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September 29, 2005

Farmland, Racism and South Africa.

Owen Barder got very upset at what he identified as racist commentary at Samizdata. Certainly some of what he regarded as racist I do not. And this over identification of racism leads to something of a problem I feel. For what do you have left to describe things like this:

Mr Maritz, who has turned Knotted Roots into a "guest farm" complete with conference facilities, said he was entitled to ask for a water charge from a tenant.

"They were using a lot of water and they weren't paying for it," he said. "Where you live, if you don't pay for your water, they cut you off."

He added that Mr Lekoaletso's relatives had joined him on the farm and he was afraid of a burgeoning squatter camp appearing on his land.

Told that Mr Lekoaletso and his grandchildren were living beside a pigsty, Mr Maritz replied: "It's not my problem. I did what I could for them, but I couldn't keep supplying them with water for nothing."

He added: "They felt they should be given something for nothing. That's a problem with a lot of black people. Because they were previously disadvantaged, they feel they should just have things given to them."

Also in the survey on which the report is based is this little gem:

According to Marc Wegerif, one of the new study's authors, a minimum wage and new legal obligations for farmers help account for the huge number of evictions.

A sad reminder that there is never a situation so bad that bad Government action can’t make it worse.

September 29, 2005 in Politics | Permalink

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» Owen, racism and development from The Devil's Kitchen
Young Master Barder has been getting a little upset with people over at Samizdata, and has cried "racism" on their lily-white asses, yo! I can't say that I agree with him particularly, but I suppose that's because I couldn't give two tits if they ... [Read More]

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» Owen, racism and development from The Devil's Kitchen
Young Master Barder has been getting a little upset with people over at Samizdata, and has cried "racism" on their lily-white asses, yo! I can't say that I agree with him particularly, but I suppose that's because I couldn't give two tits if they ... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 29, 2005 5:51:13 PM

Comments

I have absolutely no faith in the South African government. I think that South Africa is going to go tits-up under Mbeki and his cronies. They will probably fuck up the land redistribution programme too. I have no facts to back up these theories - they are merely hunches.

Am I a racist for saying such things? I hope not because I deplore racism and would therefore be a hypocrit.

Posted by: Brian | Sep 29, 2005 11:09:05 AM

I love reading reports in the western press about farming in South Africa, because it demonstrates just how far apart the first and third worlds really are.

I am a Brit living and working in a rural area of South Africa and perhaps I may shed a little background on this story. I am not a farmer myself, but I do have friends who are and my job has given me some little insight into rural, black, South African society.

Firstly, life in rural African villages is so far removed from modern, western concepts that it truly is another world. A village is governed by a traditional, hereditary headman, advised by the village elders. These village councils resolve domestic disputes, adjudicate claims and generally try and maintain the peace and harmony of their communities. Land tenure, in the western sense, doesn’t exist nor do rights of inheritance. There are none of the services that Europeans take for granted and that can be found in urban South Africa. The closest social analogy I have been able to make is to Anglo-Saxon society in pre-invasion England, or the Scottish highlands prior to enclosure.

Life for African workers on commercial farms differs very little from that in a village except that most adults will be employed in some way and the role of the headman is taken by the farmer. In some senses he is a mediaeval lord with all the obligations to his people that a mediaeval lord had. He is the provider of food, shelter (including water and electricity) and security. He will be the policeman who breaks up fights and the judge in their domestic disputes. He’s a bus driver, paramedic, legal aid advisor and financial councillor. He’s the main provider of food and drink whenever any of his people marry or are buried. Often he replaces the state by providing schooling and ambulance services. These benefits continue even after an employee retires whether the harvest has been good or bad.

Not all farmers provide these services as well as others and there are some who are out and out racists. Mr Martitz seems to have been painted in this light and maybe he is. But in my experience, most commercial farmers do care for their people in a way first world landowners or employers abandoned decades, if not centuries, ago.

In return for this, the government expects farmers to pay a minimum wage with little recognition of the non-pecuniary benefits. They must also pay unemployment insurance and a training levy (payroll taxes) for each employee. Local government charges full rates and taxes on property for services that never extend beyond the town boundary (including water and sewage fees). There is the constant threat of a land restitution claim being made against farms and there are now moves to require all farmers to give their workers a 25-30% stake in their businesses. Farmers are also the victims of a prolonged and vicious crimewave the police are unable or unwilling to halt.

In this climate South African farmers try to run profitable businesses without subsidies. Many try to engage in the export trade in the face of stiff EU and US regulation and supermarket buying practices.

The wonder is not that nearly a million workers have left or been evicted from their homes. The wonder is that this country still has a farming industry still employing two million.

RM

Posted by: Remittance Man | Sep 29, 2005 12:49:06 PM

But what of the noble savage, eh? Give the black gentlemen their land back and they will tend for it in the wondrous way that they have, in symbiotic relationship with the tide and turn of the seasons around them, won't they...? What need have they for central government or its taxes? What need of that have we, for that matter...?

Sorry, I've been reading Owen; I'm being mildly sarcastic, by the way. And, I'm rambling.

DK

Posted by: Devil's Kitchen | Sep 29, 2005 5:56:15 PM

I had a go at Owen myself yesterday evening. Some of the things he was saying on this topic are prone to raise the old blood pressure.

RM

Posted by: Remittance Man | Sep 30, 2005 7:04:55 AM

What Brain said was simply racism. You better change your attitude "Brain" somebody because Mbeki and his "cronies" (according to you)are here to stay.

Posted by: Jamido | Oct 3, 2005 8:01:40 AM