Klerksdorp – Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director general, Mike Mlengana, on Monday night said land grabs were not the solution to the country’s land issue.
"Land grabs are not a solution to what the country is working towards. There are land policies and programmes that have been developed by government to ensure that people have access to land and it may not be as fast as people want it to be, but land grabs work against that plan," said Mlengana.
He was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of the Nation in Conversation at Nampo Harvest Day in Klerksdorp, where he was part of a panel of five, which included Roelf Meyer of In Transformation Initiative, Land Banks’ TP Nchocho, 702 Cape Talk’s Stephen Grootes and Bosveld Group’s Milaan Thalwitzer.
Mlengana said: "When we started this thing of proactive acquisition of land, the idea was that we would work over time and title deeds would be given to those that are successful, and that is why the segmentation of commercial and semi-subsistence farmers was very important.
"It makes sense to hand over the title deeds to the guys who are successful so that they can look at the enterprise with responsible eyes. The absence of the title deeds has put a lot of pressure on the recapitalisation of these farms."
On radical transformation, he said the media had presented an idea that the reason why South Africa was not moving forward was because "farmers, especially white commercial farmers, were anti-transformation".
WATCH: Land grabs are not the solution
"I discovered that the process of communication and transparency around the issue has not been reaching the farmers, and as a [consequence] they began to have fear when we started talking about expropriation of farms and how does this affect them when we speak about an inclusive economy.
"They understand that there must be transformation, they understand that there is skewness in the distribution of resources and they want to be part of an inclusive programme of growth."
Mlengana said when he heard that farmers were willing to work with the government to transform the economy, he was surprised.
"What is needed from our side is to be transparent so that others do not feel threatened because of transparency and communication."
He called on South Africans to not be emotional about the land issue.
"There must be criteria before government can hand over a farm. You won’t just get land just because you applied.
"You must have experience in farming, financial viability, legitimacy of all the information that creates security for the product, we need to know that and the capability of this farmer in order to start his initiatives, then the government can come and complement that."
WATCH: Focus on title deeds
He admitted that the current system was not working and that the government needed to go back to the drawing board.
"We cannot continue giving away farms and funding them, we can’t continue like that, there will come a time when the funds run dry and then what are we going to do with all of these farmers? So we need strong criteria, a farmer register that will keep a database of all the farmers.
"So that next time we can look back and say, we have been helping you, putting interventions and you are not successful, it is clear that you are not a farmer, so that we can start placing people on probation."
He said government was aware that there were hundreds of dormant farms and it had started an initiative to change the farms into usable enterprises.
"I am excited because it is no longer about giving money to individuals; it will be giving money to enterprises."
When asked how the government would prevent politicians from owning farms that they could not manage, like in the instance of National Council of Provinces chairperson Thandi Modise, whose livestock were found dead at her farm in Modderfontein, near Potchefstroom in the North West.
About 85 live pigs had begun cannibalising 58 dead pigs and were reportedly drinking their own urine. Sheep, geese, goats and ducks were also among the more than 100 dead animals. Many more had to be put down.
It appeared the animals had been without water and food for possibly two weeks. There were no farm workers on the property, no electricity and the water pumps were broken.
"That issue was an unfortunate one," said Mlengana.
"To tell you the honest truth, she went to the Land Bank, borrowed money like any citizen and began to invest, put a manager in and the manager let her down, so her situation was different.
"But going forward, we will continue to be close to the enterprise, we are not going to just give them money and then run away. It is either we get a percentage of the equity share with clear management responsibilities, so no one in future will just get a farm because of their connections, there will be strict criteria."
He said a digital farming register was in the process of being developed. The database will register all the farmers around the country.
"It is no use handing over the land to someone who has no clue what to do with the land… Land is viable when it meets its commercial obligation."
He told the gathering that farming was a calling.
"You are propelled by something inside you that allows you to wake up at 03:00 to tend to the crops."
WATCH: Nampo 2017 - We cannot continue giving away farms
Milaan Thalwitzer of Bosveld Group said white farmers were willing to work with black farmers in ventures that would transfer skills.
Land Bank’s TP Nchocho said the land issue should not be used to divide the country. "The very same point which is meant to be a point of conflict can be treated differently; it should be used as a point of unity."
702 Cape Talk’s Stephen Grootes said there were a lot of politicians making noise about land expropriation.
"There is a lot of noise about land expropriation without compensation and it is difficult to know what is going to happen,” said Grootes.