This is where I belong
June 27 2012 at 12:44pm
By Collen Dardagan who writes that TV presenter Scot Scott is passionate about farming, but says there has been a breakdown in trust between the government and commercial farmers.
Farming in this country can be both life-threatening and soul-destroying, but for one of the country’s best-known TV continuity presenters, Scot Scott — who turned to the profession eight years ago — it is his passion. And although there are days when he wants to throw in the towel, he says it is in his blood and there is not a “helluva lot I can do about that”.
Born on a farm in the old north-western Transvaal, Scott, the presenter of the hit TV series Skattejag and last year’s Fortuinsoekers on DStv’s KykNET, and who has just concluded work on “Fortuinsoekers: Die Barnato Diamant”, is now considering a series using the recently released book Omstrede (Controversial) Land by Luis Changuion and Bertus Steenkamp, on the history of land ownership and development in SA and other sources, to “set the record straight” on farmers in SA.
“The image of our farmers is so bad. It’s distorted, and people just don’t know the facts. We need to do something to improve that. It was a decision taken by Kwanalu and AgriSA to come up with the facts, and it’s something we want to send out to the world.”
He also deplored the lack of knowledge among consumers about where their food came from.
“I wonder what would happen if commercial farmers in this country decided to stop supplying markets for a week. Perhaps then there would be a better appreciation of what we are going through — the trauma of the land claims, the challenges we face daily countrywide, such as poaching, theft and arson, among others. But most people see their food wrapped in plastic in the supermarket, and for them that’s where it comes from.”
Scott’s 165-hectare banana and sugar cane farm, Burleigh, on the outskirts of Shelly Beach, together with another 27 farms in the district, was claimed by the Mavundla clan just months after he bought the property in 2004.
“When I bought the farm, I did a thorough check on whether or not there were any claims on the property. I have a letter from the Department of Land Affairs saying there weren’t any.
“Then all of a sudden I heard through a neighbour, who had heard from a friend, that our farms were gazetted as under claim. That’s how we first heard about it. We heard nothing from the department until we approached them a few months later, when they confirmed the claim.”
Maps show the claim stretched from Shelly Beach in the north all the way to the Margate airport in the south, and as far inland as Paddock.
After a number of meetings and mounting lawyers’ bills, Scott decided to take it upon himself to hire professor JB Hartman — an expert in SA ethnographic studies, anthropology and archaeology at the University of Pretoria — to research the history of land ownership in the Alfred County (or “no man’s land”, as it was known then) — the whole South Coast area all the way to Kokstad.
“He produced a 2 000-page document which proved without a doubt that the land claim was invalid.”
By June 2010, according to Scott, the properties claimed by the Mavundlas, who according to Hartman’s research had migrated to the area from Lake Victoria in central Africa in the early 1800s, was de-gazetted.
“But land reform in this country is not as simple as it seems,” says Scott.
“There is no trust between commercial farmers and the government — there never has been. What they say on television and what we experience on a daily basis are different things. It’s such a pity land reform, which I totally agree with, has been tackled in the way it has. Commercial farmers should be left alone, no matter who they are, to get on with the business of producing food. At the moment, land reform, in my opinion, is not about food production — it’s just about being able to say you own land, and if we carry on in this way for much longer, very soon we will not be producing our own food.”
Turning to the issue of theft and arson on the farms in the district, Scott said it had reached epic proportions.
“Every night farms are set alight here. We don’t sleep at night. Children are then sent into the fields to collect the cane, which they sell on the side of the road for R1.50 a stick. Imagine if I went into Spar or Pick n Pay and helped myself to goods, walked out, and then went and sold them.
“That’s what is happening here. The other day I stopped a security guard walking back from work on the road. He had picked a bunch of bananas and an armful of cane.
“When I asked him how he would feel if I walked into his yard and helped myself to his vegetables, of course he said it was not right. But he doesn’t see anything wrong in taking from my yard.”
According to Scott, so-called petty theft, which is not investigated by the police, is costing farmers up to R2 billion a year.
“I cannot tell you how many cases I have opened at the Margate police station. Cases of arson, theft, damage to property — the list goes on. We get a case number and nothing happens. It’s just impossible,” he says.
But all is not doom and gloom. As he turns his face to the horizon, where the blue of the Indian ocean stretches as far as the eye can see, Scott laughs quietly, almost to himself.
“I have been to Australia — I have had offers of work there and, really, I am a passionate South African. I’m not going anywhere. Sometimes I ask myself: Why do I carry on doing this? That’s a good question. I can’t answer it. But I am here, and this is where I belong.”