“IF we are not careful, this will kill the country…” a harsh statement from AbaQulusi Mayor, Cllr Jerry Sibiya, but a truth that cuts to the core of the heated debate around land expropriation without compensation.
Mayor Sibiya’s sentiment is shared by Vryhyeid farmer, Gunther Muhl, who has been farming his entire life, the third of his generation to cultivate the land which his grandfather bought and paid for, creating a thriving farm through hard work, knowledge and experience, for future generations to continue. But what does that future entail if it can be ripped from their grasp and they are left with nothing.
The common misconception is that only white farmers will feel the grim repercussions of the expropriation of the land without compensation. This is not the case.
“It is not going to be only white farmers who are affected by this,” states Mayor Sibiya. “Lots of people will be affected by this…”
“In Vryheid, the issue of land reform has left some scars on the people who were employed. They cannot feed themselves and, if we are not careful, it will kill the country. If food production is negatively impacted, the food price will go up. If you go through the rate accounts, most of the farms that are not paying are those belonging to beneficiaries of land restitution. It is the municipality who suffers in this case.
Muhl also addresses this fact in his statement to the Vryheid Herald, when he points out the issue of Land Tax, paid to the government by farmers.
“Commercial farmers pay Land Tax to the local municipalities. Most municipalities across the country are in debt. If you take away the income that farmers are paying to help the municipalities it’s going to create a big problem. And if they take my farm away, that will leave twenty people without jobs…”
“I believe that the government is sitting with a massive unemployment problem on their hands. Millions are unemployed and crying out. This land issue is being used to keep them quiet and keep their votes…” he adds.
“We can create jobs on the farms. We can. But, as farmers, our hands are being cut off,” states Mr Muhl. “I don’t know how expropriation without compensation can work,” he argues. “It’s grabbing away the heart of your land, the heart of your country… 75% of the produce from my farm passes through private black hands. They will lose out if this happens.”
Muhl points out a valid comparison when referring to flourishing countries stating that the richest countries are the ones who look after their farmers. The countries where the farmers are subsidised and sustainable to produce enough food for their people are the ones who flourish. He adds that these are the countries that our leaders turn to for hand outs, and reiterates the point, “Self-sustainability is very important – throughout the world – to make things tick.”
What it boils down to is that this is not about black or white, it is about commercial farmers who work the land to put food on your table. These are the people who face constant attacks on their lives and now their livelihood.
“If the farmers are strong,” says Muhl, “if the businesses are strong, the country will be strong and well fed and there will be work created for a lot of people, white and black…”
Mayor Sibiya raises the topic, “What type of land do you want to expropriate and for what reason? My feeling is that the groundwork has not been done yet, it should have been categorised. We do need to reform the issue of land, but we must do so with a very careful mind…”
Land ownership and title deeds are fundamental for a good economic system for a country and that’s how you get investment from abroad, but once the farms have been taken over, the idea of entitlement will spill over into business and create economic chaos for our country.
“Government has taken over flourishing farms,” states Muhl. “And they have become unproductive. Beneficiaries who are receiving handouts are not even farming or living on those farms. It’s a system that creates wealth for only an elite few.”
“Many of the government owned farms have been taken over and destroyed and the infrastructure has been broken down. I can’t see this not happening if the land expropriation without compensation takes place.
For now, the imminent threat of their land being seized surely leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of farmers who have dedicated their lives to producing food for the nation. These men and women have farming in their blood and they represent generations who have come before them, centuries of knowledge and experience in putting food on the tables of every other man, woman and child of this country. But their future hangs precariously on a knife edge as the government gambles with their lives – with all of our lives, in fact.
“There is so much potential for development,” states Muhl, “but it needs scientific know-how and expertise, and knowledge and experience. For me, further development is being put on ice for now until this matter has been resolved. I’m not planting another tree until I know I can harvest it…”
Mr Muhl concludes with a strong message to the current government of South Africa, “We need to work together. Everybody must work together. We are a beautiful nation. Don’t try to push one away from the other. We need each other.”
AfriForum, who recently removed illegal land grabbers from a Vryheid farm, will be holding a meeting at the NG Moedergemeente ‘Klipkerk’ Hall on July 17. The public meeting will be held at Cecil Emmett Hall on July 18 to address the issue of land reform.