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Thoko Didiza Foto: FELIX DLANGAMANDLA
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There is a need to enhance communication, cultivate a shared vision, and sustain coordination between the national department and provincial departments that are responsible for agriculture and land issues, write Mzukisi Qobo and Wandile Sihlobo.
The appointment of Thoko Didiza as Minister of
Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development is a welcome development for
the sector. Given the turbulence that this sector has gone through in recent
times, the country needed someone with her calm demeanor, experience, wisdom,
In her previous stint in this ministry, spanning 1999
to 2006, she demonstrated a rare strength to bring together disparate groups
and interests to develop a shared perspective on moving the agricultural sector
forward. During this time, she earned the respect and trust of various farmer
organisations and agribusinesses. It is worth underlining how fractious and
politically incendiary this sector is, and will always be. Didiza is by no
means an angel.
That period had its fair share of failures as
documented in the Motlanthe report on land reform, which undertook an extensive
review of government policies and legislation for the past couple of years. These
failures included lack of financial and human capital to drive change in the
sector. The failures were not entirely her own. Partly, the various farming
groups could not transcend their parochial interests.
In Didiza you have someone who has battle scars.
Hopefully, she had a moment of reflection during her time outside of
government. Her previous experience combined with wisdom and renewed sense of
urgency should give her a new impetus to overcome previous institutional
deficiencies and drive sustained change.
Further, the various groups in agriculture should by
now have reached a point of fatigue in brinkmanship and bickering over policy.
We simply cannot fiddle while Rome burns. There is a deep yearning for
leadership and implementation in this sector. There is also bottled up
resentment over what many perceive as the slow pace of land reform.
The advantage of having an experienced hand is that
Didiza will hit the ground running. After all, she has not been entirely absent
in the recent past. In Parliament she chaired the committee responsible for
reviewing the wording of Section 25 of the Constitution of the Republic of
South Africa, and at a time when the land question was heavily debated. This is
not to suggest that it will be smooth sailing for the new minister. There are
short- to medium-term priorities Didiza will need to focus on.
The first order of business will be to manage the
smooth integration of the two departments (land reform and agriculture), at
least at the strategy level. This is to ensure there is a great deal of
alignment in their core mandates, philosophical outlook, and priorities. The
adjustment will be unsettling for many civil servants, with some having their
roles redefined along the lines of the new strategic thrust of her department.
Second, Didiza will be managing complexity given the
robust debates about land reform and agriculture policy that are taking place
across South Africa. Without a doubt, parties such as the Economic Freedom
Fighters, NGOs, and other interest groups will continue to mount pressure on
this critical policy issue. Didiza has had an opportunity to witness this
debate when she was a presiding officer in Parliament and on the hot seat of
the Section 25 review committee. She is used to political battles.
To grasp the nettle of institutional challenges and to
build capabilities within her department, Didiza will need to draw on the
resources of the private sector. She will also need to be sensitive to the
concerns of the black farming groups and ensure that their voices and
perspectives are heard in policy processes.
Third, since much of the implementation on land and
agriculture happens at the provincial level, there is a need to enhance
communication, cultivate a shared vision, and sustain coordination between the
national department and provincial departments that are responsible for
agriculture and land issues.
Fourth, one of the most vexed issues that farmers
across the spectrum have always been concerned about is the ill-defined relationship
between land rights and water rights. This issue is particularly important for the
new generation farmers who acquire land but often with no corresponding access
to water rights. Yet the relationship between food production and water is
interlinked. This lacuna has induced unnecessary failures in the productive use
of agricultural land. This is clearly one of the missing pieces in the puzzle for
unlocking the potential of arable but under-utilised land in the country. The
growth and productivity of the agriculture sector suffers as a result.
Overcoming this challenge requires that the Department
of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development, on the one hand works
collaboratively with the Department of Human Settlement, Water, and Sanitation on
the other hand. These departments have more to gain by working together as land
reform is not limited to agriculture but is also crucial for human settlement,
especially in the urban areas. There are policy synergies between these two
departments that should be fully exploited.
Finally, President Cyril Ramaphosa rightly highlighted
the need for speedy delivery from his Cabinet given the high expectations by
the public to see concrete results. Agriculture should therefore be
repositioned as a centerpiece for rural development, economic growth, and job
creation. There is need for paradigm shift away from seeing this sector as
merely about food security and livelihood, which are social policy questions. Agriculture
is, indeed, a strategic economic sector that the country needs to support for
economic growth, inclusion, and to boost its competitiveness in the global
Success hinges on getting the strategy right,
sequencing policy instruments, and ensuring that the department possesses the
- Mzukisi Qobo is associate professor of International Business & Strategy at the Wits Business School. Wandile Sihlobo is chief economist at the Agriculture Business Chamber of SA (Agbiz).
* This article first appeared on Daily Maverick on March 31, 2019 and was published here with the permission of the authors.
** Want to respond to the columnist? Send your letter or article to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, profile picture, contact details and location. We encourage a diversity of voices and views in our readers' submissions and reserve the right not to publish any and all submissions received.
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