from the headquarters of

TAU SA in Pretoria


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August 2, 2017


The Bulletin attached hereto is provided as a means to inform stakeholders of agricultural developments in South Africa.  These International Bulletins are distributed at regular intervals and can also be found on TAU SA’s website at

TAU SA is the oldest agricultural union in South Africa and has been in existence since 1897. The mission of the union is to ensure a productive and safe existence for its members on the land they own.  Current reality in South Africa indicates that this is not possible at the moment due to a variety of actions and threats against commercial farmers.

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International television network Al Jazeera’s program ”Surviving Drought in South  Africa” (June 7, 2017) highlighted the outstanding work being performed by Professor Jill Farrant of the University of Cape Town who has been trying to unlock the secret behind so-called resurrection plants which can survive long periods without water.  Professor Farrant believes they may hold the answer to crops surviving long periods without water.

Al Jazeera then visited the de Wet family farm just outside Cape Town where the family employs cutting-edge technology called Fruitlook to help run their orchard effectively. The system uses NASA satellite imagery which takes monthly pictures showing soil health and dry areas. As a result, farmers are able to target irrigation to areas that really need it, thus saving water.

The deWet orchard produces 70 million apples and pears annually and this produce is exported throughout the world. This is successful farming using up-to-the minute technology which crosses the line between famine and survival, and surplus rather than subsistence.  It exemplifies the huge cultural chasm still existing in South Africa today between the vast bulk of the population and the 35 000 commercial farmers who provide food for South Africa’s 53 million people using technology to conquer a very unfriendly agricultural environment.

The de Wet farm achievement is but one of many in South Africa’s commercial farming sector:  in May 2017 the country’s National Harvest Estimate Committee’s report declared SA’s farmers produced the largest mielie (corn) harvest in history – 15,631 million tons, this in a country where only 12% of the surface area is arable, where the annual rainfall is erratic and below the world average and where only one percent of the arable land is irrigated. This sector of the country’s economy grew by an astounding 22% while other sectors experienced moribund growth or no growth at all.

Commercial farming representatives should have at least been invited to a dinner by the State President   to show his appreciation for the sector’s achievements and its contribution to the country’s economy, but perhaps the invitation was lost in the post.  Huge yields haven’t always been the norm – the worst drought in a hundred years crippled the agricultural sector two years ago. Cattle died in their thousands, some farmers threw in the towel and left their farms, while others took on debt that their children will have to settle. It was a terrible time for South Africa: to add salt to the wound, some government disaster funding for cattle fodder was stolen by those who were supposed to distribute this money.

Since 1990 South Africa has lost a third of its farms to either drought or the government’s ruinous redistribution policy:  hundreds of farms were handed over to beneficiaries who couldn’t farm, and mostly didn’t want to farm. Further capital was pumped into the failures, to no avail. The government decided to hold on to the farms’ title deeds “until the beneficiaries can stand on their own two feet”, according to Gugile Nkwinti, minister of agricultural development and land reform. (Parliament 7 June 2017). Government had set the beneficiaries up for failure by giving little if any back up support, so the farms have gone down like nine pins. These failures are usually followed by a ubiquitous new plan. The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) now plans  to develop 400 000 small-scale farmers with a budget of R800 million. Divide these figures and you get R900 to R2 000 per farmer. Enough said! Nothing thought through, simply words to try and impress the hapless voters who still believe these ridiculous promises.

At the same time, opposition parties demand “expropriation without compensation” and they continue their clarion call for “land for the landless”.


The above situation reveals the huge chasm in logical thinking between the government and the commercial farming sector. It’s possible that with the exception of the Western Cape Department of Agriculture, the government of the day could not care whether or not South African farmers and researchers are developing new plant hybrids and technological systems to save agriculture for future South Africans. The government sole concern is staying in power, and the land reform question is a convenient flag to be flown to attract votes.

Technology has always been a bugbear for the powers that be, simply because many of them don’t understand it any more than the lost tribes of the Amazon understand it. They pretend they are experts: they buy expensive computer systems (on tender of course) and employ expensive consultants to run them and fix them when something goes wrong.  The skills level for maths and science in South Africa is the worst in the world, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Information Technology Report of 2016. South Africa came last in mathematics and science education quality.

In addition, even if there were latent maths and science skills among the young black citizens within the  proposed 400 000 small-scale farmers group the government wants to develop, who will teach them?

The government is looking down a rabbit hole when it comes to the teaching skills needed to educate the new generation who must cope with the technology of the new century. South Africa’s public schools have more than 5 000 teachers who are under-qualified. There is such a lack of skills in maths and science teaching that the government says the solution may be to recruit from overseas.

According to a 2016 study there are approximately 435 000 teachers in the country, up from 392 000 in 2012. Teacher training colleges were abandoned when the present government came into power. There are now calls for these colleges to be reintroduced. Will it make a difference?

There seems little passion for teaching as a vocation if absenteeism is a yardstick. Not pitching up at work is a huge problem in the teaching profession – more than 30 000 teachers in all of Gauteng’s 15 district schools have reportedly been absent from work since the beginning of 2017. (Pretoria News 22.17.17)

Reasons for this are varied: in a report submitted to the Faculty of Education at the University of Zululand (as part of a past thesis for the degree of Master of Education), some of the reasons given for absenteeism were ignorance of pupils’ names and achievements, fighting and other forms of violence such as intimidation, defiance and vandalism by pupils, truancy, drunkenness and other forms of substance abuse by pupils, failure to do homework and assignments, cheating in examinations by pupils, and attendance at funerals by teachers and the long distances travelled to and from schools. Perhaps the core reason is that the teachers simply don’t understand the curriculum. They don’t understand technology and they have been let down by their government’s education system. In many instances, the pupils know more than the teachers do!

In 2013 already, 7,5million days were lost by truant teachers, according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Teachers rarely arrived on time when they did come to school, she said.

So why not leave the technologically-savvy commercial agricultural sector alone to do what it does best, producing food for South Africa. Government and opposition figures are not doing any favours to their followers by harassing the only people in South Africa who can successfully farm for excess production.

Can the ANC government produce 70 million apples and pears from one farm per year?  Fourteen million people go hungry in South Africa every day. (Pretoria News 29.5.17) Hunger killed at least 64% of South Africa’s children under the age of 5, according to a Unicef report last year. Some 227 million of the world’s chronically hungry people live in Africa. This is about 30% of the global total, yet Africa has half of the world’s arable land. The continent spends around $50 billion a year buying food from other countries. The Copenhagen Consensus Centre calls for the introduction of more technology to increase food productivity in Africa. If the SA government cannot make the cut, then they must leave commercial farming alone to do so.