In a sign that they wanted to leave the country for greener pastures, experienced South African farmers were inquiring in great numbers about prospects that were available elsewhere in Africa, it emerged on Tuesday.
This is not good for the South African economy, which has been battling to shake itself from the 2007 financial crisis and the global economic downturn that followed. This also threatens food security in the country.
The planned exodus is the latest turmoil in the agricultural sector which has been plagued by problems ever since the government kick-started its land reform programme more than 15 years ago.
Just like in Zimbabwe, in many cases land claims have resulted in inexperienced black people being given fertile land under the land reform programme.
Because of lack of experience in farming, these communities have failed dismally to make the land productive.
To add salt to injury, in the past two weeks, South Africa has been plagued by violent strikes in the lucrative wine estates of the Western Cape, situated at the southern tip of the continent.
Farm labourers say minimum wage for a farm worker is just about 70.00 rand ($8) and the top wage typically earned is just slightly more than that. Over the last few days, workers have said they want the minimum wage to rise to 150 rand ($17) a day.
Last week, their protest turned violent as workers set fire to some farms, overturned a police truck and confronted officers in riot gear in the country’s Western Cape. The police fired tear gas to drive away protesters, as the sounds of gunshots could be heard in local television footage.
This could have prompted many farmers to panic as they thought about their future in the country, which is increasingly seeing violent workers strikes.
According to newspaper reports in South Africa, more than 50 farmers a month are inquiring about Agri SA’s involvement with agricultural projects elsewhere in Africa.
It is understood that during the last two weeks, countless farmers from the Western Cape had also made inquiries.
Dirk Hanekom, executive head of AgriSAMoz, said around 950 South African farmers already had farming interests in Mozambique.
“Around 60% of them are actively involved… in a wide range of farms, the biggest of which I’d say are sugar, banana and cattle farms,” Hanekom said.
South African farmers had also moved to Botswana, Zambia and the Congo, while 28 other African countries had asked Agri SA to become involved with ensuring food security for their economies.