There is a maturity and willingness to participate in land reform in the agriculture community that is being totally overlooked by government, former politician and businessman Roelf Meyer believes.
“I think there’s been tremendous growth in the views of people in the agriculture industry over the past five years,” he said in an interview at the Nampo Harvest Day in Bothaville, where he was part of two Nation in Conversation panel discussions about land reform.
“I’ve been coming to Nampo for the last five years and topics that were initially taboo are now being discussed comfortably. It has become popular to talk about the difficult stuff and it shows that there is a willingness to participate in the conversation and to gain new insight. And that also comes with a lot of wisdom from within the sector,” he says.
Of course, that does not mean that those with extremist views don’t exist, but these individuals and organisations are getting far too much media coverage for the number of people they really represent, Meyer believes.
“The guys who think differently about the way forward are still here, and you read about them in the media, but they haven’t become part of the conversation. I think the sector’s leadership and the industry in general are making very constructive contributions to the political conversation at the moment. Unfortunately, a lot of the positive things happening are not being talked about,” he says.
Although Meyer believes the sector is not completely without blame for the lack of transformation in agriculture, he says the failure of land reform must be placed squarely at the feet of government.
He says that while the Constitution has always provided for land expropriation without compensation, the respective government departments have failed to use the available legislation and implement previous decisions by the ANC to transform the agriculture sector. The most obvious evidence of this is the more than 4 000 farms the state has bought but failed to give to land claimants.
Meyer says he is certain that if there is the political will to implement land reform, there will be no need to change the Constitution.
“There is a gradual acknowledgment of the government’s failure,” he says. “The mere fact that the minister of agriculture said last week in her budget speech that she finds that many white farmers are willing to cooperate in land reform is a massive statement.
“This has been the case for a while and I think the previous minister also knew this, but the fact that she said it, is a big step forward.”
Meyer’s own organisation, the In Transformation Initiative, has through its work to build a roadmap for successful land reform identified two elements that are key to the solution.
The first must be a clinical solution for allocating more land to people who have never had access, both in rural and urban areas. The second focuses on the human dignity aspect.
“If we ignore the emotion around this issue, we will be completely missing the point. Moeletsi Mbeki may say that this is a political issue between the ANC and EFF. It’s not true,” says Meyer. “It goes much deeper than that. There are millions of South Africans that view land as a matter of identity and we have to acknowledge that and factor it into the solution.”