In a move that surprised all and sundry, AfriForum recently brought an urgent application for an interdict in the Eastern Cape High Court in Makhanda against the sheep export company, Al Mawashi, from exporting 60 000 live sheep to Kuwait. Dan Kriek wonders why.
The courtroom was packed with disillusioned farmers who waited to see how AfriForum and its legal eagle, advocate Gerrie Nel, would argue the case against, as they see it, the very same farmer members that it claims to represent.
I want to state categorically that as a livestock farmer I am always concerned about the welfare of the animals that I raise and market with great care. If problems with animal welfare arise in the value chain, we as farmers know that the correct approach is to make sure that they are addressed speedily and adequately.
Animal welfare is non-negotiable.
But what on earth does AfriForum, a civil rights organisation, have to do with a process regarding agricultural animal welfare reports, anti-red meat campaigns and sustainable sheep production?
Well nothing – and everything.
The controversy started in October 2019 when Al Mawashi exported 56 000 sheep out of the Eastern Cape to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Al Mawashi initiative sources sheep from both commercial and emerging sheep producers throughout the province.
The export project has the support of the Eastern Cape Department of Rural Development and Agrarian Reform, while the Eastern Cape Development Corporation provides financing support.
The NSPCA is heavily opposed to the export of live sheep, citing animal welfare considerations as its main objection. The legal arguments partially rely on a report by the Livestock Welfare Coordinating Committee (LWCC) (its signatories are livestock commodity organisations and the NSPCA) expressing reservations concerning the welfare of sheep on long sea voyages.
The last straw for Eastern Cape farmer Greg Miles was AfriForum’s surprise announcement that it would avail on Nel to assist the NSPCA in the case. He posted a now-viral video on Facebook expressing his disillusionment with AfriForum, where he cut up his membership card.
Many Eastern Cape farmers threatened to follow suit. Adding insult to injury, AfriForum’s CEO, Kallie Kriel, said on Agri-Eastern Cape’s Facebook page that the organisation had tried to mislead its own members, which infuriated farmers even more.
What lies behind AfriForum’s seemingly opportunistic actions in this instance will come to light sooner or later.
The matter in the High Court was struck off the roll with costs.
I am not an AfriForum member and I never will be. But I will be the first one to defend its existence in our constitutional democracy. Freedom of association and expression are basic human rights. AfriForum exercises its right to defend its membership, which consists mainly of white Afrikaans speaking people.
The organisation has many farmer members who support its efforts on farm safety and constitutional matters like resistance to the proposed amendment of Section 25 of the Constitution.
AfriForum’s marketing team has an attitude of take no prisoners, supported by a massive and efficient social media machine.
In my opinion, Kriel and his deputy, Ernst Roets, have every right to get involved in agricultural matters because of the organisation’s significant support. Whether it is desirable to have them as role players in the agricultural sector, as their latest efforts demonstrate, is, however, a different matter altogether.
Farmers with dual membership of both traditional organised agricultural bodies (Agri-SA and TAU-SA) and AfriForum must understand what it means to finance two different organisations. AfriForum’s minimum membership fee of R50 per month is a blank cheque.
There is no mandating structure, no democratic election of office bearers and no accountability or feedback to members that I know of.
The good, the bad and the ugly
You simply take the good with the bad and the ugly. The membership composition is mainly white and Afrikaans and the style of conduct abrasive.
In organised agriculture, on the other hand, the democratically elected leadership gets its mandate directly from farmer members of all races, shapes and sizes.
AfriForum’s involvement in agricultural matters does not include any form of prior consultation with agricultural stakeholders and has often had disastrous consequences for farmers. The notorious expropriation list published by it in 2018 all but wiped out the value of 195 farms and in the aftermath, the owners were stuck with farms that nobody wanted.
But there was a catch to the publicity stunt (which included the usual professionally produced marketing video): AfriForum would not take responsibility for the validity of the list. I called them out for acting irresponsibly with something as crucial as land values.
Another example was the tone-deaf performance of Roets during the Joint Constitutional Review Committee’s public hearings. He infuriated committee members with his all but apartheid denialist attitude. There was wide condemnation of his performance and one MP said Roets’ approach merely hardened his stance.
How could the agricultural sector ever benefit from an abrasive attitude like this? In the aftermath, I received messages from prominent farmers who cancelled their AfriForum membership. It was the first indication that they were starting to question its conduct while acting on their behalf.
Organised agriculture operates in a different way. Farmers become members at farmer association level and democratically elect office bearers at provincial and national level. These structures specialise right up to commodity level like grain, horticulture or animal production. They get their mandate from farmer members and structures.
The membership is inclusive. The style is progressive and accommodates mutually beneficial relationships with all relevant role players – including the government. When deliberations with the government fail to produce results, organised agriculture takes legal action, of which there are many examples.
My message to all farmers is to take responsibility and remain in control of the crucial debates and processes that affect their business, including everything from public relations, sustainable land reform to animal welfare.
Promoting and protecting the agricultural sector is your job. Promoting codes of good practice regarding animal welfare is also your job. If you outsource your responsibilities, you cannot expect to achieve the desired results.
Farmers are sponsoring organisations competing in the same space as their own organised bodies and AfriForum is taking full advantage to expand its membership base – but not necessarily acting in those members’ best interests.
To all farmers: Remain inclusive in your endeavours.
Inclusivity is where our power lies.
* Dan Kriek served as president of Agri-SA until 2019. He farms with south Devon cattle in the eastern Free State.