19 November 2012

South Africa: Western Cape MEC Van Rensburg Urges Agricultural Community to Remain Calm

press release

"South Africa is a country where we take food and fibre security for granted. The past two weeks therefore came as a shock when this critical sector was burned and destroyed in the Western Cape. Not only did the sector suffer huge financial losses in damage to infrastructure and crops on the land: farmers and farm workers in the Western Cape lost their appetite for their very own industry.

Farmers are now reluctant to invest, and farm workers are doubtful about their career prospects. But the most serious consequence of the past two weeks is the sectors lack of appetite for future job creation.

During the past two weeks South Africa has witnessed power-hungry politicians placing their short term ambitions above their responsibility and love for our country. While the police were stretched beyond their capabilities to protect the lives and property of workers and employers; the South African President was missing in action. President Zuma was not prepared to deploy the military in a supportive role to the police service.

While the police was desperately trying to manage an out-of-control situation, politicians saw it fit to stoke hatred towards the agricultural community with slogans such as: "Die boere gaan k%k", and "Marikana is coming to agriculture, viva!"

I have personally witnessed how farm workers and farmers fear for their future. As farms, vineyards and equipment went up in smoke, workers and employers dreaded if there will be wages and salaries at the end of November. If people are going to be laid off, it will be traumatic. Workers and farmers are part of one agricultural family.

The immediate future of agriculture looks bleak and uncertain. What will the outcome be of the current negotiations at national level? Maybe there will be higher wages for some? Maybe unemployment is waiting for less fortunate workers? Maybe the crop on the land can still be salvaged? Maybe it is already too late and a complete crop failure is going to become a reality for some producers? Will the negotiations result in normality being restored, or are we going to see more unrest and destruction?

It is with the above in mind that I am once again making an urgent plea to all in the agricultural sector: Please remain calm during this time. I have asked for calm in De Doorns; at Worcester, and in Ceres as the protest action spread through our province. Today I am asking all in South Africa who is part of the agricultural family: Please support all ongoing negotiations, as it is only through negotiating that solutions will be found.

But we cannot start the coming week's negotiations with the demands of unrest stokers. We will have to start negotiations with the actual profitability of the sector as a reference point. It is therefore essential that our best economists and auditors be part of these negotiations. Current levels of farm debt and risks inherent in farming cannot be ignored when negotiating about the future of the agricultural sector.

I belief the margins of profitability in agriculture can be increased. Better profits will allow for better wages. National government has a crucial role to play in this regard. It is the responsibility of our national government to create the policy environment that is conducive for a profitable agricultural sector.

The National Development Plan speaks of one million additional jobs which can be created by the agricultural sector. This can happen, if we manage the sector in the correct manner. We need to create investor confidence and improve profitability.

Every person partaking in the negotiation process must do so with responsibility. The long term sustainability of the agricultural sector must at all times be the guiding principle. We need to make decisions that will create more jobs and give more opportunities to our people".

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