Agricultural Apartheid Is Alive and Well in South Africa: 14 Million People are Hungry

Norah Mlondobozi from the Rural Women's Assembly in South Africa

1994 was an historic year in South Africa, the beginning of the dismantling of political Apartheid. The Anti- Apartheid Movement in South Africa in partnership with similar movements all over the world brought down the hated tyrannical government that had enslaved the Black majority for so many years. The people were finally free. A new government representing the Black majority was now in control that would protect and strengthen the rights of all. Millions in the U.S.A. who had supported the movement, marched in demonstrations and even been arrested, finally rejoiced.

Now, more than twenty years later South Africa has indeed made significant progress in many important ways. However, there are some shocking injustices that remain which are impoverishing millions. One of the most egregious is the plight of small farmers. I talked recently with Norah Mlondobozi from the Rural Women's Assembly in South Africa and Petrus Brink from the Right to Agrarian Reform and Food Sovereignty Campaign. They reported that almost 90 percent of large commercial farms are owned and operated by White farmers who produce food that is mostly exported. They are given support from the government and international agri-business in the form of loans, secure land rights and access to the latest agro- chemicals and GMO seeds. If they decide to sell their land to the government they are given more than a fair price.

The people who produce most of the food that South Africans actually eat are thousands of small Black farmers. Norah explained that around 90 percent are women. There is a growing movement among these women to learn and practice agroecological farming. They use native non-GMO seeds and no chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that have poisoned the land and made people sick. However, agroecology is not simply organic farming. It is a way of life that builds community and improves the life and health of whole villages and larger communities. It is bringing thousands of small communities together to support one another all over the world.

The women farmers in South Africa face numerous legal and economic challenges. Many of them do not have title to their land and if their husband dies it does not necessarily go to them. The government is reluctant to provide loans or other support that they lavish on large White owned farms. So, even though the system of political apartheid was broken more than twenty years ago, an ongoing system of agricultural apartheid is creating massive hunger and injustice throughout South Africa.

Petrus Brink
from the Right to Agrarian Reform and Food Sovereignty Campaign on a learning exchange in the U.S. in 2015

The good news is that small-scale farmers in South Africa are organizing effectively around the practice of agroecology. Last March, they staged a march in Johannesburg to protest the frequent land grabs by large companies in collusion with the government, the lack of subsidies and loans from the government, child marriage and youth unemployment. President Jacob Zuma has promised to help small scale farmers but these women farmers are not waiting any longer. Their slogan is "Land for Food-One Woman, One Hectare." The Rural Women's Assembly is allied with similar organizations in Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Lesotho and Namibia. They are all battling the agricultural apartheid that is the poisoned legacy of colonialism.

The Right to Agrarian Reform and Food Sovereign Campaign is an allied organization composed of men and women small farmers with similar goals. They want the government to actually provide the support that it has pledged but not delivered including the preservation and distribution of native seeds. Both of these organizations have in their DNA a belief and practice of democracy, the practice of agroecology and belief in Food Sovereignty, the right of all people to grow, sell and eat food that is nutritious and grown safely on their own land.

Is that too much to ask? Of course not, except that the government is still locked in the past of colonialism and Apartheid, this time Agricultural Apartheid.

For further information please visit the websites for the Rural Women's Assembly and the Right to Agrarian Reform and Food Sovereignty Campaign for more information.