Zuma: SA farmers make things happen

 The prize Bonsmara heifer that was presented to President Jacob Zuma
The prize Bonsmara heifer that was
presented to President Jacob Zuma.
(Image: Nicky Rehbock)
 

Bultfontein, a tiny farming town in the Free State province, was put on the map recently when President Jacob Zuma stopped by.

The occasion was the annual Boertjie Kontreifees (Afrikaans, meaning Young Farmer Community Festival) and the president was there at the invitation of the local agricultural union.

Speaking at the town showgrounds, the festival’s venue, Zuma praised the hard work and initiative shown by commercial farmers in that region, and suggested a partnership be set up for them to mentor young, small-scale producers.

“I have come to see what is being done here, to learn and be part of the group of people who are prepared to work with others … to produce food and cattle,” said the president, adding that farmers are not the kind of people who just talk the talk, but are individuals who make things happen.

Although the actual town of Bultfontein is small, with only about 1 000 residents and 40 000 in surrounding settlements, it’s by no means insignificant. Nestled in one of the maize heartlands of the country, it also produces top-quality stock cattle and sheep, wheat, sunflowers, peanuts, potatoes and tomatoes – and its grain silos are the biggest in Southern Africa.

Visitors from neighbouring towns and farming communities flock to the four-day Boertjiefees each year. The 2010 event, no doubt scheduled to celebrate the beginning of spring in September, attracted about 30 000 fans and raised more than R100 000 (US$14 050) for schools, churches and charities in the area.

Food and craft stalls, evening entertainment with top local musicians, farming equipment demonstrations and Saddle Horse shows were among this year’s highlights.

Doing it for themselves

Zuma said the community outreach programmes run by the Bultfontein farming union were an example to the country.

“Let us start to encourage people to work together as communities to till the land. No government is going to walk into a village and say: ‘Here, we will help you’. The residents must show they can start doing things themselves, then assistance from government will come.”

The president said he was speaking in the context of being a “villager” himself, having been raised in the rural district of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province.

“If possible, the subsistence and commercial farmers of this land should join hands. People are keen to produce more food – because if everyone can eat first, crime will be reduced – and the surplus can be sold on behalf of the community,” he said.

Zuma added that Bultfontein seemed the right place for children from subsistence-farming communities to learn about commercial agriculture, and that he was willing to send people from his own village to the Free State town for this purpose.

Referring to the producers in the Bultfontein district, Zuma said: “One thing I love about farmers is that they don’t sleep – they work, and that’s why they’re so successful. That must be passed on to every citizen of this country.”

Gift of cattle

To show their appreciation for the presidential visit, the local farming community presented Zuma with a Bonsmara stud bull and a heifer.

Bonsmaras, a hardy South African breed of beef cattle, are ideally suited to the often dry, harsh Free State plains.

Zuma named the bull “Nsuze” after the river that runs through his home village of Nkandla.

It’s unlikely, though, the cattle will ever see his village – soon after they were handed over to the president, they were transported to a nearby rural development project where they will be kept on his behalf.

Before being whisked off by helicopter, Zuma apologised for his brief visit, and promised that he would spend more time there in the future.

“Next time I’ll clear my diary, so I can come here in the morning and observe the whole day, so we can create more relationships and find a common vision of producing extra food to make South Africa more self-sufficient,” he said.