ARTICLE: POLITICS OF THE STOMACH

ARTICLE: POLITICS OF THE STOMACH

The last few months, if not years, have witnessed confusion, political grandstanding and outright unconstitutional references and threats in relation to the land question.

In what has become a political football at a time of great political and economic uncertainty, respect and regard for laws, regulations and, ultimately, the interest of all South Africans is held ransom by a Presidency and a cabal who in the words of a commentator are interested in the “politics of their stomachs”. The State of Capture Report elucidates in detail the nature of brand Zuma in this regard.   

The politics of the stomach, in the best sense, has certainly informed Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana. A recently released statement urged that policy uncertainty and undue pressure and coercion on the commercial farming sector in the country is a direct threat, not only to food security but to a sector that is providing almost one million jobs. This, to mainly rural South Africans, with a year-on-year increase in employment. 

Minister Zokwana very ably connected the dots in his interview with Business Day (22 May 2017) when he pointed out that, “we have to give comfort to those who put their money into farming…to believe there’s a future there. Without food security, we’d be breaching one of our constitutional obligations”. He further urged that government policy “should not threaten the sector”.

Enhancing the sector would require, amongst a myriad of options, transferring state-owned land to people who desire to farm, and upgrading titles of emerging farms so that they can access finance. Further, upgrading of infrastructure is also required, so that the rural economy is both desirable for investment and livelihoods, and a net exporter of goods for both the domestic and international markets. A powerful tool for government is to encourage and enable skills transfer between established and emerging farmers. This would not only yield economic dividends but crucially demonstrate that reconciliation, healthy community relations and a mutual love for the land binds - not separates - many more people than it divides.       

In a country with high levels of unemployment, limited arable land and one that is water-scarce, the imperative on political and economic leaders is to grow the economic cake under conditions that support accountable, transparent and capable environments. Recklessness and threatening behaviours and statements stymie hope, innovation and crucially, the prospect of developing a society underpinned by respect and regard for all who live in it.

Minister Zokwana’s earnest plea that, “our farmers need to be involved and we need to create markets, improve the processing of our production and all those things should be a package that makes sure that farmers are encouraged to produce and that those coming up are assisted at all costs”, sums it up. There is a crucial intersection of the necessity for political will, robust economics and a people-centred agenda that brings out the best and most  fundamental elements of our humanity to share and grow together.          

By Ms Zohra Dawood: Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity