Land and land ownership, more often than not is a sensitive and divisive subject to discuss in any forum.
But this was not the case at the Christ-centered National Land Summit hosted on February 28 and March 1 by the agriculture and mining think-tank of the New Nation Movement (NNM) and Amos Agrimin.
The summit brought together small-scale and commercial farmers, traditional leaders, agricultural specialists and agricultural students and micro-farmers from informal settlements from across South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Dignitaries included the King Korana of the Gorachouqua tribe, king of the Khoi-San and Dr Alexander Chisango, founder of the World Economic Congress in Zimbabwe. They came with one mind to discuss the land question and share the solutions they are implementing on their farms to address this complex and emotive issue.
Keynote speakers set the stage for the range of projects that were showcased by innovative and dedicated commercial farmers who are determined to resolve the land question.
Ben Alberts, one of two national coordinators of the New Nation Movement challenged the delegates to find ways to change the current narrative about land in South Africa.
He said that currently there are three dominant narratives that are pulling the nation in different directions — the liberation movement narrative; the liberal narrative and the Afrikaner narrative; all of which are connected to the land. Many talk of being dispossessed, while others believe it is their divine right to take land away.
He cautioned that a single narrative can be dangerous as it leads to deepening divisions and entrenching views that are not necessarily true. The reality is always far more complex.
The question remains: How do we change the current narrative about land in South Africa?
Time to give
Hennie Viljoen, farmer and founder of the Amos Agrimin network emphasised the need for an open-hearted approach. He said: “The time for commercial farmers to give is now. It is in giving of ourselves, our resources and our land that we will achieve the kind of relationships that are needed for everyone to work together for a secure and better future.”
His sentiments were echoed by Anneliese Crosby, legal counsel of AgriSA who argues that the law is limited – instead, a change of heart is what is needed most.
How this is being done can be seen in the work of a number of commercial farmers whose efforts to empower their farm workers with both training, skills development and mentorship, as well as land ownership is now well established in practice.
Kosie and Liesel van Zyl partnered with several of their farm workers to establish the Agri Dwala Trust. This is now a sustainable commercial farming unit near Napier in the Western Cape, fully-owned by the workers who have become farmers in their own right.
It is the story of a farm manager’s son, turned farm manager and then farm owner, whose deep relational bond with his childhood friends from the Coloured community provided the incentive to see them prosper too.
Tobias Fourie, a dairy farmer from Limpopo has also successfully integrated the empowerment of farm workers in an ownership model that includes the purchase of neighbouring farms that are fully productive and under the management and control of people who could otherwise never have hoped to own and run a productive agricultural enterprise of their own.
Other projects reviewed include: the Clanwilliam-based Fruitful Village Model in the Western Cape; a cooperative arrangement between farmers, local authorities and communities to build social cohesion and sustainability. The Dicla Training and Projects initiative of Mandla Mandlendoda in the Eastern Cape and Genadeland GF4GF center in Victoria West. GF4GF provides a one-year full-time youth training programme for aspirant young farmers.
That successful collaboration in workable, productive and sustainable agricultural units is possible across cultural and economic divides has been shown by these and the other examples that were showcased.
It was agreed by all that there is much to be done to increase the scale and impact of these models. It remains a concern that access to market is difficult for small farmers and ways to address this should be sought and implemented.
Moreover, training and mentorship of students and emerging farmers will have to be a central focus of efforts to bring a new generation of farmers onto productive agricultural units. That existing commercial farmers have a role and responsibility to participate in this is self-evident.
The consensus of the gathering was unequivocal — that unless many more such projects are established it would be near impossible to secure the land productively and sustainably over the long term.
Moreover, it is in building agricultural enterprises that are centered on relationships and the development of the primary stakeholders, most significantly farmworkers and local communities, that land can be secured and made productive over the long term. It is this people-centered approach that is now bearing fruit in different parts of the country.
Jan Oosthuizen, lead coordinator of the NNM agricultural think tank, indicated that the NNM is a civil society initiative and as such, the think-tank will continue to engage in the sector with all role players and across all of the divides of culture and race. The primary aim of the NNM is to contribute towards building stronger farming communities and secure the land for sustainable agricultural productivity over the long term.