The Weekly Editorial
One of our major objectives as a newspaper is to promote the ideals of our country as a rainbow nation. We believe firmly that for our country to prosper, both black and white people must work together side by side. It was heartening, therefore, to read the story of philanthropist Judy Stuart in the Sunday Times two weeks ago.
At 61, Stuart should be resting and enjoying her retirement or travelling the world. After all, she has done well for herself, having been a successful diary farmer in Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal. However, this exemplary patriot considered a peaceful retirement a selfish act that would not benefit her country. She therefore closed her lucrative farming operation seven years ago to train aspiring black farmers – for free.
According to Stuart, she has no regret about shutting down her farm, which once produced 1 000 litres of milk a day, to kick-start the project run by her non-profit organisation, Future Farmers. The project targets promising youngsters from impoverished families without the means to pursue a tertiary education and offers them an apprenticeship in farming.
Working together with other local commercial farmers, Stuart mentors these young black youths on their farms for two-year periods. The training includes driving tractors, operating milking machines, controlling irrigation systems, dairy herd management, and basic accounting. After the mentorship, the trainees are selected for further training on farms in Australia, Europe and the US. The overseas project is funded by the Underberg Farmers Association and Saville Foundation Fund.
One of Stuart’s former trainees, Sfiso Ntshisa, who also worked on a farm in Germany, is now a manager of a top dairy farm in KwaZulu-Natal that boasts 100 cows. Several other trainees are working on large diary farms in California and on pig and sheep farms in Australia.
Stuart told the newspaper her programme aims to develop well-rounded farmers who can do every job on the farm and do it well.
This woman must be commended for her laudable project. Hers is not an act of charity, but rather that of positive contribution.
Firstly, she is creating much-needed jobs for black youths. The salaries these young people receive while on the programme are used to feed their families. In essence, she is a champion of the war against unemployment and poverty.
Secondly, she is making a major contribution towards the growth of the declining agricultural sector in South Africa. More importantly, she is playing a major role in the development of black commercial farmers in her province and the country as a whole. Stuart is not only producing future black farmers, she is producing competent black farmers with local and international experience. This is significant – especially against the backdrop of growing evidence that most farms given to black owners end up becoming white elephants.
The decline of SA’s agricultural sector is worrying. According to agricultural experts quoted in the Sunday Times, of the estimated 37 000 commercial farmers in SA last year, only about 20 percent produced 80 percent of the food consumed in the country. This is a clear threat to the continual food security of our country. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform has already warned that food security and economic growth is being undermined by the collapse of farms that the government had bought for restitution or redistribution.
According to the department, 90 percent of the 5.9 million hectares of redistributed farmland lie barren. Only a few of the farms transferred to black communities as part of the land reform programme are productive. Dumping farms in the laps of people who are not ready to be farmers has been counterproductive. We need to reverse this trend as soon as possible to save our agricultural sector.
Government must embrace and support people such as Stuart to confront this problem. They must be deployed to such farms and train black farmers to ensure they remain productive. In future redistribution or restitution of such farms, mentors such as Stuart must become part of the package. This will ensure that government achieves its redistribution and restitution objectives while maintaining a vibrant agricultural sector.
We agree with the sentiments expressed by Di Smith, the co-founder of Awesome SA, a body supporting organisations making a difference in South Afica. She has hailed Stuart as a hero who was making a phenomenal contribution to the country’s commercial sector. With her project, Stuart has made an invaluable contribution to nation building, black economic empowerment, and the growth and development of her country. Our country can do with more Judy Stuarts.