Voices

1st world problems vs 3rd world poverty: Black farmers’ raw deal

2019-07-04 22:38

So, the man in my life tells me that I only see things in black and white. He says that there are grey areas in life. I was thinking about this when my thoughts were interrupted by a phone call.

Did I really see things only in black and white? Was that a good thing or not? What were these grey areas that I was missing out on?

Since that day, there have been many more calls, distances travelled, a substantial amount of money spent, a roller coaster of emotions and lots of swearing. All this caused by two simple words uttered during that first phone call – “land invasions”.

The man in my life is a farmer. Not of the 80s two-tone khaki shorts kind, but more of the “let us make the land great again kind” – the emerging black farmer, if you will.

The type of farmer expected to become the poster boy (or girl) of successful land reform in a democratic South Africa. The type of black farmer who is forever labelled as emerging because land reform is fast becoming a one-dimensional concept – a panacea for the ills of the original sin committed on South African soil many centuries ago.

But this type of farmer is no longer emerging. In fact, the line on this graph is heading due south (no pun intended). This type of farmer is beset by First World problems of economics and plagued by the festering, openly weeping and rapidly expanding abscess of Third World rural poverty – an unwanted souvenir of apartheid’s masterminds.

This type of farmer is beset by First World problems of economics and plagued by the festering, openly weeping and rapidly expanding abscess of Third World rural poverty – an unwanted souvenir of apartheid’s masterminds.

Socioeconomic ills, to couch it in sanitised capitalistic terms. But that terminology ignores the political and cultural aspects. Sociocultural and politico-economic don’t quite work, either – but now we’re just playing with semantics, right? So who cares?

No, that’s not the right question. The right question is, who should care? Who should care that the land reform farmer is drowning in debt? Who should care that the traditional leaders in our communal areas are not being held to account? Who should care that the district and local municipalities don’t know what to do about land invasions? Who should care that the SA Police Service can only provide you with a case number?

Maybe these questions pale in comparison to the conundrum of what is a black land reform farmer supposed to do when the very land that has been returned to him/her and is their sole source of income is used instead to accommodate other families that have no form of income? Fortunately, in South Africa, we do not shy away from difficult questions like these.

Maybe these questions pale in comparison to the conundrum of what is a black land reform farmer supposed to do when the very land that has been returned to him/her and is their sole source of income is used instead to accommodate other families that have no form of income?

We appoint commissions to uncover the truth and appoint high-level and advisory panels to produce reports to answer these seemingly insoluble questions that lurk in the grey area. This is why we wait eagerly for the president to release the much-anticipated paper that has been crafted by the handpicked members of the advisory panel on land reform to answer these questions.

So, yes, the man in my life is right: I should not see things only in black and white! There are many shades of grey in between (much more than 50) – just ask organisations such as Abahlali baseMjondolo, but it was not part of the advisory land reform panel.

The writer is married to an emerging struggling farmer

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October 20 2019