RURAL Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti turned lifelong dreams into reality yesterday when he officially handed over 25 biofuel farms worth R346-million to former labourers in Cradock.
But he warned the new farmers they would lose the land if they did not use it productively.
“You [the beneficiaries] will not just sit on the farms – you will work. It will be a case of use it or lose it,” he said.
“The biggest problem in South Africa is that people are too lazy. People are given land all the time, but all they ever do is complain about what government did not do for them.
“We will take the farms from those who sit on the land and do not work, and give them to people who will work,” Nkwinti said.
The project aims to empower emerging farmers and convert crops like sugar beet and sorghum into ethanol at a R1.1-billion plant that is to be built at Cradock.
The farms, which are in Cradock, Cookhouse and Somerset East, collectively measure 16000ha.
The biofuels project is one of the first in South Africa and was initiated as a pilot project in 2006.
The project was initially designed to turn sugar beet, which extensive trials have shown grows exceptionally well in the lush Fish River Valley, into sugar.
But it changed tack about seven years ago when a decision was made to turn it into ethanol instead.
The farms in the valley form part of the Rural Development and Land Reform Department’s land distribution programme.
The beneficiaries were chosen based on their skills and attitude towards farming; ability to operate with minimal assistance; willingness to use the arable land for the production of crops for the ethanol project, and proof of ownership of livestock and agricultural assets.
Nkwinti said the plant to be built in Cradock was proof that biofuel farming could be successful in the area.
“We have to devise means to ensure that we are energy secure. Not only the [national] department, but also the provincial department will provide technical support to the farmers.
“It is not just for business – although it is a business for them. It is also a strategic plan for the country to ensure that we have enough petrol and diesel to fly planes and drive cars.”
Nkwinti said the reaction from other farmers in the area had been positive as they realised that with government support the farming industry would blossom.
The project was also supported by the Treasury and Energy departments, he said.
Ngaliphi Matiwane, 59, a father of four, said his 35 years of experience as a labourer at a sugar-beet farm would help him in the new venture.
“I am very excited because I know a lot about farming. To me farming is a way of life.
“I always wanted to be a farmer. If the government would assist us with everything we need, I do not see how we would fail,” Matiwane said.
Sakhiwo Piliso, 48, who was a general worker at the Public Works Department, admitted he did not have much experience in farming.
“I only worked on a farm on a casual basis but I have always loved farming. I also did agriculture as a school subject.
“As Africans, by nature we were created to work the land because our forefathers were farmers as well.
“Having land is the true form of liberation. Now I am truly and completely free from bondage, slavery and poverty. Having a farm balances the scales of the past ills,” Piliso said.
“I am very happy now that my dream has come true. With the right attitude and all the needed machinery we will succeed.”
The father of two said he was ready to lead and work with others.
Another beneficiary, Lulu Nyamezele, 41, said he was hopeful that other people would not be jealous.
“There is always that tendency [to be jealous] among us black people, but I hope we will work together and support each other.
“With support from the government and dedication from ourselves, this will definitely be sustainable and create a lot of jobs,” he said.
The handover was also attended by Cacadu District Municipality mayor Khunjuzwa Kekana, Inxuba Yethemba Municipality mayor Nyameka Goniwe, Blue Crane Route Municipality mayor Marjorie Scott, provincial Rural Development and Land Reform officials, and community members.