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AgriSA president Dan Kriek – cattle farmer, and member of President Cyril Ramaphosa's special advisory panel on land reform –

AgriSA president Dan Kriek – cattle farmer, and member of President Cyril Ramaphosa's special advisory panel on land reform – is emerging as an increasingly controversial figure in the regathering storm over blood-and-soil politics. 

His statements in recent weeks unnerved farmers, and undoubtedly count as a motivating factor in the launch of the new Southern African Agriculture Initiative (SAAI).

Responding to the launch – "AfriForum makes its play in the battle for the hearts and minds of farmers" – News24 assistant-editor for in-depth news Pieter du Toit paints newcomer SAAI as part of an "expanding" Afrikaner "empire", while the incumbent behemoth, AgriSA, is all things healthful.

To his credit, Du Toit notes that AgriSA "not only represents in the region of 27 000 farmers of all shapes and sizes, but also a number of commodity organisations ... and a number of corporates with interests in agriculture, like banks".

The implication Du Toit unfortunately overlooks is the risk of internal capture by incorporated constituents with centralised influence and sly domination tactics. This takes particular force in the context of the existential threat against farmers that the Transvaal Agricultural Union (TAU) has, for example, been flagging for years.

Kriek, known as the "Bill Clinton of land reform", is at the centre of Du Toit's appraisal of AgriSA for his smooth talk to government, and other rhetoric. Until 4 February 2019, I had a similar positive estimation.

I first saw Kriek at NAMPO 2017 – the major annual agri-fair – which I visited for much the same reason I went to AfrikaBurn; fresh air, fresh culture, and a jol. Kriek was a NAMPO star, issuing warnings and showing a tireless resolve to plough on for humanity. Down-to-earth but full of hope; the straight-talker with safe hands; and funny, too.

This impression changed at the University of the Western Cape during a land conference in early February after an argument was raised by Professor Ben Cousins that to protect food security while expropriating half the country, the 80:20 principle should be used – expropriate the less effective 80% who only produce 20% of the food or high value exports.

Kriek echoed this at a breakaway. "80% [of farmers] make 20% of food, so with that then we can do drastic things. No, not drastic things – but we can make faster progress." Shocked at this, I asked him about it later. He did not deny making the claim; he could not. He did deny wanting to sacrifice the small farmer, and I reported that. 

I next encountered Kriek when he spoke at another state-backed land conference at St George's Hotel in Pretoria last week. Half the president's special advisory panel was there. Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma spoke, too. Kriek co-chaired a plenary on which land would be expropriated.

Spotting me, Kriek chided me in a simpatico way for "getting [him] into trouble" – but again he did not deny making the statement publicly; he could not.

Going off script at the Pretoria conference, Kriek said his lawyers had only just vetted a big idea he had long been sitting on. Expropriation exemptions, he proposed, should go to "farmers that employ more than 100 people; farmers that are willing to invest more than R10 million; and perhaps farmers who enact a certain level of skills development". For the rest, a grim ultimatum: "stay where you are and you will come under all sorts of pressure."

Kriek is taking me to the Press Ombud for reporting this, but in his internal missive to AgriSA, he does not, and cannot, deny saying those words either.

The IRR's close attention to Kriek's statements does not stem, as Du Toit implies, from its being "dismissive of AgriSA" – or being part of an "expanding (AfriForum/Solidarity) empire", inferred in the claim that the IRR "received funding from AfriForum".

On the contrary, as AgriSA is pivotal in the politics and economics of land reform, it must be engaged, not dismissed. As for 'funding', AfriForum, AfriSake and Solidarity have in the past commissioned bespoke analyses and advice from the IRR. For instance, between 2014 and 2016, work was commissioned on the extent of criminality in the police, the implications of NHI policy, and on vigilantes, as well as some scenarios, all via a process that is true of similar commissions by scores of corporations and even government.

The importance of Kriek's ideas about expropriation and land reform is borne out by the estimate of agri-experts Johann Kirsten and Wandile Sihlobo that there are slightly less than 3 000 farming units which generate over R5m per annum; the other 96% of farms are small- or medium-sized and surely cannot afford 100 employees or eight figure donations.

Kriek's proposal therefore amounts to exempting mega-farms while the rest populate the front line of expropriation at sacrificial compensation.

Kriek also recommends consolidating one parastatal body to coordinate marketing, financing and servicing of agriculture. Creating further misapprehension Du Toit says "AgriSA's critics believe...Kriek has been co-opted into serving a Marxist land-grabbing agenda".

No, Kriek is not channeling Marx's ghost. But he does seem mistakenly geared to co-opting the superwave of race nationalism and anti-capitalism that swelled as Zuma fell, and which runs the risk of serving an elite group of agricultural administrators and exempted mega-farmers who could corner the market under a "transformation" banner.

This is not entirely new. "We need to connect more dots between BEE and corruption" was the headline on a Carol Paton piece in Business Day last week. "BEE is legalized corruption." That was Moeletsi Mbeki in 2012. 

"I want to line up three rows of people. In the first...are the proponents of 'radical economic transformation' and foes of a scourge they call 'white monopoly capital'." In this way, Jacques Pauw describes the "first row" of The President's Keepers.

"In this game, big government and big business gab about how much they care for poor black people until they – though not the poor – end up in bed together taking selfies filtered by the elite's inglorious self-regarding lens: oligarchy through diversity. This filter makes poverty invisible."

These are my words, in the piece Kriek is trying to smear as "FAKE news".


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