READER LETTER | State fails land reform beneficiaries

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Premier Oscar Mabuyane says the government has failed to distribute land to people who want to work it and further bemoans the fact that productive land has been ruined by beneficiaries (“State donated farmland to wrong people, says Oscar”, Daily Dispatch, January 22).

While Mabuyane is certainly correct in acknowledging the failures of the land reform programme, it now seems as if he wants to put the blame for these failures squarely on the shoulders of the beneficiaries.

This unfortunate shift of blame is rather disingenuous, as the premier knows that it is rather governments’ failure to equip these beneficiaries with the necessary skills, tools and support that is the direct cause of most of these failures. When these farms were originally transferred, or leased, to beneficiaries, government was fully aware that they would need to put extensive support programmes in place if they wanted these beneficiaries to become successful farmers.

You don’t just become a farmer by virtue of the fact that you own, or have access to, land. In order to become a successful farmer you require access to modern infrastructure and equipment, you need to be knowledgeable of developments in research and technology that may be beneficial to your farming operations and, above all, you need access to expertise and advice from individuals with practical experience in the field.

With all due respect to the premier, there are thousands of beneficiaries of our land redistribution programmes that actually have a keen interest in agriculture and want nothing more than to successfully farm their land.

The uncomfortable truth it is that our own government officials have failed these people, because in contrast, many of these officials have no passion for agriculture and no interest in seeing people succeed.

Mabuyane just has to look at how the Eastern Cape department of rural development and agrarian reform (DRDAR) has dismally failed beneficiaries.

The recipients of the so called “Sugar Beet Farms” between Cookhouse and Cradock for example have waited for years on officials from DRDAR to come up with alternative plans for their farms after the national department decided against proceeding with this project, which would have included the building of a R1bn bioethanol refinery in the area.

If you visit these farms, the people will tell you about their daily struggle to get support and assistance from our provincial officials. They will tell you how these officials visit their farms once or twice a year, dressed in shiny, pointed shoes or high heels — far too fancy to walk and inspect broken pivots or tractors.

They will tell you how they are desperate to ensure that their farms, which include some of the most valuable irrigation land in the province, once again become productive, commercial farmland. They will tell you how provincial officials are hell-bent on preventing these farmers from entering into partnerships with successful, local commercial farmers.

This is the real reason so few beneficiaries of land reform projects succeed — an unresponsive, ignorant government. Rather than bemoaning failed land reform projects, the honourable premier should perhaps look inward and ask himself what measures his own government has put in place to ensure that land reform beneficiaries have access to much-needed skills and support.

An independent study last year revealed that 72% of land reform projects in the Western Cape are successful. This is directly linked to the support services being given to emerging farmers which include training courses, mentorship, market access support and farm development support.

Retief Odendaal, DA MPL shadow MEC for rural development and agrarian reform, Bhisho




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