Land rights group scorns MEC’s call for Western Cape farmers to move East

Communal grazing land in the Eastern Cape. Photo by Mzi Velapi

Before the delivery of the State of the Nation address that had land expropriation as a talking point, the Eastern Cape MEC released a statement inviting commercial farmers in the drought stricken Western Cape to move and invest in the Eastern Cape, something a land rights group describes as an insult to small-scale farmers.

Eastern Cape Province, South Africa

Inyanda Land Rights Movement which represents rural associations and small farmer unions in three provinces has criticised the invitation by the Eastern Cape MEC for Rural Development and Agrarian Reform to Western Cape commercial farmers to invest in the Eastern Cape. In a statement issued by the department, the MEC Mlibo Qoboshiyane called on Western Cape farmers to “set up their commercial farming in the province by partnering with landowners from our province to produce whatever commodity they want to produce to get their returns in investments.”

The Western Cape is facing the worst drought with dam levels currently standing at a 24.4% average. The department said they were concerned about the impact the water shortage will have on farmworkers and farmers. “News that workers are likely to lose their jobs, painfully affecting their livelihoods, are a serious concern to us. Reports that farmers are likely to lose their profits and might not be able to pay back their loans, resulting into closure of their commercial farming, inspired us to open the doors of the province to help them continue their farming in the Eastern Cape” reads the statement.

“Qoboshiyane’s statement comes in the context of precious little being done in the Eastern Cape to assist small-scale farmers with land, infrastructure and resources. The invitation by the MEC is a serious insult to small-scale black farmers in the Eastern Cape who continue to struggle for adequate land for livestock and crop farming.

The statement reveals the Eastern Cape government’s narrow approach of extending support and investment only to large-scale commercial farming, which is dominated by white farmers”.

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A picture of Theewaterskloof dam illustrating the extent of the drought in the Western Cape. The photo was taken on the 2 February 2018 by Mzi Velapi

During his state of the nation address, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that land redistribution was needed to redress grave historical injustice and to bring more producers into the agricultural sector. Inyanda Land Rights Movement is adamant that small-scale farmers can bring change to the sector.

“Inyanda certainly regards land as critical to the economy and furthermore that land in the hands of small-scale farmers can bring about change. We caution though that simply giving out land is not enough. It needs to be accompanied by support in the form of training and infrastructure.”

A recent land audit report by the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform reveals that land ownership is skewed in terms of race and gender. Inviting the commercialisation of agriculture in the Eastern Cape by predominantly white farmers will exacerbate this state of inequality.

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