convince black farmers to become a part of this,” he said.

He believed that the white farmers going to the Congo had their hearts in the right place.

“It’s about business and not politics or crime. They don’t want to run away from Africa.”

Tladi wants to farm sunflowers,but he also admitted to another mission.

“I want to teach the Congolese to eat pap, it’s much tastier and has more nutritional value than the cassava they eat,” he said.

He believed South Africans there would produce enough to satisfy the Congolese market and export food to neighbouring countries like Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Tladi has never regretted joining the overwhelmingly white AgriSA.

“The farmers of AgriSA have welcomed their black fellow farmers into their ranks, in contrast to the right wing Transvaal Agriculture Union (TAU) and the politicised black agricultural unions, who don’t want to work with white farmers.

The TAU and the black agricultural unions have the same wrong mindset,” he said.

“Black farmers need the help of the experienced and knowledgeable white farmers.

The black agricultural unions just care about politics, not in good business.

It’s in the best interest of all South Africans that this bickering stops.

“White farmers need to realise that they must not resist the redistribution of land.

If they’re not prepared to share some of the land, they stand to lose everything.

“And the government lets new black farmers down.

They give land to a community, not to individual farmers. You can’t farm commercially if you have more than 200 people living on a farm. And worst of all, the government does not train new farmers.

“As black farmers we cannot survive alone. The government must help and the black agricultural unions need to accept that they need the white ­farmers.”

Tladi is hiring a farm manager and will commute between the two ­countries.

For Wynand du Toit, South ­Africa’s most infamous prisoner of war during the apartheid government’s offensive against Swapo insurgents in Angola, it’s an exciting new opportunity.

“At a meeting of the farmers last ­December I was asked how I would get to the Congo.

I said I would drive. Now it has become a big adventure,” he said.

Du Toit (53)and his family are going to farm in the Congo permanently.

“My reasons are economic.

The construction industry is suffering and I have to develop other business ­interests. In South Africa land is too ­expensive,” he said.

“It’s not political.

I don’t bother with politics.

I think the new government is doing a better job than the old one.

I’m angrier with the old ­government.”

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