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AfriForum makes its play in the battle for the hearts and minds of farmers- South Africa

On Thursday, a new agricultural organisation called SAAI was launched. SAAI is an acronym for the Southern African Agriculture Initiative, which means "sow" in Afrikaans.

It represents Afrikaner rights organisation AfriForum's long-awaited foray into agriculture and an apparent attempt to counter AgriSA, the largest representative organisation for farmers in the country.

AfriForum and its mother body, Solidarity (that emerged from the white, separatist Mynwerkersunie), now has representation in almost all spheres of society, including its own tertiary institution (Akademia) and media wing (Maroela Media), and are all ideologically aligned.

There has long been unease and even hostility between AgriSA and AfriForum, with the former at the forefront of engagements with government and the ANC about land reform, and the latter opting for confrontation and antagonism as a way to safeguard their members' interests. The two even met last year to negotiate an armistice.

 SAAI was launched in typical AfriForum style: a slick and sharp marketing campaign, a launch event at one of the organisation's favourite haunts, clean and modern AfriForum-like corporate logos on drop-down banners, a social media blitz and a flashy new website. All AfriForum trademarks.

It will be led by Theo de Jager, a former deputy president of AgriSA, and Francois Rossouw, a lawyer from Pretoria (with no discernible experience in agriculture).

The leadership team will among others, also consist of Leon Borcherds (a farmer from Limpopo), Meyer de Jager (a member of the Afrikanerbond's national council), and Kallie Kriel, AfriForum's CEO. No women or black farmers have yet been elected or co-opted, Rossouw said.

According to initial reports, SAAI will be supported by AfriForum with assistance in policy formulation to be provided by the Institute for Race Relations. It is open to farmers of all races, and Rossouw provided contact details of two black members.

Rossouw said on Friday that SAAI came about after De Jager – a strong critic of AgriSA and its leadership, and now an opponent – approached him to help with a new organisation.

Funding is provided by AfriForum in the form of a loan, Rossouw said, with SAAI's offices housed in AfriForum's headquarters at DF Malan Avenue in Centurion. AfriForum's human resources department is also helping with logistics. SAAI's lawyers are Hurter Spies, AfriForum’s lawyers, located in the same building (Rossouw said SAAI has been registered as a non-profit organisation but he has yet to provide the registration number).

The confluence of characters is important in order to understand what SAAI's aims are. Theo de Jager is critical of AgriSA's efforts to engage government (and he seemingly left AgriSA on less than amicable terms); Borcherds is president of Agri Limpopo, considered hostile towards AgriSA; Meyer de Jager represents the Bond, while Kriel is seemingly the shareholder's representative. The IRR, which has received funding from AfriForum and a subsidiary organisation in the past, has in recent times become a close AfriForum ally and is also dismissive of AgriSA.

AgriSA on the other hand, is a totally different beast. It not only represents in the region of 27 000 farmers of all shapes and sizes, but also a number of commodity organisations (such as the wool growers' organisation or the red meat producers' organisation) and a number of corporates with interests in agriculture, like banks.

It has actively engaged government and the ANC in looking for a solution to land reform concerns as well as mooted plans to amend Section 25 of the Constitution, the so-called property clause. Dan Kriek - AgriSA's president and an active farmer from the North Eastern Free State - also serves on President Cyril Ramaphosa's presidential advisory committee on land reform.

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