Johannesburg - Newly elected ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa – himself a major game farmer – has emerged as a key figure in calming fears in the agriculture sector over the party’s land reform and nationalisation policies.
Top players in the sector said they were over the moon with Ramaphosa’s election as the ANC’s second-in-command.
The Media24 investigative team spoke to six senior players in the farming sector.
They spilled the beans on a series of secret meetings held between Ramaphosa and some of the country’s richest farmers in recent months.
Ramaphosa flew to some of these meetings on game farms in his private helicopter.
The billionaire’s wealth was already a talking point before the ANC elections, but now it dominates the political agenda.
Ramaphosa’s riches are estimated at R3.1bn and he announced on Wednesday he would review his business interests to avoid conflicts of interest.
It was widely speculated in the ANC that Ramaphosa might take over as deputy president of the country before the 2014 general elections.
Ramaphosa owns a number of game farms in the country’s northern provinces and invests “millions upon millions” in exotic species, such as buffalo and sable antelope.
Ramaphosa specialises in breeding these wild animals.
He recently flew in super-rich businessmen to his farms to encourage them to invest in the wildlife sector.
The secret meetings took place on farms in the Northern Cape between Ramaphosa, a top wildlife farmer who is also a member of Wildlife Ranching SA (WRSA), and other game farmers.
Ramaphosa is one of seven members of the Stud Game Breeders group.
They make between R130m and R140m annually from wildlife auctions.
The politician was only investing in “top genetics” at the moment and not yet auctioning off his animals.
Wihan van der Linde, the owner of the Wintershoek game farm close to Kimberley and director of WRSA, confirmed that Ramaphosa was involved in several meetings.
The industry has been concerned about the ANC’s plans for land and agriculture.
Van der Linde said: “He was always involved and a sounding board you could bounce anything off. He is always positive. You always feel better after speaking to him.”
Danie Minnaar, a game farmer from Kroonstad and deputy chairperson of agribusiness organisation Senwes, said he asked Ramaphosa directly whether white farmers still had a place in South Africa.
“He told me: ‘We need guys like you in the country. We need food. Without food, we will have a revolution. And if we have a revolution, we lose everything’,” Minnaar said.
Minnaar said Ramaphosa is a capitalist who understands the private sector and knows business can run mines more effectively than the state.
“He is a land owner who knows land must produce. If you don’t produce, you don’t have food. He understands this principle. We are not against land reform. It must happen, but he (Ramaphosa) knows it should be sustainable.”
Boet Troskie, a game farmer and friend of Ramaphosa, said his election was the best news in years.
“For the first time, I have hope again for South Africa,” said an excited Troskie.
He said he could now encourage his friends abroad, with a clear mind, to invest in South Africa.
“I have great expectations of Cyril. He is one of the brightest businessmen and cleverest people I know,” said Troskie.
Troskie has high regard for Ramaphosa’s business acumen.
“He understands marketing and that is something South Africa now desperately needs. The focus needs to shift from political parties and our country needs to be marketed as a safe haven for investment.
“Cyril is the right man for this. He has lots of credibility,” Troskie said.
Agriculture union Agri SA also praised Ramaphosa’s election. Its president Johannes Möller expects Ramaphosa to support the ANC’s suggestion that the debate around nationalisation be scrapped.
Agri SA deputy president Theo de Jager said Ramaphosa has first-hand experience of agriculture.
The new ANC deputy is not only a game farmer, but plants crops for their seeds and farms with cattle.
- Charles Smith, Vicus Burger and Pieter Steyn