The minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza, has paid respects to the agricultural economist Prof. Abdus Salam Mohammad Karaan, who succumbed to Covid-19 yesterday.
She described the 52-year-old Karaan as a giant in South African agriculture, with an enormous contribution to policy and academia. Didiza said, “Prof. Karaan’s passing is a massive loss for the country, at a time when we need leading development thinkers and practitioners like him the most.”
Didiza, who has also served as minister of agriculture during pres. Nelson Mandela’s tenure, said the sixth chapter of the National Development Plan “was largely drawn from his vision for agricultural and rural development, which emphasised a need for public-private partnership approaches in agricultural development. We should honour his legacy by continuing this approach.”
Karaan is the second member of pres. Cyril Ramaphosa’s panel on land reform and agriculture who died in the last four months. Afasa’s former president, Dr Vuyo Mahlati, passed away after a short sickbed in October last year.
Meanwhile tributes honouring Karaan’s life and legacy continue to pour in.
Prof. Danie Brink, dean of the faculty of agrisciences at Stellenbosch University, said his predecessor had the ability to unravel complex matters of national importance.
“We will remember him as a remarkable leader, conciliator, true influencer in agricultural circles and a friend.”
Karaan’s relationship with this university stretched over nearly three decades, first as a student in agricultural economics and later as researcher and acting vice-rector for community interaction and personnel. At the time of his death, he was also president of the Maties Rugby Club.
News of Karaan’s death sent shockwaves through Stellenbosch, the university town in which the former chairperson of the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) lived with his wife, Basheerah, and five children.
4/5 @thematiesdoc He was a man of few words, but when he spoke it was worth listening to his wisdom, knowledge and practical solutions, changing difficult challenges into reachable opportunities. pic.twitter.com/2n2nad49KS
— Maties Sport (@MatiesSport) January 13, 2021
His achievements include also serving on the boards of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) and the Land Bank. For his work in agriculture, he received many awards, such as a lifetime achievement award from Agricultural Writers SA in 2018 and an honourary award from Agbiz two years prior.
Across the globe, his death is also mourned by communities of faith.
Muslim Watch said Karaan was the eldest son of Hazrat Moulana Yusuf Karaan and the brother of both the mufti of the Muslim Judicial Council of South Africa, Maulana Taha Karaan, and Munadia Karaan, a pioneer of Muslim media and Voice of the Cape Radio.
In his tribute, Dr Ivan Meyer, the Western Cape minister of agriculture, said Karaan’s death is a huge loss for agriculture in South Africa.
“He created a better understanding of the role of agriculture (in the country), and his work in the National Development Plan is evident of the depth of his knowledge of agriculture. He was a humble person, and agriculture has lost a giant and a friend.”
Agri SA executive director Christo van der Rheede said, “Not only was he an expert who enjoyed great respect locally as well as internationally, he also lived his passion for agriculture with conviction.”
“It was an honour to have him as part of the Western Cape agricultural family,” tweeted Agri Western Cape. “His insight, passion and knowledge will be dearly missed.”
Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association said Karaan was a beacon of hope for the agricultural sector.
Jacqui Taylor, the managing director of Agritourism Africa, was also shocked to hear of Karaan’s passing. “He was a gentle giant, always friendly and willing to listen; a contributor on so many levels of South African society.”
Dr Theo de Jager, chairperson of Saai and the World Farmers’ Organisation president, took to Twitter to say he lost “a dear friend, an original thinker, the eternal student and true academic, a great philosopher and a visionary leader”.
I’ve lost a dear friend of many years, an original thinker, the eternal student and true academic, a great philosopher, a visionary leader “who did not merely walk where the path led, but who explored those areas where there were no paths, and left a trail” RIP Mohammad Karaan pic.twitter.com/nWvumta0gs
— Theo de Jager (@TheoDJager) January 13, 2021
Meanwhile the nation’s agricultural media has also expressed its shock over the news of Karaan’s passing. Food For Mzansi co-founder Kobus Louwrens described him as “a towering and iconic figure. His passing marks the end of an era, and others will now have to honour his legacy of a truly transformed agricultural sector.”
