Bheki Mashile's Letter from Umjindi

Country Life: Common nonsense

Not too long ago I wrote in this column about my anger towards the executive of an emerging farmers’ committee we were compelled to set up in the Barberton Farming District. The newly elected office-bearers of the Agricultural Development Committee (ADC) had failed to show up for our first meeting – firing my ambition to take over the chairmanship.

But before I describe my attempted coup d’etat, I must explain why this matter is so important.  The government has implemented – and is already rolling out – a Recapitalisation Assistance Programme (RAP) for emerging farmers; the idea being to give them the necessary resources to have a fighting chance at developing into small- to medium-scale commercial farmers. This is costing the government millions. But hey, remember where those millions are actually coming from: they are coming from you, Mr and Ms Taxpayer, unless you are a tax dodger of course.

Now, lest I be accused of slamming the land reform programme, I want to make it clear that I am not only a beneficiary but a staunch supporter of the scheme. However…

After the initial gathering at which the ADC was set up, a mid-November meeting was called by our mother body, the Local Agricultural Forum (LAF), to check on the progress of the ADC, among other things.

But, guess what, the ADC executive –  with the exception of me, naturally – failed to show up. I was incensed.

The officials who sit on the LAF represent the municipality and the Department of Agriculture and Land Reform & Rural Development (formerly Land Affairs). They have made it quite clear that they will not entertain any matters brought to their attention by a particular farm or individual farmer; they must first be taken to the ADC, then to the LAF.  “Otherwise don’t bother wasting your time, you people must get your act in gear. As a matter of fact, just recently we turned away a group from right here in Barberton and told them to come through the ADC,” said an official of the LAF.

It does not get any clearer than that. Now what’s my probem?

Well, let’s say emerging farmer Joe gets his Recap Assistance, then says he’s not happy with his mentor because the slacker does not show up at the farm often enough, yet regularly collects his mentorship stipend. Poor Joe will not be able to lay a complaint on his own to the Department of  Agriculture or ditch the mentor without previously clearing it with the department because Joe Farmer must go through the ADC.

And the ADC is virtually non-existent because of an incompetent, constantly absent executive. So the millions that have been allocated to Joe are going to waste because he is an emerging farmer who has no reliable mentorship and thus productivity is either nil or negligible.

This is a serious matter that could have dire consequences if not checked and addressed. So I threw down the gauntlet and put in a motion of no confidence against the executive – excepting me, of course. It was agreed that a meeting of all the Barberton District emerging-farmer commodity groups would be called to elect a new executive.

At that meeting, one attendee – who happens to be a Proportional Representative (PR) Councillor – had the audacity to say “we cannot remove these executives: they were fairly elected”.

Said I: “Hey, we are not dealing with your councillor bullshit here. We are dealing with the proper management of our farms. I’ll remind you that these farms cost the government/taxpayer a pretty penny and all eyes are on us. For me it will be a cold day in hell when I sit by and allow a bunch of palookas to hold positions that could negatively affect any aspect of that management.”

There was over­whelming support for my retort. I was delighted to see that I had made my point and brought a good number of those attending to their senses.

Common sense. That’s something I find lacking in so many instances in my country hamlet of Barberton – well, actually, in my country…    

Meanwhile, my fellow emerging farmers also need to understand that the government has not confined itself to looking at shortfalls and subsequently implementing measures such as the Recapitalisation Assistance Programme; it is now also moving forward with its threat of dealing with non-performing emerging farmers, taking a no-nonsense approach.

If they want proof of this, all they need to do is visit Dixie Farm, just outside Barberton off the Moseley Farm turn-off on the Kaapmuiden Road. There they will be woken up to the reality that the farm has been confiscated from the 200-or-so land claim beneficiaries and their remaining balance of a reported R500 000 grant has been frozen.

The beneficiaries were told they would be allowed to remain in their RDP houses, which are situated on the farm, but these will be fenced off from the rest of the fields and they must get rid of all their cattle: Dixie is an agricultural farm, not grazing for livestock.

And then I’m supposed to take chances with this utterly useless ADC executive? Not in this lifetime!

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