Fast tracking South African farmer’s visas isn’t racist, it’s practical

17 April 2018

Fast tracking South African farmer’s visas isn’t racist, it’s practical

Image credit: Australian Associated Press

The going down of the sun on Australia’s most revered public holiday sees the near dawn of a revered public holiday in South Africa. The 27th of April is celebrated as Freedom Day, the national day of South Africa. But just as Australia’s ANZAC Day is frequently considered by some to glorify war and Australia Day is now considered to be “Invasion Day” by some, Freedom Day no longer appears to be representative of its intended purpose of commemorating equality.

From 1948 apartheid existed in South Africa, much to the condemnation of the United Nations General Assembly which labelled apartheid a “crime against humanity”. After four decades of sanctions and liberal hand-wringing, apartheid officially ended in 1991. Since 1995, Freedom Day has commemorated South Africa’ s first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994. It was the first time that all permanent residents aged 18 and over, regardless of race or birth place, were allowed to vote. In his address to Parliament, anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela spoke of the terrible past from which the nation had come, the great possibilities that they now had, and the bright future that beckoned them.

It is estimated that there are 36,000 commercial farms in South Africa predominantly owned by white farmers. Statistics from police indicate that in 2016/17 there were 19,016 people murdered, including 74 murdered in the 638 often brutal attacks on small holdings and farms. Of the 97% of the land mass of South Africa that is farms and agricultural holdings, 30% is land holdings owned by individuals, with 72% of those individuals being white.

On December 20, the ruling African National Congress said that expropriating land without compensation should be among mechanisms to effect land reform, provided that such expropriation does not undermine the economy, agricultural production, and food security of their nation. Australia’s Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton indicated that his department was examining a range of methods to fast track the path of white South African farmers to Australia on humanitarian or other visa programs, which prompted accusations of racism. But what many seem to have missed is the practicalities of this proposal.

Last year, an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey revealed that the average age of farmers is 56. With that generation rapidly approaching retirement there are only a few options for the future of Australian farming.

One is to see our farming industry taken over by large corporate (usually foreign owned) entities. Given the general corporate vision of profit over people, this would likely perpetuate the exploitation of foreign farm hands hired on a casual basis through temporary work visas.

A second is for Australia to adopt a system similar to Europe and Canada and provide affordable financial assistance to young farmers eager to buy land. Another is to take advantage of the current supply and demand opportunity presented by South African farmers. Australia needs new generations of farmers and South African farmers have both the agricultural experience coupled with the need for a new start in a safe environment.

This is not a racist policy by Peter Dutton, but a win/win for Australian agriculture and oppressed farmers from South Africa who are being denied the bright future that Mandela envisioned for his country.

But that’s just my two cents worth.