South Africa

ELECTION CREEP: ‘Vote ANC’, agriculture minister urges black farmers at a ‘non-political’ Stellenbosch meeting

Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana was invited to address black farmers in the Western Cape. Less than two months before elections, the discussion around challenges facing black farmers became an electioneering opportunity.

I’m not here because the elections are coming, I’m here because there are problems,” said Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Senzeni Zokwana in his opening address to a gathering of black farmers in Stellenbosch.

I’m here because we are a caring government and I’m here to remind you that when that day of the 8th of May comes…” Zokwana continued, as he was met with cheers and clapping from the audience.

Although it was not an ANC party-organised event and Zokwana was invited in his role as minister, he used the opportunity to promote the ANC, with less than two months until the general election.

The aim of the meeting, which took place on the morning of 13 March 2019, was to give the minister an opportunity to hear about struggles facing black farmers in the Western Cape. With the event jointly organised by the African Farmers Association of South Africa (AFASA), a lobby group for African farmers, and a subdivision of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), a research organisation overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

They’ve (AFASA) invited him and it’s been postponed a number of times, but now it’s happened at last,” Bongani Ndima, the director of the research council institute that provided the event venue, told Daily Maverick. “I think it’s his first time here at the institute.”

The about 100 farmers at the event included a mix of independent farmers, representatives for farming associations and ANC supporters.

During the rest of his hour-long speech, Zokwana’s key points centred on land restitution, funding and skills development for black farmers in particular. He also touched on the need for water access on farming land and the importance of transformation within the industry.

Transformation of this sector is so key,” said Zokwana. “But we cannot do it alone as government, we need you to be our partners.”

While the Q&A session that followed was dominated by farmers voicing their support for the ANC, this did not stop them from raising concerns they felt should be addressed by the government.

For some farmers like Whernit Dirks, a 30-year-old livestock and grain farmer in Piketberg, the drought has posed an ongoing problem. Dirks told Daily Maverick that “since 2015 it’s been a struggle to continue farming” and efforts made by the government were unable to provide sufficient relief for those affected.

Another big concern raised by farmers was access to land and funding. Several farmers expressed concern about the lack of communication between government departments and the bureaucratic processes involved in turning a piece of land into a viable farm.

There’s always that red tape when it comes to access to land,” Loyiso Ngqameni, a livestock farmer in Malmesbury, told Daily Maverick. “The government departments don’t talk to each other and you will be sent from pillar to post without any success.”

I hope it’s not an election thing where all promises are made and after the elections, nothing has been done,” Ngqameni continued.

Zokwana kept his responses non-committal and vague, saying the issue “is under discussion” or that he “would look into it” at a later time. He acknowledged the problems being raised and was careful to avoid making lofty promises to farmers.

Between replies and peppering his address were mentions of the upcoming election data and the “great work” being done by the Ramaphosa presidency.

Zokwana closed by saying:

The Western Cape should be changed. Let’s work together to change it. Don’t vote for the party your father has voted for. Vote for the party with good policies. Vote for the party that cares for you. Vote for the party that has a programme to deal with your issue. That is the party of Ramaphosa. That is the ANC.” DM