Land reform's Codesa moment


Trust the men and women who work the land to show us the way.

Black and white farmers got together with leaders of organised agriculture and agri-business in Limpopo last week and committed to ambitious land reform, something they will likely do more effectively than the state.

The summit on land reform was a little Codesa moment, flavoured with some of the sensibilities that made the Truth and Reconciliation work.

It could very well turn out to be a turning point in the heated debate on expropriation of land and set an example of how we should solve other problems in our economy and political life.

This is why South Africa with its bitter past is still in one piece: if the temperature gets too high, we talk to each other.

And all this was achieved without the meddling of right wing lobbyists or Western governments.

I have always believed that one of the reasons we succeeded in achieving a peaceful negotiated settlement in 1994 was because we South Africans took charge of the process ourselves, unlike the Palestinians and Israelis who seem to mostly react to peace initiatives and brokers from outside.

I hope AfriForum and the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) take note of this. Both these organisations have in the last few months lobbied European and American bodies and governments to apply pressure on the South African government to abandon proposals for a change of the Constitution to make expropriation of land without (or with little) compensation.

The only thing they have achieved was to seriously offend and annoy the government, the ruling party and most black (and a whole lot of white) citizens.

It is reasonable to conclude that AfriForum's lobbying of the alt-right Fox news channel had directly led to United States (US) president Donald Trump's stupid tweet on South African affairs last week.

And no, Trump's tweet had nothing to do with the success of last week's land summit or government's apparent new approach. The president of AgriSA, Dan Kriek, met President Cyril Ramaphosa and AgriSA's CEO, Omri van Zyl, met Deputy President David Mabuza a day before the tweet.

AfriForum and the IRR should be blamed if Trump scraps the AGOA agreement that facilitates easy agricultural exports to the US. 
This could cost especially the poultry industry many millions of rand and many thousands of jobs.

Yesterday the Freedom Front Plus also jumped on the foreign pressure bandwagon. It has written to the United Nations' Human Rights Commission in Geneva to complain against the expropriation proposals. The poor misguided souls.

I wasn't at the Limpopo meeting, because I addressed some of the country's best dairy farmers on land expropriation in Durban that day.

I thought I gave them a balanced view of the dangers of expropriation of land without compensation, the legal position of targeted landowners, the constitutional position and the state's terrible record in implementing land reform.

Several of these farmers told me afterwards that they were about to throw in the towel after they had listened to a talk by the IRR's Frans Cronjé on the same topic.

I don't know exactly what he told them, but it really sounded as if he painted the worst possible scenario as the likely scenario.
I did get an idea of his hyperbole on the IRR's website yesterday. This is Cronjé: "What South Africa's farmers face today is therefore not about poverty, or public pressure, or even land itself. They have been swept up in a far deeper political an ideological conflict, the battle of ideas, over whether South Africa will survive as a modern, free, and open society or whether it will sink into a socialist and later communist morass of poverty, oppression, and state control. It is a battle for the survival of the Judeo-Christian ethic in southern Africa."

Yes, you read it correctly, a battle for the survival of the Judeo-Christian ethic. A socialist, communist morass. The barbarians are coming and they will tear up our constitution before they start raping and pillaging.

The people who work the land, the political leaders and the senior land affairs officials at the Limpopo meeting clearly feel very differently from the men of AfriForum and IRR in their isolated white bubbles.

I have a reasonable suspicion that these two lobby groups are peddling in fear and panic in order to get more members and donations. That would be disgusting and unethical.

I hear Kriek and Ramphosa hit it off. Perhaps this is a quiet back channel of communication that can only be good for the process. The same goes for Van Zyl and Mabuza.

Insiders tell me many good relationships started at the summit and that many black and white farmers bonded properly.

White agriculturalists have surprised the politicians and officials with their pragmatism, realism and willingness to commit to contribute significantly to land reform. It is hard to see the gains achieved at this conference being reversed.

However significant, one summit can't solve the complex problem of land ownership. 

The most immediate problem is the hunger for urban land. Organised agriculture can't help with that; that's something the national, provincial and local governments should sort out very quickly. It seems as if the political will is there, but can the bureaucracy implement?

Still, it was a good week for South Africa with more soberness and understanding of the land issue on all sides, and the ugly truth about the Zuma years emerging before the commissions of judges Zondo and Nugent.

Chill, Frans, the communist morass is not upon us and please don't lose sleep over the Judeo-Christian ethic. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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