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April 02, 2008

South Africa risks Zimbabwe-style land scramble

A South African black farmer has warned that the land grab in Zimbabwe can happen in his country if the tide is not stemmed against racial discrimination. He said discrimination of farmers based on colour still exists in South Africa years after the end of apartheid.

Motsepe Matlala, the president of National African Farmers Union (NAFU) said that to avert the Zimbabwe situation, farmers in South Africa should be united.

"There is a need for unity of farmers. There should be no black and white farmer rather a commercial farmer," he said. His organisation - NAFU - represents over 45,000 small farmers in South Africa.

South Africa and Zimbabwe have almost the same history as both were under the rule of oppressive white supremacist regimes before liberation forces took power.

In Zimbabwe, the forced appropriation of white farmers' land in 2000 has caused a major political, social and economic crisis. The productive land ended up in the hands of 'inexperienced' Zimbabweans leading to food insecurity in one of the region's breadbasket.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, the National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) has launched a strategy to find markets for 'emerging' farmers who happen to be black. Chairperson of NAMC Ntombi Msimang explained that in the next three years, the strategy would help emerging farmers with identifying markets for their products, which include SADC, as the region is moving into a Free Trade Area this year.

"This will help the emerging farmer who does not care about market until his produce is ready and we will make sure that farmers farm as much as possible," said Msimang.

The support for the emerging farmer will include marketing schemes for identified products, targeted training programmes and negotiations for a greater share of the profit from sales. NAMC is targeting South Africa's diplomatic missions to make sure that attaches have the knowledge of the industry so that they can find markets where they are based.

However, Msimang said that the strategy is not inclined to Black Economic Empowerment because it targets all emerging farmers whether they are black or white. "These programmes address both commercial and BEE farmers and decisions are not only for BEE. But, you should deliberately target a black farmer and push for industry players to do that," she said.

"Agriculture has to improve and we are going into agriculture as a business and of course there are lessons to be learnt from Zimbabwe. We need to do things right. Otherwise we are going to go to into the same problems like in Zimbabwe. It is scary how it can happen to South Africa," she added.

She dismissed suggestions that things could get even worse when the populist Jacob Zuma becomes South African president next year.

NAMC chief executive officer Ronald Ramabulana said that to some extent, South Africa has benefited from the crisis in Zimbabwe.

"Yes, in terms of market access, I can say we (South Africans) have benefited, but not South Africa increasing its exports to Zimbabwe because there is no purchasing power there." He said that in the past, Zimbabwe competed with South Africa in markets for products like citrus. But now his country is benefiting because of the crisis in Zimbabwe.


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