Black farmers are also bleeding

Between the fear of farm attacks and a steadily shrinking market, due to the inability to export their goods, black and white farmers have plenty in common and it would serve them all better to come together despite political differences, to fight their challenges.

Farm murders affect black farmers and communities too, says the National African Farmers Union of South Africa (NAFTU).

The union, which had a predominantly black constituency is calling on all farming organisations to come together despite political differences, to fight against the increasing security threats in rural and farming communities. Union president Motsepe Motlala said the union had long called for a unified voice in the farming community.

“NAFTU has continued to advocate for one farmers union in South Africa … We think that is the only solution that would assist the farming communities in South Africa, black and white, to actually speak their issues to government and private sector, especially banks about issues that affect farming itself,” said Motlala.

He lists farm murders and security issues in the farming community as one of the biggest threats to smallholding farmers and farming communities.

“I think that farming as a divided sector is not going to be possible to unlock, and indeed to successfully address the challenge of farming in South Africa, because it is going to constitute a them and us mentality which is not going to benefit the sector as a whole. Our little differences, be they political or business, do not really create opportunities for anyone.”

While crime experts note that criminals take advantage of the lack of police visibility in rural areas, leading to gruesome attacks which often lasted hours, the issue of farm murders has largely taken a racial undertone in the national discourse.

Lobby group Afriforum has run a campaign over the last few years decrying the under-emphasis on the murder of farmer owners who were predominantly white. The group’s CEO Ernst Roets recently decried the ‘double standards’ of President Cyril Ramaphosa supporting the American movement Black Lives Matter, all while ostensibly denying the prevalence of “land grabs and farm murders affecting white people in South Africa”.

In response to the announcement of the national crime statistics on Friday, lobby group Agri-SA responded to Police Minister Bheki Cele’s address with a statement expressing grave concern at the rate of farm murders.

“The crime statistics announced by the Minister of Police do not reflect the sense of insecurity experienced by the farming community. The spate of farm attacks and murders, and especially the recent murders in the Vaalharts area, as well as the high levels of property-related crime, have brought the mood virtually to breaking point.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to manage the situation and it is important to take note of this. These and other incidents of violence which affect the farming community as well as fellow South Africans on a daily basis are strongly condemned,” said Tommie Esterhuyse, chair of Agri SA’s Centre of Excellence: Rural Safety.

The Covid-19 pandemic and its effects on freedom of movement have also devastated smallhold farmers in South Africa, who rely on smaller markets across provincial and national borders in order to make a living, said Motlala.

Over the lockdown period, over 20 delivery trucks destined for markets in Mozambique and Zimbabwe were turned back. Tons of potatoes, tomatoes and other fresh produce have to be diverted to already saturated local markets. Even local business is affected in places such as KwaZulu-Natal, where farmers distribute directly to urban markets with the enforcement of restrictions on travel.

Many smaller farmers could not attain permits on time, leaving households dependent on small-scale produce farming on the brink.

“Now that we have been cut off from the international markets with our neighbours, we have had to come up with ways to access so called white markets where bigger producers have access. We are working with communities, especially the youth to delivery products directly to our markets and we think this has been a positive way to create some kind of revenue. In Hammanskraal and Alex we have people who are working with the youth to deliver goods directly.”

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