Agri SA calls for 'cool heads' over land expropriation

Land reform was one of the major talking points at Agri Eastern Cape’s 17th annual congress, following the ANC’s announcement earlier in the week that it supported the amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution, to allow for land expropriation without compensation. 

Agri EC president Doug Stern – who at the meeting was nominated as president for a second term – told the 126 assembled delegates that land reform could work, but only if managed properly.

Stern said Agri EC’s general council had sanctioned the formation of a “transformation hub”, aimed primarily at engaging with the government on failed land reform projects and finding alternative ways of establishing black commercial farmers successfully on the land.

“We need to make some compromises to take the process forward. We must highlight those successful models such as partnerships and joint ventures that are already working well,” said Stern.

Keynote speaker Angelo Fick, who is the director of research at the Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute (ASRI), said the land debate was inextricably linked to issues of race, inequality and poverty in South Africa.

Fick called on farmers to engage strategically with the review process by attending public hearings and making submissions.

'Progressive, partnership-driven approach'

He said ordinary South Africans could not rely solely on politicians and multinational corporations for humane solutions – they needed to find new ways of negotiating the future together, adding that many farmers had already begun reorganising their relationships with their staff.

AGRI South Africa president Dan Kriek moved to reassure Eastern Cape farmers that organised agriculture would adopt a progressive, partnership-driven approach to land reform.

Kriek called on farmers to maintain “a cool head” in the face of uncertainty and to acknowledge the strength of the moral and constitutional argument for land reform, while also making the economic case against expropriation without compensation.

“The expropriation [without compensation] debate is an unnecessary one,” he said, adding that it was important not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to engage in social investment.

“We are not just white farmers, but represent South Africans of all creeds and colours,” Kriek told delegates.

Kriek said it was vital to afford people property rights, especially security of tenure in communal areas, and to protect the rights of those who already had them.

According to Agri SA’s 2018 transformation report released in April this year, organised agriculture spent R331m on transformation initiatives nationally, with 109 059 black farmers benefiting from training and development, recapitalisation initiatives, mentorship opportunities and the like.

Kriek said changing the Constitution would not put more black farmers on the land and that the pace of land reform had in fact slowed since 2007, due to a decline in state funding.

Public-private partnerships as outlined in the organisation’s holistic plan were key to moving transformation and development forward, he said. These included partnerships with government, the private sector, value chain role players, corporates, communal farmers, farmers and farmworkers.