A very strange society - TAU SA

Union asks who'll feed the ANC's supporters, once farmers are given the final knock-out punch

In 1967, American author the late Allen Drury wrote "A Very Strange society", a book publicized as a "journey into the heart of South Africa ". Until the day he died, Drury never printed updated editions where simpler explanations for the strangeness he encountered could be relayed to the world. South Africa is indeed strange and the fact that it still works after a fashion is something of a miracle, given the demands upon the few producers and the expectations of the many consumers.

Drury said South Africa was unique - he never quite understood what he confronted. There was no "solution" at the end of his book, and he departed these shores more confused than when he arrived. Forty odd years on, South Africa is more baffling than ever - one element alone worth a magnifying glass is the ANC government's behavior towards the most important component of the country - the commercial farming sector. The very people who are the linchpin of the ANC's power are, paradoxically, the very target of the government's vindictiveness and animosity.

Gordon Ramsay

Three things happened over the past few weeks to illustrate this anomaly: world-famous chef Gordon Ramsay arrived in a fanfare of publicity to star in the "Good Food and Wine Week", celebrated throughout the country with lavish functions, receptions, cooking demonstrations , wine tastings and select parties for the black and white glitterati. The Johannesburg "Bubbly Festival" at one of the country's top shopping malls saw old and new money posing for the society cameras imbibing flutes of the country's best wines, and hobnobbing in front of tables groaning with exotic foods.

In a press interview, Ramsay said South Africa had some of the world's best food, with a "wonderful country in which to grow it - good climate, top-quality farms, a superb variety of the most exotic vegetables and fruits and world-class meat".

While Ramsay was here, the BBC ran a series entitled "Cooked" - in one edition, South African Justin Bonella visited the Ceres district and spoke to the Du Toit's whose family has farmed fruit for four generations. The dried fruit industry is big on the family's agenda - they export to 20 countries, and their quality is top class. Precision farming, attention to detail, good marketing and plain old hard work have catapulted this family and others in the district to the point where the BBC films their lives to show around the world.

Kill the Boer

Contiguous with the partying, the publicity and the international TV programmes, the ruling ANC government was granted leave to appeal a court ruling prohibiting the singing of a so-called ANC "liberation song" urging people to "kill the Boer". (Boer is the Afrikaans word for farmer). Julius Malema who heads the ANC Youth League, sings this song openly, publicly, brazenly, with no thought of the consequences.

Taken to court by concerned organizations, Malema was ordered to stop. He ignored the court's injunction, and continued singing. He sought leave to appeal, and was supported by none other than the ruling ANC government. In other words, this government supports the exhortation to shoot South African farmers who EACH feed 1 100 people every day, and who keep the incompetent and venal ANC in power.

(Can one imagine the French government supporting an activist who would dare to cry "shoot the farmer" in any area of France ? Is it conceivable the Australian government would openly and enthusiastically support an Aborigine zealot with a political grievance and a "kill the farmer" song to match?)

It's not as if Malema's words mean nothing - farm murders in South Africa are so high as to make South African commercial farmers the most murdered group in the world outside a war zone! When the ANC defends its support for a court appeal on the grounds that the song is "part of their heritage", then what sort of a heritage is that? Their song was distinctive in its motives, and directed at farmers: the IBhunu (the Boer) was always singled out as the ANC's military wing's enemy.

This fact can be confirmed by reading any transcript of Radio Freedom broadcasts from Africa in the seventies and eighties. "Dubula iBhunu" means shoot the farmer and there are no ambiguities - and there is no ambiguity either about the fact that the South African government supports this! A strange and insidious society indeed!

The Green Paper on nationalization!

The ANC's socialistic National Democratic Revolution (NDR) as outlined in the Freedom Charter proceeds apace, despite the lavish capitalistic lifestyles of the ruling elite! Julius Malema and his friends call for "taking back the farms" because as non-producers by nature, they need to continually feed on an ever-shrinking cake. Land has always been in their sights, whether taking it and ruining it makes sense or not. It is good politics to talk about taking back the land and it worked in Zimbabwe . Too late the masses realized they had been hoodwinked, as they are now being bamboozled in South Africa, swept up by Malema and other ANC cadres' anti-white crusades, fuelled by poverty, government ineptitude and an innate sense of entitlement: it's "someone else's fault" they are in the current predicament! The commercial farmers are a very convenient scapegoat!

The government's new land reform policy document unveiled by minister Gugile Nkwinti around the same time as the Ramsay visit and the Malema appeal, has added fuel to the fire surrounding food security in South Africa. It contains no actual policy, says Ruth Hall from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape . The paper describes a range of options and proposals which seem to be gibberish to many academics, but it contains inherent dangers to the free market willing seller, willing buyer notion. Worse, it poisons the private farming climate already beset with numerous obstacles based on ideology and political expediency. TAU SA's president Louis Meintjes says farmers are shocked that the government is willing to amend the Constitution for the sake of land redistribution.

The NDR's policy of nationalization is alive and well in the agricultural sector. Originally trumpeting that land "reform" would benefit "the people", since 2006 the government has taken to buying farms and leasing them out, says Hall. "In the process, it has spent just over $3,7 billion buying farms, but much of the land has not been allocated to anyone. This means that vast areas are standing unused or that a handful of people are getting great windfalls from the national fiscus".


Can the government itself produce food for 50 million people, given that they are gradually usurping the land? Do they intend importing food after they have driven many commercial farmers from their land? The signs are there that importing food may not be an option! About 925 million people go to bed hungry every night, while every day, there are 219,000 more mouths to feed. In 2010-2011, the world consumed more grain than it produced. Globally, food costs 39% more than it did a year ago.

Grain consumption in the developing world has increased 80% over the past 30 years, while the amount of meat each person consumes has doubled over the past three years. Corn is being diverted to the production of ethanol - in 2 000 only 6% of America 's corn harvest was used to manufacture ethanol - now about 40% is. Will the ANC be importing corn from the US?

In the late 1990's the world had enough corn stashed in reserve to meet world demand for about four months - now we have only enough for 1.2/3 months. There are now only three months' reserves of wheat in the world, down from four. What happens after floods, droughts, fires? Who's going to worry about South Africa standing in the queue? The World Bank estimates that 44 million people in the developing world have been thrown back into poverty by recent price hikes.

In the next 15 years, the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa is expected to increase by 43% to 1,93 billion, despite the effects of HIV/Aids and other health issues. (Andre Louw, University of Pretoria in Business Day 19.09.2011)

The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says food prices will continue to rise over the next ten years and it estimates that more than $200 billion in agricultural investment is required each year in the developing world to meet food demand. Where this money is to come from is a good question, but it won't come from Greece , Portugal , Spain , Italy and Iceland . Those who are forking out now to bail out the slackers certainly won't bail out a poor, begging South Africa . And with the commercial farming industry on its knees, President Zuma and his friends will have to pull in their belts and face the hungry hordes.

South African farmers are already on the ropes - dairies receive only 38% of the retail price of milk, apple farmers get 32% of the retail price while a wheat farmer receives only 20% of the price a consumer pays for a loaf of bread, according to Willie du Plessis of Standard Bank. A 2009 study by Vinpro showed that a grape farmer made a profit of 44c on a bottle of wine while a profit of R1,07 is the sustainable minimum. Farmers carry the largest risk in the value chain, says du Plessis.

This "strange society" needs to pull up its socks and salvage what it can from the ANC government's agricultural policy shambles. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate!

This article first appeared in TAU SA's South Africa Bulletin

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