LREAD Perspective June 2017Casidra
Earlier in June I travelled to the Koue Bokkeveld to an event where Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, was the guest speaker. True to the area’s name, it was a bitterly cold evening, with outside temperatures dropping to 5 Degrees Celsius on the Gydo pass, on route to the venue!
The event was hosted by the Witzenberg Partnerships in Agri Land Solutions (PALS). PALS is a private sector initiate which coordinates and supports transformation projects in the Witzenberg Area. The Initiative was launched two years ago when the commercial agricultural sector decided to act on the need for rapid transformation in land ownership in the Witzenberg area. Members finance a permanently staffed office in Ceres from where all projects are coordinated. The LREAD has a good working relationship with PALS and thus my attendance to the event was granted.
Lennox Plaatjies, PALS CEO, reported that PALS initiated 61 land transformation projects, encompassing 4561 hectares of irrigation land, since its inception. There is also another 15 older LRAD projects which are being supported in a variety of ways. The current year saw 7 new projects being implemented, with another 20 projects ready for implementation in the near future.
Plaatjies then addressed the challenges hampering land transformation from a PALS perspective:
According to Plaatjies, electricity supply to the Witzenberg area is currently at full capacity, and new agricultural or industrial developments will need urgent additional supply from Eskom.
PALS projects that are based on new developments often need to apply for additional water or the transfer of existing water rights to new entities. Water is a scares resource and this fact is often compounded by a frustratingly complex and slow administrative process, as managed by the National Department of Water and Sanitation.
PALS tries to negotiate tax recognition for the commercial partners in an attempt to make participating more attractive. Discussions with SARS is ongoing in this regard, but nothing concrete is on the table yet.
PALS projects often need existing agricultural units to be subdivided to enable the creation of new empowerment entities. Subdivision of agricultural land for the purposes of transformation can be facilitated with Act 126, as mandated by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. This process is also being bogged down with a slow administrative process, which is delaying and preventing projects from implementation.
PALS wants commercial partners to receive official recognition for their participation in transformation projects. The National Development Plan suggests that commercial farmers be exempt from future land reform demands if they have contributed towards land reform targets. But this proposal has not made inroads with National Government.
Next up was our Deputy President. Mr Ramaphosa spoke in broad strokes, often referring to the National Development Plan’s vision for South Africa. He did not explicitly endorse PALS, but congratulated the initiative for the good work it was doing. He stated that PALS success or failure will be determined by its ability to be as inclusive as possible.
Mr Ramaphosa placed emphasise on the role commercial agriculture can play to support government in its attempts to enable youth employment and job creation through the various value chains. He urged farmers to get involved and support agricultural training institutes.
He said consensus regarding land reform is needed, and that it can only succeed through partnerships. Mr Ramaphosa spoke about a lack of sensitivity when the commercial sector deal with vulnerable people, such as farm workers. He urged farmers not to evict workers from on-farm housing, or to disregard their human dignity.
All in all, the Deputy President’s speech was very generic, and the worker housing issues sounded a little like an electioneering speech. He actually said very little about land reform, which is sad seeing the event was all about a land reform initiative. Maybe this was because of the contested nature of the land reform debate within his own political party.
One can understand the difficult position the Deputy President find himself in. He needs to balance the practical demands of the Deputy President position, on the one hand, with his political ambitions in the ANC, on the other hand. The stakes are high, as the highest office in South Africa is at play.
But I also could not help thinking that with PALS explaining in such clear language what is hampering its efforts to implement agricultural transformation, the Deputy President was the perfect senior government official to be in the audience. He is the perfectly placed person to offer assistance with these issues, all of which speaks to a different government department or entity: Electricity at Eskom; water licencing at the Department of Water and Sanitation; subdivision of agricultural land with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform; taxation at SARS; official recognition for partaking in transformation, in the Presidency.
One can only hope the Deputy President took the PALS practical message to heart and that it may play a positive part in the greater challenge of reaching consensus between role players in the private sector and leaders in government, and help build partnerships towards successful land transformation.