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February 19, 2007

South African commercial farmers suspicious of empowerment study

South Africa's Business day newspaper reports that the country's commercial farmers are suspicious that the government agriculture department's announcement of the launch of a baseline study of black empowerment in the farming sector is a move to prejudice them.

The dominant white commercial farmers already feel under pressure because of a high murder rate of their members, increasing calls for speeding up land reform and recent tension with the country's agriculture minister over her allegations that they mistreat farm labourers.

Agriculture department spokesman Priscilla Sehoole said the study was not intended to be a “witch hunt” but that it wanted to look at the rate of transformation in the sector. It would indicate who was complying with empowerment requirements and to what extent. The study
would seek to establish the number of blacks in management positions who contribute to the decision making in farming enterprises, as well as looking at the number of women in the industry and how the industry was being transformed. It would be conducted “across the spectrum” of farming activities, from entry-level farmers to commercial operations.

Laurie Bosman of AgriSA,a union which represents about 35000 producers out of a total of 45000 said the department was far ahead of the game regarding the study, unless the department wanted to establish “what exactly is happening in the industry, which might be a good thing as it appears out of touch with the various industrial activities in the sector. The reason for the study confuses me because the department has a lot of information and if they cannot trust that information, then I don’t know what is happening and it will only create confusion,” said Bosman.

Bennie van Zyl of TAU SA, which represents largely Afrikaner farmers’ interests, said the study would have a benefit if based purely on scientific and economic principles. If politics was kept out of it, it would help to establish the capacity for empowerment and the effect on profitability.

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