Elton Greeve, an agripreneur and a former chief director: strategic land reform interventions in the department of rural development and land reform, believes the agricultural sector is a snapshot of unity in South Africa. Following last week’s unrest, the sector has come together to begin the work of repairing and supporting one another to get operations up and running again.
“The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again.” This is a quote by Alan Paton from his famed book Cry, the beloved country. South Africa needs to reflect on what went wrong, but more importantly focus on mending, and in turn strengthening our resolve.
Recent events in our country have resulted in us having to sit-up and take stock. It forced all of us to ask how this could have happened? It is not in the why, but rather in what can we do differently going forward that matters.
We have for some time been comforted that our democracy, to an extent, is stable, and enjoys the objectives it has set out.
However, the rampant and unfortunate events of the past week demonstrated that our democracy is fragile, that it is susceptible to disruption, but not to the extent witnessed recently.
We can, however take away a lot from this, more so that despite these events, many South Africans stood together. This is what makes us great.
It is unfortunate that it took such devastation for us to stand up and rise above this together. It will take a courageous effort to rebuild and move forward.
I am, however, confident that we do have it in us to overcome.
What does this say about us? Are we an angry nation?
Angry at the destruction, angry at the lack of effective and timeous response by government, angry that our fellow citizens would undertake such rampant destruction and disrespect for fellow South Africans?
Despite the shock and disgust it evoked, as we saw parts of our country go up in smoke, people stood together, both black and white, and said “not in our name, not in our country.”
It demonstrated that although we seem polarised economically and socially, we stood united and steadfast to protect our nation. It demonstrated the power of citizenry.
Let’s learn from agriculture
This characteristic extends a lot to the agricultural sector. It is a resilient sector where farmers, working together, overcome challenges. It is a family, more than a sector. The sector is versatile and has overcome major challenges such as droughts and economic challenges due to the covid pandemic.
What is stark, is the ability of the sector to work and stand together to overcome these challenges. No other sector can demonstrate such characteristics, and claim to have survived by working together, and not against each other.
It is an unfortunate character assassination when the sector is often depicted as polarised, untransformed. Yet, when the“chips are down” the sector stands together under the umbrella of prosperity within the sector.
As a nation, we have a lot to learn from the sector in overcoming our challenges. We need to work together, play together, but most importantly build together, and we are more than capable of doing so.
Farmers have the ability to utilise the principle of community (“togetherness”) to overcome adversity. This has been demonstrated across our country, by the manner in which drought support was provided by farmers to farmers, regardless of race or creed.
This sense of community is not a learnt experience, but rather a collective unwritten rule that in strife we stand together with the objective of making our communities and the agricultural sector work.
The strength of brand South Africa
The recent events have created the notion of a cause of concern for investor confidence in South Africa, and rightly so.
However, in my experience this has been the opposite. Being exposed to international agricultural platforms and strong linkages to international agri-businesses, there has been a genuine outpour of concern, but more importantly a concerted affirmation to do business in South Africa.
A true belief that despite the happenings of the past week, there is still confidence to do business in our country.
With the disruptions to the citrus industry, more especially the logistics side, international interest in citrus has grown, with more and more demand for South African citrus.
We must build on the strength of brand South Africa, which is often underplayed. We have a good foundation, especially in the agricultural sector. This is demonstrated in the demand for our agricultural products, and the power agricultural leverages in showcasing Brand South Africa internationally.
We can only strengthen our resolve, and ensure that the negatives of the past week serves to increase our commitment to making South Africa the ideal we all espouse too.
We must, however, spare a thought for those businesses that have been affected by this. One can only imagine the despair at the massive loss, and having to rebuild, recover and hopefully operate again.
The role of various business organisations will be crucial in this phase. Businesses and their owners are going to require a lot of support. The business sector will have to band together with the aim of supporting those who have lost so much.
My hat goes off to all the volunteers, NGOs, civil society, businesses and the ordinary citizens who contributed to the outpouring of support in the form of food and other essentials. This has given me confidence that South Africans are a hardened nation, but, more importantly, a very caring one!
We can and will overcome this. Let us stand and work together to make South Africa the great nation we want it to be.