Australia must ‘take a stand’ on South African farmland grab

Australia must ‘take a stand’ on South African farmland grab


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Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia Executive Director Graeme Kruger.

Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia Executive Director Graeme Kruger.

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EXPAT South African Graeme Kruger is urging the Australian government to “take a stand” on the radical policy of taking farm land without compensating farmers.

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EXPAT South African Graeme Kruger is urging the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and Australian government to “take a stand” with a humanitarian view on the radical policy of taking farm land without compensating farmers in his former homeland.

Mr Kruger moved from South Africa to NZ in 1997 with his wife and young family, before transferring to Australia in 2012.

He says he still maintains close connections with life in South Africa and has always lived and worked in rural areas; including now as the Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia Executive Director.

He worked for South African National Parks in an area called the Karoo before immigrating and retains strong rural connections including ties with many friends who are still farming.

“I still keep a close ear to the ground and monitor what’s going on back in South Africa and still have family there,” he said.

Mr Kruger said Julius Malema - head of the Economic Freedom Fighters – South Africa’s third-largest political force – recently put a motion to parliament on the land grab policy which was supported by the African National Congress (ANC), led by the ruling party’s new leader and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

He said despite the ANC’s policy of ‘farm land expropriation without compensation’, not yet being law, farmers' land was already being staked out in some regions due to a misunderstanding that’s being driven by the “divisionist” rhetoric of the nation’s politicians.

Mr Kruger said the motion backing the policy of expropriation of land without compensation was voted on and passed but it hasn’t yet been “operationalised” to be acted on by the government.

“They’ve just said, ‘yes, let’s take it to the next step’ but unfortunately people have already started staking out land because they’ve heard about it and think it must be law – it’s not law yet but it’s busy happening,” he said.

“You can understand if you are a black gentlemen living in a tin shack and you hear this on the radio and you go, ‘this is my opportunity to improve my life’ why wouldn’t you jump on that?

“You can understand them getting caught up in the excitement of this.

“It’s hard to blame some genuine hard working black people who are living on the edge of larger cities - when they hear this they think ‘this is the new South Africa’.

“I can understand them being caught up but the politicians need to understand that, what comes out of their mouth, they need to be held accountable for.”

Mr Kruger said the Australian farm sector should be debating the South African government’s land grab policy and saying, ‘what’s our position?’

“I think it’s more than likely the NFF are going to put this on the agenda for the May meeting which I’ll be going to,” he said.

“It’s a complex issue and I’d encourage people to do their homework and not just jump in and form opinions either way.

“South Africa still has some issues that it still needs to sort out politically – but on the basis of political rhetoric and a government being irresponsible with its policies, then certainly the Australian government should take a stand, as it has in the past, where there’s a human rights issue.

“Australia and NZ have been very good globally, for holding a moral standard.”

Mr Kruger said his biggest concern was the rhetoric coming from South Africa’s politicians on the policy which was “very divisionist”.

Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia Executive Director Graeme Kruger on a recent farm tour of South Africa.

Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia Executive Director Graeme Kruger on a recent farm tour of South Africa.

“I certainly wasn’t a fan of the apartheid regime and things needed to change – but it’s almost as if the current government is as guilty as the apartheid government with the language they’re using,” he said.

“And its racist language - like it’s white and black - instead of saying ‘we’re one nation and we’re one people’.

“Yes we need to look at fixing up some of the wrongs of the past – I’ve got no issue with that – but it’s the way that they’re saying it’s a black and white issue and it shouldn’t be.”

But Mr Kruger said he was encouraged by the contribution of one politician - Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota who recently gave a moderate speech in the South African parliament but was booed by his black colleagues.

“He’s a man who spent time in prison with Nelson Mandela on Robben Island so he was one of the original struggle campaigners and he’s basically taken a moderate view saying, ‘if we lose our farmers in our country we’re going to be a hungry country and food prices are going to go up so we need to think about this strategy’,” he said.

“But he was basically booed for his speech and told by the extreme left that’s he’s now the enemy – and in particular Julius Malema who is feeding this fervour which is disappointing in my view.

“Lekota used the language that I believe needs to be used.

“My concern is with what Julius Malema is saying and President Cyril Ramaphosa is now being forced to pander to the voters that Mielemma is stealing from that far left sector.

“But the bulk of South Africans in my view - black and white - don’t want that dissention.

“They want to find a pathway of healing the past and building a new country – that’s overwhelming – but unfortunately when you get this divisionist rhetoric it drives a wedge and it makes things worse and that’s my concern.”

Mr Kruger said he still took tours of NZ and Australian farmers back to his native homeland and remained in close contact with farmers who are living in “genuine fear” due to the government’s land grab policy.

“There are parts of South African where they won’t even know that this is going on, down the Western Cape and on the South Coast of South Africa,” he said.

“But around Kwa-Zulu-Natal and the Midlands of Natal and leading up to the Northern Provinces there are farmers living in absolute fear.

“The types of violence that’s happening – it’s frightening to actually see – I don’t even want to repeat some of the stuff that’s happening.

“It’s just terrible but the issue is not getting enough traction.”

Mr Kruger said Australia spoke up against apartheid and had a voice then and “it’d be great to see a voice now also speaking out against what I’d call atrocities”.

“People need to be nice to people and people need to care for people,” he said.

“It’s not a black and white issue - not in my book anyway - or it shouldn’t be.

“But the greedy people like to drive wedges.

“Greedy self-serving people, whether they be black or white, like driving wedges and creating division, not uniting.”

