How reform is undone

2012-11-26 00:00

RECENT letters in The Witness regarding land reform and minimum wage, demand a reply. Sadly, the gentleman’s ill­informed opinions regarding land reform are no doubt what the masses in this country are thinking and the ease with which he lays blame at the foot of organised agriculture makes me wonder why he’s not in politics. No one in their right mind can deny that land reform must happen. People who were dispossessed of their land in the apartheid era must have it returned or be compensated accordingly. That is a basic human right upheld by our new Constitution and trust me, farmers are the first to agree with this.

The first problem is that the whole process of land reform is mired in maladministration and corruption, and the amount of prosecutions are testament to this sad fact. It’s just too tempting to make a quick buck out of the process. The government is the first to admit to this.

Secondly, even though billions have been thrown at land reform, government has no idea how much land has been transferred — hence the current audit.

Thirdly, farmers are compensated only as agreed to by government and that in itself can take years, which doesn’t help anyone’s cause and translates into insecurity that affects development and yes, you guessed it — much-needed jobs. Yes, inflated values are being paid. If you can sell your farm for 10 million and not five million, which would you do? If you say you’d accept a lesser value, then you are either a dyed-in-the-wool hypocrite or a close relative of Mahatma Gandhi’s. Unfortunately, the process of land redistribution is not one of common sense — it’s one of politics, and in the end all South Africans are going to lose.

Seven years ago, a highly productive neighbouring farm was part of an illegitimate land claim and in the process well over a thousand people lost their jobs. Today, the entire farm stands derelict. One of the locals saw the main claimant the other day and asked him why they had put in a claim as there was no basis to it. “Tata ma chance,” was the frank reply. Need I say more?

Enjoy the time you have left with your mouth full, my friends. You’ll miss the commercial farmers when we’re gone. And if you doubt me, ask the first Zimbabwean you see. And while you’re about it, ask him why he’s here.

To compound the issue, all South Africans are being held to ransom by monopolies. We have some of the highest cell phone charges in the world and all the rates are suspiciously similar — does one need to look further for collusion? Car prices are almost double what they are in other developed countries — why is that, and why are we not allowed importing second-hand cars from places like Japan? And what about the big retail groups — Shoprite, Checkers, Woolworths? Last financial year, Shoprite saw fit to pay their CEO, Whitey Basson, R627 million — yes you read that right — R627 million. That would go some way towards helping minimum wage. Farmers are paid less than R2,75 for a litre of milk. How much is it in the shops? How can a 300% mark up be justified?

Minimum wage in agriculture is low, there is no denying it, but the fact of the matter is that few farmers can afford to pay more. If you doubt me, put it up and see. Scores of farmers will go out of business, which will send food prices rocketing. In large parts of the world farmers are subsidised, yet here the government sees fit to make them pay land and water rates, and everyone wonders why minimum wage is so low.

Commercial farmers get zero support from government and along with consumers are being milked by the middlemen in this country. Fact.

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