Napier - John Davids' pride is emblazoned on the door of his
pick-up truck: a brawny, reddish bull that took top prize at an agricultural show
for new black farmers.
The stockman is a rare land reform success - in an equally
uncommon partnership with white farmers - among hundreds of failed government
attempts to close the racial divide in commercial farming.
"It was always my dream," said Davids, a coloured
whose group farms 1 500 hectares in the scenic hills of Napier, two hours east
of Cape Town.
"My life has really changed. In my wildest dreams that
I dreamed, my life has completely changed. I cannot go back. I am a shareholder
of two farms."
Unlike the violent seizures of white farms in neighbouring
Zimbabwe, South Africa buys farms on the open market to hand to blacks to
reverse one of apartheid's most visible and emotionally charged legacies.
Nine out of 10 projects are unproductive and some have even
been sold back to white farmers.
But there are triumphs where experience has partnered with
enthusiasm to give new farmers the tools - from technical advice and financial
management skills to sorely needed capital - to beat the odds.
The catalyst in Napier was Kosie van Zyl, who comes from a
family of farm managers and was inspired after another farmer gave him a loan
to buy his first property.
"I understood that it was just because of one guy who
gave me a chance that I'm a commercial farmer and there the whole Agri Dwala
vision was born," he told AFP.
The Agri Dwala project now has 29 beneficiaries, some of
whom permanently farm six properties with a profit.
"Today we are at the place where I am renting equipment
from them and they are renting from me," said Van Zyl.
The new farmers here have no illusions about easy wealth.
It's something that Agri Dwala's sheep manager Gavin Jaars said many land
reform failures don't realise.
State gives a helping hand
"They do not want to have a white mentor. They want to
do it alone. They want to make money quickly," said Jaars, who also works
on Van Zyl's farm. "We have been here six years and you don't see any
money in our pockets. We reinvested it into the business."
At first, farms were handed over with little support or
vetting of beneficiaries.
Trevor Abrahams received an unfenced piece of land in 1998
and now exports fruit from the mountain-ringed Ceres valley for British
retailers such as Marks & Spencer, after being approached by well-known
local farmer Robert Graaff.
"We didn't sign anything formal as a mentorship
agreement but we had two conditions. The one condition was that I will pay for
everything except his advice," said Abrahams, a former teacher.
"The second condition was that there was not an
expectancy from his side that I must do him any favours."
The reason for the successful relationship is "absolute
trust", he said, pointing to an interest-free loan of more than R1m.
"There's no baggage - I don't blame him for anything
that may go wrong on the farm and he is prepared to stick to the end. It's more
business partners at this stage," he said.
Moving towards a similar model, the state has set up a
rescue programme for collapsing farms and is promoting the use of mentors or
Near the icy West Coast are two picturesque grape farms
managed by a private company Bono Holdings, which is training farm workers who
are shareholders and not owners.
"You need to turn their minds so that they know they
are no longer workers. You give them that ownership that if someone is misusing
the tractor, they should be able to stop that person," said managing
director Evans Nevondo.
Back in Napier, Van Zyl and crop specialist Piet Blom want
to take the successful Agri Dwala example to other white commercial farmers.
"They have the same heart like us to start a new
generation: a new South Africa, not separated people," said Blom about the
"We are a new South Africa and I think that's the way
to have it."