Picture: THE TIMES
Picture: THE TIMES

AGRICULTURE, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson on Monday morning called the farm workers’ strikes that have plagued the country for the past two months a “historic moment in South Africa”.

“If a farmer feeds his animals at a higher cost than what their farm workers can afford to feed themselves after 18 years of democracy, we cannot be proud as a nation. It’s more pronounced in the Western Cape but is not endemic to it,” she said at a TNA Business Breakfast.

The minister said the mass action at De Doorns in the Western Cape was about more than farm workers’ wages, and were also related to service delivery.

“We have been working with De Doorns for a year. I don’t think the xenophobic violence in the area gets enough attention. It is a historic problem,” she said.

“By teaming up with commercial farmers we have gone into important relationships which developed into co-operatives with the potential to bridge the divide between the rich and the poor,” she said.

Ms Joemat-Pettersson said the agriculture sector was overlooked as a generator of wealth in the South African economy, saying her department was implementing plans that would transform the country’s fisheries and aquaculture industries to the next level, and create jobs.

She said the two subsectors were crucial to addressing “dwindling” fish stocks. Big companies and smaller players needed to co-operate in growing the sector.

The world’s aquaculture production amounted to 56-million tons in 2010.

South Africa, however, has the smallest aquaculture industry in Africa. As one of the largest economies on the continent, the minister said, it was important for South Africa to develop aquaculture because the sector offered huge opportunities for the country.

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has also encouraged communities living near rivers and dams to take up fish farming in an inland aquaculture and fisheries programme, a call to which the North West has recently keenly responded.

“We have come a long way but I do still think we have a long way to go,” the minister said.

Asked about the Afrikaner — the department’s research and supply vessel forced to return to shore after a mechanical breakdown — she said the fisheries industry and partners understood and supported the department.

“We are supposedly at war in the industry. This is not so. We have developed partnerships in which we have been able to disagree but also agree to promote the industry and develop an important sector in our country,” Ms Joemat-Pettersson said.

With Hopewell Radebe