While most opposition parties have slammed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s fifth State of the Nation address, the agricultural sector was left uninspired and rather disheartened.
In an appeal to social compacting, Ramaphosa said, “Just as a harsh fire gives new life to our country’s fynbos, this crisis is an opportunity to build a different, better South Africa.”
Agricultural role-players tell Food For Mzansi, though, this year’s SONA was but a good show in an election year, paying lip service to the private sector’s role in the economy.
Apart from the moving fynbos analogy, Ramaphosa’s speech was filled with over-exaggerated comments on his strategy for the year ahead.
It did not have enough detail to ensure confidence, said Eastern Cape farmer Sinelizwi Fakade.
“As a producer, I appreciate his word, but as a practical farmer the ‘how’ part becomes important. We have seen so many initiatives and policy directions that’s yet to come to fruition,” he said.
Silent on ‘state’s incapacity’
Francois Wilken, president of Free State Agriculture, said the SONA made it clear that government is “stuck in the ideological mud”.
In fact, farmers and other agriculturists who create jobs, are even more concerned after hearing the president speak.
“Policies needed to support food security and property rights have been ignored. Instead, political ideology hold sway,” said Wilken.
The state was weakened by looting and corruption, Wilken said, and the same failed policies that brought South Africa to its knees are set to continue.
“Clearly, we can expect this trajectory to continue. This means that the agricultural community will have to increase its leadership role in rural areas of South Africa.”
Wilken pointed out that government’s “hard-headed approach” toward undermining property rights through the new expropriation bill has no end in sight. This, he said, will not create a conducive environment for economic growth.
“There was nothing new mentioned for agriculture. Everything the president said was old news.”
Free State Agriculture expected state support for failed BBBEE policies to continue.
According to the agricultural organisation these policies enrich a few elites and do little for the creation of jobs and new sustainable businesses. In the meantime it costs the country billions of Rands.
Furthermore, the continued use of policies to extend government’s role in society, has failed in the past and pose no solution to the current challenges, Wilken warned.
“You can’t build new cities if you were not able to maintain and fix current infrastructure such as roads,” he said.
Furthermore, he said the president presented government expenditure in 2020 as an achievement, not realising that the only way to alleviate the plight of the jobless is to allow for the creation of sustainable jobs.
‘Give black farmers title deeds’
Wilken wondered how the president could boast about the transfer of 5 500 farms to 300 000 beneficiaries when the state still owned the land.
“These beneficiaries do not own anything. The state owns their land,” said Wilken. “If property ownership is a government imperative, why do black farmers not receive title deeds?”
Meanwhile Fakade, an Eastern Cape farmer and rural development specialist, is also disappointed that the SONA fell short on detail about the commercialisation of black farmers.
Ramaphosa said support for black small-scale farmers was being stepped up, with a large beverage producer committing to support this initiative.
However, Fakade said, “As farmers on the ground, and practical producers, we would have appreciated more detail on how he intends to commercialise black and small-holder farmers.”
Fakade expected clarity on whether the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development would support public and private partnerships.
Also, detail was needed on farmer development programmes, specifically to give young farmers access to mainstream agriculture.
According to Fakade many farmers will now, instead, await policy direction from minister Thoko Didiza’s budget speech in the week ahead.
Black farmer development
This, Masithela said, is important “because once the development of black farmers are fully attained, it will be easier for us to not only focus on the primary sector, but also build the entire agricultural value chain.”
‘Do we live in the same country?’
TAU SA president Henry Geldenhuys said Ramaphosa did exactly what was to be expected from a president in an election year.
He made dynamic announcements and focused on what the state did, and would continue to do for its citizens.
“But, does he live in the same South Africa and does he live our reality?” asked Geldenhuys.
“The true test for any company’s success – and of course, that of a government – lies in the results. Are South Africans better off than a year, ten years, 20 years ago?”
Furthermore, in his SONA, Ramaphosa outlined the road for economy recovery in South Africa through a series of master plans in the auto, chicken, clothing and sugar sectors. This, the president said, would “rejuvenate and grow key industries.”
“All social partners who participated in the development of the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan as part of our social compact have agreed to work together to reduce our reliance on imports by 20% over the next five years,” said Ramaphosa.
What the country needed was a policy which would attract financial investment, said Geldenhuys.
“In reality, entrepreneurs are forced to take their capital out of South Africa to make a sustainable living. The SONA, like the budget speech, is simply a play on words to sooth South Africans,” he said.
Little about agriculture
Meanwhile, DA shadow minister for agriculture, Annette Steyn, also believed too little was said about agriculture.
“It was very disappointing. There was nothing new mentioned for agriculture. Everything the president said was old news.”
Instead, the SONA could have explored joint ventures, the Land Bank crisis, title deeds for black farmers and rural safety.
“Farmers are looking for security. They want to know that they can still farm in South Africa. Farm attacks are still rife,” says Steyn.
She added that agricultural plans without budget was a huge problem. “We are in February already and I don’t know how farmers will be supported this year because nothing has happened outside of just talking about it.”