JOHANNESBURG — The South African government today apologized to white farmers for “poor communication” about its possible expropriation of their land to speed up agricultural reform and to put more farmland in black hands.
The apology came at the start of a nationwide public consultation process on land reform. Twenty-four years after the end of apartheid, the vast bulk of the country’s commercial farmland is owned by whites, who make up only about eight percent of the population.
Director-General of Agriculture Mike Mlengana Friday said the proposed constitutional amendment to allow for land expropriation without payment has been misinterpreted as the beginning of a state “assault” on white farmers.
A gathering of white and black farmers in Limpopo province has highlighted the many land reform projects that are being driven by white farmers. Some have already given their land to black people, and are mentoring them to become fully-fledged commercial food producers.
Mlengana says it’s a pity that the African National Congress government has up until now been ignorant of most of these white-driven initiatives.
He revealed that Minister of Agriculture Senzeni Zokwana has chastised state officials for not allaying white farmers’ fears that their land is about to be taken.
“And the minister stands up [and says] ‘You government officials, why have you not gone out and speak (spoken) to the farmers? There is nothing like that! Where does it come from that we are coming with guns blazing to take white commercial land?’”
Mlengana also said a list circulating identifying 139 white-owned farms to be taken by the government has been “misinterpreted.”
He says the 139 white landowners are simply asking the government to pay too much for their land, so the state will ask a court to determine a fair price for the farms.
Mlengana emphasized that white farmers have a future in South Africa.
“Those who are going overseas (emigrating) and doing all that, they are destroying the future of this country. You are killing this country (if you emigrate). The day your friends up there (who have emigrated) kill this country, they are killing the economy of this country. Where are you going to live? Even if you go overseas and say, ‘I’m running to Australia; I’m running (away),’ they will distrust you! Because whenever there’s a debate (in your new country), your first interest, not the national interest [will] matter more.”
The director-general said the future of agriculture in South Africa is white and black farmers working together, funded by the government.
“At this point, you have been using your (own) money (for land reform); at this point, you have been trying to get there (to achieve real land reform). There is (state) money available that I’m trying to channel towards that partnership.”
In the midst of allegations of widespread corruption within the land reform process, Mlengana said the Department of Agriculture is committed to better administration and has to manage taxpayer funds much better.
White farmers at the gathering have cried as they pledged to correct the wrongs of the country’s apartheid past. As one put it:
“Our fathers stole the land, and if we are given the chance, we will give it back… But only to skilled black farmers who are dedicated to producing food for the country.”