Fast-track visa proposal for South African farmers

This week, Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton indicated the federal government would prioritise and investigate immigration visas for white farmers facing land seizures in South Africa, as the issue started gaining further traction.

Mr Dutton said farmers needed assistance “from a civilised country like ours”.

“If you look at the footage and read the stories, you hear the accounts, it's a horrific circumstance they face,” he said.

“The people we're talking about want to work hard, they want to contribute to a country like Australia.

“We want people who want to come here, abide by our laws, integrate into our society, work hard, not lead a life on welfare - and I think these people deserve special attention and we're certainly applying that special attention now.”

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Australian High Commission in South Africa closely monitored reports on murder rates and patterns across the country in both cities and rural areas.

Ms Bishop said in the year March 31, 2017 there were 19,016 murders recorded.

“Our concerns are reflected in the travel advice for South Africa,” she said.

“The Australian government continues to urge the South Africa government to ensure any changes to land ownership are not disruptive to the economy or lead to violence.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

“Australia has an existing Offshore Humanitarian Visa Program to which an eligible person, including those claiming to be displaced through persecution in South Africa, can apply for entry to Australia.

“All claims for humanitarian visa entry to Australia are assessed on their merits - I am working with the Home Affairs Minister to ascertain if any change is needed.”

But South Africa's foreign ministry said via a spokesperson that the threat does not exist.

“There is no reason for any government in the world to suspect that a section of South Africans is under danger from their own democratically elected government,” a statement said.

“We regret that the Australian government chose not to use the available diplomatic channels available for them to raise concerns or to seek clarification.”

However, Brisbane based agribusiness lawyer Trent Thorne said the South African farming community has been “thrown a literal lifeline” by the federal government in the face of the “ill-considered decision to deprive them of their land without compensation”.

Mr Thorne said as with the Zimbabwean famers who fled the Mugabe regime’s land grab 18 years ago, “we should extend every opportunity to these farmers and allow them safe haven into Australia’s farming communities”.

“There is little doubt that their skills and knowledge will be welcomed, and the federal government should leave no stone unturned in trying to secure their passage to our shores, and make the best out of a very bad situation,” he said.

“With all the recent chat about immigration levels, this seems to be a no-brainer and should be fast tracked to ameliorate any suffering.

“The South African farmers win by removing themselves from an extremely dangerous and toxic environment and we get access to a skilled workforce that wants to work and who will willingly want to live in rural and remote areas.”

Economic consequences “frightening”

Mr Kruger said he didn’t really know the details of the potential immigration visas being investigated by the Australian government but believed a humanitarian approach was needed, not just for white farmers.

“In my view Australia, as a policy point of view, if there are some genuine cases, it needs to be considered and it doesn’t matter if they’re black or white – it’s not just about white farmers,” he said.

“Unfortunately they’ve been targeted and if some of them do want to come over its great that Australia is reaching out from a humanitarian point of view.

“From my point of view its’ about Australia’s humanitarian record being maintained.”

Mr Kruger said the rhetoric of South Africa’s main politicians also ignored the dire economic consequences and implications of taking back farm land, without compensation.

“In some communities people have jumped the gun a bit and they are already staking out land and the implications of that, for the economics of the country, and the natural justice, is frightening, for everybody,” he said.

“I’ve got concerns about the potential impact that it will have on ordinary people who get on with every-day life working very hard.

“South Africa doesn’t need this right now and they should learn from what happened to the north in Zimbabwe.”

Mr Kruger said after a similar land expropriation without compensation policy the Zimbabwean government were now calling for the opposite and want farmers to return home to farm the land productively and sustainably after it degenerated due to mismanagement.

He said South African farming was similar to Australia due to having a similar climate with the main commodities being sugar cane, forestry, beef, wheat, canola, stone fruit, a wine industry around Cape Town, corn, sheep, goats and other small stock.

South Africa also has the capacity to be a “massive” agricultural exporter, he said.

“They’ve definitely got the capacity to be a massive exporter and by and large its family farms and a lot of them are co-operatives and in particular big cooperatives around the Free State where you have your big grain and corn farms,” he said.

Chair of Agri South Africa’s Land Centre of Excellence Ernest Pringle said in a most recent statement by the farm representative group that the ANC would hold a conference in March to discuss the ‘land expropriation without compensation’ policy and that the decision would afterwards be implemented by all relevant state departments.

Mr Pringle said the ANC would determine whose land to take and how it would be done but “land would not be simply for the taking”.

He said it was also not a decision that the ANC can take unilaterally and simply start implementing.

“No expropriation without compensation can take place unless the Constitution is amended,” he said.

“This will be a time-consuming process during which wide consultation must take place and which would require the necessary majority of votes in parliament in favour thereof.

“Private property rights are an internationally recognised principle that is protected by international human rights instruments, such as article 17 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Moreover, the treats of expropriation without compensation is contrary to the policies adopted by vital international agencies such as the World Bank and the IMF.

“The economic impact of ‘taking’ land will be catastrophic, as already pointed out by various economists.

“The poor will be affected worst by the outcome of such an irresponsible step.

“This type of statement issued by politicians plays into the hands of opportunists who want to use it as an excuse to invade land - it is extremely dangerous.”

Mr Pringle said enormous expectations were also being created around the issue of land reform without compensation, which could also boomerang politically.

“Has anyone thought what would happen after land has been taken?” he said.

“To whom will it be given; who will be denied access, and where will the capacity suddenly come from to assist those who receive land to use it productively?”

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