By dr. Theo de Jager, board chairman of Saai
As with the Agricultural Master Plan (AAMP), the division between agricultural organizations’ support for or not for the ANC’s transformation ideology was strongly emphasized in the past week in their reaction to the application of black economic empowerment requirements (SEB) on family farms.
On one side of the heated debates are the clappers who say the BEE measures are nothing new, are not that bad, are not really applied strictly and are necessary to allow more black people to benefit from agriculture. They are also the ones who signed off on the master plan.
On the other hand, the well-heeled shoppers who feel that the application of BEE has not yet brought anything good to South Africa, is the cause of economic and state decay, represents inverted apartheid and is a fundamental injustice. These are the same organizations that refuse to accept that transformation is the most important agenda in agriculture and demand that profitability, sustainability and efficiency are prioritized in the AAMP.
Among the biggest differences in the approach to the debate is that the heel shoppers consistently conduct it in the public domain and ask about the underlying principles, while the clappers cite technical points in letters to their members, or try to explain them in closed meetings where the opposition is absent.
Now the heel shoppers want to present a simple scenario to the clappers and challenge them to state what is not realistic in this scenario, and also how they can morally justify its implications, or get a mandate for it from their farmer members.
In this imaginary scenario, the circumstances of two farmers who are too young to have any experience of, or complicity in, apartheid are compared – they are school and student friends on neighboring farms. Both have obtained the same qualification, are successful, successful entrepreneurs with turnover of more than R50 million per year who export their products.
One step behind
The white young farmer still has large capital debts on his farm, and also had to finance his improvements, infrastructure and equipment himself. The other is a beneficiary of land reform, who regularly receives huge capital injections from the state in his farming and most of his equipment was donated by the department. However, both are smart, hard-working producers who deserve their success.
Because he is white, only one of them has to cede part of the ownership of his farm and his farming enterprise to a black partner, who obviously cannot scratch his own pot, and if he does not give it for free or at a diluted does not transfer value, he will find it very difficult to sell it to this partner, because the state that requires it has no functioning mechanisms to help such an unwelcome, even troublesome partner who is forced on the white farmer to acquire shares.
His neighbor doesn’t have to
The other young farmer can focus unhindered on the expansion and profitability of his farming because he is not white.
The white farmer may also not recruit or hire the most experienced, highly qualified, proven managers who would fit in best with his farming. Their skin color must be black. They must especially be women (in whatever new definition of what and who qualifies as women). They must be able to exercise control over his farming through their decision-making powers. They should be appointed in all levels of management.
The other young farmer can simply hire the best managers.
The white farmer groans under a forced responsibility to carry skill development, training and human capital enrichment out of his farming while (or because?) the state fails to do so.
The white farmer does not have the luxury that his neighbor has to buy the best quality seed, fertilizer, breeding material, machinery or services from the most reliable supplier at the best price. He must buy it from black businesses, regardless of whether they do business in his area or not.
Moreover, he is judged by his spending on social contributions to black communities, but his neighbor is free from that burden because he is not white.
There is no deadline to which the white farmer can look forward, when the playing field will be level again, no target or performance that will bring an end to the discrimination. As it stands, it is forever.
The heel shoppers are demanding from the clappers to explain what the moral justification is for their support of the ANC’s racial regulations. The heel buyers want to avoid the impact that BEE has had on public health care, Eskom, Denel, SABC, the office of the Master of the High Court and service delivery at local municipalities, in agriculture at all costs.
Yet in the public discourse it feels and sounds like the clapper-agriculture organizations are pushing the government’s racial agenda with greater zeal than the ANC itself!