The honour you have bestowed on me of opening your Congress is all the greater because this is no ordinary Congress of the South African Agricultural Union. It marks your 90th anniversary, and it is, at the same time, the first in a democratic South Africa.
I would like to thank you humbly for this invitation, and to convey to you my warmest congratulations as you commemorate this anniversary. For an organisation to survive so long, it must have the capacity to adapt to changing conditions and in the process continue to fulfil a need.
These qualities will be continually tested in the period which has just begun.
But one cannot be in any doubt about your resilience. Although our transition is in its early days, and our democracy quite young, the farming community you represent can be commended, for the manner in which you have become a full part of the transition to democracy. You have confounded the stereotype images, spurned the past and embraced the future.
Perhaps one should dare to ask the question: what else could have been expected from a fraternity working on the land;committed to the soil and nurturing a love for the country in its bosom!
However, the consensus our nation has achieved is only the beginning of the profound changes through which it must pass. Our principal goal is a better life for all South Africans: black and white, farmer and farm-worker.
The success of the Reconstruction and Development Programme requires a partnership among all social structures. Few other sectors can be as crucial in this as the agricultural industry: for it is on your shoulders that the food security of the nation rests. It is on your efforts that a great part of the manufacturing industry relies for its raw materials.
On its part, the government is committed to creating conditions in which the agricultural industry can prosper. Of course, there are characteristics that we cannot change: the climatic conditions bequeathed us by nature, the vagaries of its moods and the natural disasters that sometimes befall us. But in partnership, we can minimise the effects of this and optimise the positive elements that our country possesses in abundance.
Such partnership should bring restructuring of the agricultural industry, improved productivity and training of employees, an opening of farming opportunities for those who have been hitherto excluded, and measures to correct past injustices. It should include co-operation in working out measures that will lead to farm-workrs enjoying the same rights and security as workers in other industries. Despite the many hurdles, you have shown over the past few years of negotiations with the trade union movement, that you are capable of achieving these objectives.
It is extremely appropriate that you have made the theme of this year's Congress, "Agriculture's role in a prosperous South Africa" / "Die Landbou se rol in 'n voorspoedige Suid-Afrika". During the course of your deliberations, you will most certainly address the various elements that make up a prosperous farming community and prosperous nation.
In the final analysis, such prosperity should benefit both the producers and the consumers. Among the questions that need urgent attention are:
* Firstly, to what extent can the government continue with large subsidy schemes on agricultural exports;and how do we balance our fiscal constraints against practices in other countries?
* Secondly, how do we ensure that the tariff system redounds to the benefit of both the farmers and the consumers, given the problem so dramatically demonstrated in the meat industry today?
* How do we restructure the current institutional framework for land financing, including the provision of credit and other financial services to meet the needs of those who have all along been excluded from the land market?
* What should co-operatives do, in order to ensure that they develop to become truly representative, and not be seen to be resisting such integration?
The difficulties in addressing these questions should not be underestimated. But we are confident that this Congress and other agricultural fora will, so to speak, take the bull by the horns.
On two occasions before the election I had the opportunity of discussing agricultural matters with deputations from the South African Agricultural Union, led by Mr Boet Fourie, your President. The meetings deepened my understanding of the composition and functioning of the Union and of the important role played by agriculture in the South African economy.
I would like to give you the assurance that the government regards a healthy agricultural sector as indispensable for the continued welfare of South Africa. We will continue to recognise the South African Agricultural Union as a critical player in this regard, as important national representative of the agricultural community at national level. Theref, llle give you the firm assurance that, in dealing with the questions I posed earlier on, the government will ensure that your Union is fully consulted.
We should, as a nation committed to non-racialism and equity, be working together towards a single, unified organisation representing the agricultural community as a whole. Such an organisation should be truly open to all farmers including those who have been historically excluded from farming. It would need to represent the interests of the small farmer as concertedly as those of the large-scale farmer. Needless to say, progress in this regard will depend on the ability of the South African Agricultural Union, the National African Farmers' Union and others to address the profound issues that keep you apart.
Of the challenges which the farming community faces, there is one which is a matter of particular anxiety to many of your members. Our government is firmly committed to a process of land reform. The need for corrective measures to deal with the consequences of past injustices is overwhelming.
But it is equally important that new injustices are not created or production capacity disrupted. Our policy acknowledges the property rights of existing land-owners. It also recognises the legitimate demand for justice from those who have been dispossessed or excluded. In addressing these matters, organised agriculture should seek to be part of the process of change, with the aim of sharing in the creation of a more just dispensation.
You, who are already managing and running the high-risk agricultural industry with success, can make a significant contribution to the successful settlement of new farmers by sharing your knowledge and skills with them.
The government takes the security concerns of your Union seriously. The issues that you raised with our Ministers are being looked into. They all need to be addressed within the context of the human rights culture without which democracy would be meaningless. We need also to look at judicial penalties that will serve as an effective deterrent against crime, and more effective policing.
This is the spirit behind the National Campaign on Peace and Security launched last week-end. But there is no gainsaying that a lasting solution to many of these scourges lies in our joint efforts to build a better life for all South Africans.
I am confident that the South African Agricultural Union and its affiliates, with the co-operation and help of the newer sectors of organised agriculture, will successfully adapt to and become part of the process of fundamental change. As such, there is no reason why organised agriculture should not continue for another 90 years and more to render service to the South African people as a whole.
I therefore leave for my holiday abroad, from the 22nd of October to the 5th of November, reinforced in my conviction that in agriculture, as in other industries, a process has started which will see greater co-operation among all the people to reconstruct and develop our country. When I return, I will ensure that, despite the more stringent management of my schedule on which my office now insists, I will find ways of interacting more with organised agriculture among all communities.
May I wish you success in your discussions, as you boldly face the challenge of defining our role in the South Africa we are building together.
Issued by: The Office of the President