South Africa’s rural story needs to change

Farmer and farmer development advocate Sinelizwi Fakade works for a South Africa where rural areas offer ample opportunities for young people to live, work and thrive

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Sinelizwi Fakade has not had it easy commercialising in the farming sector. He highlights the barriers to entry for new farmers. Photo: Supplied.
Farmer and rural development advocate Sinelizwi Fakade is against the idea that young people are still forced by circumstance to look for opportunities in big cities when there is potential to be explored in their immediate surroundings, given the right support.  

In a country where young people are conditioned to leave the rural areas in search of opportunities in big cities, I am glad that I decided to stay in the heart of the rural Eastern Cape and live my dream of becoming a commercial farmer. 

Sometime in the late 1940’s a film called African Jim starring the likes of the late Dolly Rathebe became popular in South Africa. The main protagonist in the story is a young man who leaves his rural home in search of opportunities in Johannesburg. 

The movie inspired the phrase “Jim Comes to Joburg”, which is still used to describe anyone who leaves the rural areas in search of greener pastures in a big city like Johannesburg.

In modern day South Africa, we still see young people who exodus from rural areas in an attempt to secure better economic prospects, resulting in a high number of people competing for a small piece of the urban pie. 

The rural landscape has a reputation for being the place where the dreams of the young are bound to die.

Yet rural areas in South Africa are endowered with vast stretches of land and it is in these regions where most of the food we consume are produced and the extraction of minerals happens. 

There is a lot of economic potential in rural areas that we have not tapped into. The narrative needs to change, which is why I am so passionate about rural development and community upliftment through agriculture. Neglecting rural spaces and failing to unearth the great potential in such regions will not serve us well as a country going forward.

Sinelizwi Fakade is also the founder of Ukhanyo Farming Development, an NPO owned and led by 36 young agricultural graduates, which focuses on uplifting youth and women in the agri sector. Photo: Supplied

Looking back at our troubled history as a country, you can understand why so many people do not see the opportunities that lie in rural areas. Draconian laws like the Land Act of 1913 created segregation between black and white people while creating a situation whereby black people could not access land outside of the so-called tribal areas. This was further entrenched by apartheid in 1948 resulting in black people having access to urban centres only as cheap labour. 

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Because of this, many young black men and women have been conditioned to believe that their dreams can only be realised elsewhere. The continued neglect of rural development in all respects, including education, health and infrastructure has not helped in changing this reality. 

In his book The Land is Ours Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi remarks on how South Africa’s constitution is lauded as one of the best internationally. 

“Yet, despite the admiration of the world, many of the promises contained in the Constitution remain a hollow hope. Millions continue to starve, while a fortunate few enjoy the wealth of the country. Does South Africa really belong to all?” says Ngcukaitobi. 

I believe the country’s constitution serves as a written commitment to better the lives of people.

In the South African context this should include investing in rural areas and developing them into economic hubs instead of allowing the unprogressive narrative to continue. Build better schools, hospitals and clinics and invest in the growth of enterprise within these regions. 

As a young entrepreneur I have chosen to stay in hopes of contributing towards the development of my community and beyond. I am not against the movement and relocation of people as such. I am against the idea that young people are still forced by circumstance to look for opportunities in big cities when there is potential to be explored in their immediate surroundings, given the right support.  

ALSO READ: Black farmers plead: ‘Stop calling us emerging farmers’

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