One of my worries from my Africa trip was for the future of South African agriculture. Given the abundance of very cheap labor and even more abundant unemployment of the unskilled, most of their farms have been built around employing large numbers as opposed to capital intensive big machinery. Much of their sector is necessarily high-labor products as well - tobacco, fruits, vegetables, grapes, etc.
But I just now found out the farm labor problem threatening the SA ag future is at least partly a political power play.
The agricultural trade association - AgriSA - argues the strike was politically-driven and the farming sector is suffering because of a political battle between the ruling ANC and the main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance.It is almost refreshing to hear a clear, blatant call for protectionism instead of some euphemistic language that promotes trade barriers without seeming to. Due to the odd, pervasive spin of SA government information and data, it isn't east to pinpoint their ag imports, but appears two contentious commodities are chicken from Brazil and olive oil from the EU.
The Western Cape region is the only province in South Africa ruled by the DA.
Carl Opperman, AgriSA’s Western Cape chairman, says the strikes were pushed there by ANC officials to destabilize the DA.
Opperman argues the national wage increase is not a solution to empower farm workers or reduce poverty. Rather, he says, the government should focus on helping the farms to be more productive by protecting them against international competition.
"The South African farmer is the only framer basically in the world that has a 100 percent free market economy," he said. "We don't get any support from our government. We have got to fight our way in a world market and in our own country. We will need support, we don't need financial support, we need policy support. We need protectionism, we can justify it, not like at the moment where it is a free fall.”
The commercial farmers’ trade union, TAU SA, says that more than 1,500 workers were laid-off in the weeks following the wage increase, in Limpopo Province alone. Whereas in the Western Cape Province, many farmers say they will not be able to hire casual farmer workers again for the winter harvest season just weeks away. [More]
The need for a second viable political party is IMHO absolute. The level of corruption and incompetence of the ANC can only be improved by a presence of the real possibility of loss of power by a split black African vote.
The continued decline of SA agriculture would cripple efforts to anchor the rise of sub-Saharan economies. But the Catch-22 here is one of the most logical solutions for individual farmers is to switch to capital-intensive (machinery) methods and lose their dependence on increasingly unreliable labor. This is really bad news for nation with far too few jobs already.