Thanks for supporting my vision for the democratisation of media, prof. Abdus Salam Mohammad Karaan. Your memory lives on and the work continues. Promise. 💛 pic.twitter.com/586bLeSF2U
— Ivor Price (@ivorprice) January 13, 2021
Farmer’s Weekly editor Deneen Erasmus said, “Listening to him taught me to calmly question prevailing beliefs about how our farming sector, and society, functions.”
Just heard of Prof Mohammed Karaan’s passing. A devastating loss. He was a great thinker. Listening to him taught me to calmly question prevailing beliefs about how our farming sector, and society, functions. My condolences to his loved ones. He will be missed. @FarmersWeeklySA
— Denene Erasmus (@agri_erasmus) January 13, 2021
Netwerk24 reported that former Landbouweekblad editor Jean du Preez said he would always remember Karaan’s “old-fashioned courtesy”.
“One of his big dreams was unity across racial boundaries in organised agriculture, a single strong mouthpiece that could negotiate with government on behalf of all farmers.”
Theo Vorster, the host of Nation In Conversation and chief executive of Galileo Capital, said Karaan was “the best minister of agriculture we never had”.
Francois Baird, founder of the FairPlay movement, said, “Karaan brought to the FairPlay movement not only his deep expertise and sage advice, but always made his extensive network available to our cause.
“He made time for us and he stood on the side of the people. He genuinely cared about people, especially those who are poor, powerless and voiceless.”
‘Sharp intellect, ready smile and soft voice’
Meanwhile an influential group of agriculturists have written a special tribute for Food For Mzansi in which they credit Karaan for shaping the nation’s food, agriculture, agribusiness, land reform, forestry, fisheries and rural development sectors.
Among others, the group includes NAMC chief economist Dr Sifiso Ntombela, Agbiz chief economist Wandile Sihlobo, ARC chairperson Joyene Isaacs, former director-general of agriculture Masiphula Mbongwa, agricultural economist Andrew Makenete and Tshililo Ramabulana, the CEO of Olive Black Invest and chairperson of the South African Wine Industry Transformation Unit.
In their joint tribute, the group says, “Over the course of his distinguished life, he touched, shaped and directed the lives and careers of many students, professionals, business and political leaders within and outside the agriculture sector and institutions.
“His own professional life and career was forged, among others, at the Development Bank of Southern Africa in the early 1990s whose authority, leaders, and experts contributed considerably to establish a lifelong link of Mohammad to the leadership of the post-apartheid South African government and the shaping of its land and agriculture policies.
“He has known all the ministers and director-generals of the national departments of agriculture, land reform and rural development, which he advised one way or another.
“He has also been touted, on more than one occasion, as a possible minister or director-general when cabinet appointments were to be made or when posts were to be filled.
“Karaan co-authored the South African National Development Plan, which in 2011 set the daunting task that by the 2030 South Africa should have no poverty, effectively employment for all and be on route to equitable income, wealth and opportunities. He went on to serve two terms as a member of the National Planning Commission.
“He championed the cause of agriculture in various government institutions and committees. He also provided visionary leadership to numerous private companies, which includes serving as the chairman of a multi-billion rand fishing company, Terrasan Group, and its subsidiaries, Aqunion, Blue Oceans Mussels, Marifeed and Saldanha Protein.
“He was serving on the board of companies such as Quantum Foods, Pioneer Foods, SSK and Kaap Agri, amongst others.
“Karaan also farmed in the Overberg district (of the Western Cape), demonstrating that he could manage and execute his own policy advice and integrate with the farming community.
“His sharp intellect, ready smile and soft voice was not lost in his character as a keen handicap twelve golfer with a mean feather-touch putting game.
“In partnership with Cornell University he established the Making Markets Matter agricultural training programme. The programme has trained over 2 000 agribusinesses throughout Africa. He was engaged in assisting the setting up of the Walter Sisulu University AgriBusiness Centre in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape.
“Karaan will be remembered for his uncanny ability to unpack complex economic concepts into practical real life issues. Throughout his life, he was able to bridge the gap between government and agribusiness, black and white farmers and smallholder and commercial farmers. Above all, he believed that the future of South African agriculture rests with smallholder farmers.”