Agri Business South Africa
(Photo : Sustainability Campaign)
“Agriculture topped both the socio-economic and enterprise lists.”
There’s an old saying that goes something like “don’t make the children pay for the sins of the fathers”. It is particularly appropriate in the context of the South African farming community, and especially in KwaZulu-Natal. Politicians can be a funny old bunch, with a habit of distracting attention from their own shortcomings by creating diversions elsewhere. A popular lament among politicians in this country is the poor treatment of farm labourers, and while we are fairly tolerant of the utterances of these people in general here at Summerhill, the one thing that “miffs” us, is the broad generalization that farmers don’t take care of their staff. Let me say at the outset, most of our readers are aware of Summerhill’s social responsibility programme, and the investment we’ve made in the upliftment and growth of our people. It’s one of the pillars on which our eight Breeder’s Championships were built. But what we have done for our people is by no means exceptional: there are great examples all over this province, and indeed, throughout the land, of similar efforts on the part of farmers. We know no other business, not only here, but anywhere in the world, which works harder for the benefit of its staff, than the South African agricultural community, in the provision of housing, education, transport, health and welfare services, relative to the money we turn, and the profits farming makes. How many businesses of our size, for example, can claim to house, as we do, between 600 and 700 people every night of the year?
I’ve often said that I am among the luckiest people in the world. I wake up next to a lovely lady, who like me is getting on in years now, but who at one time I would’ve rated in the top ten in the land! My bedroom looks out on a world heritage site, and I go to work with some of the finest people in the world, not only our management team, but specifically our Zulus. Then to cap it, we get to work with the greatest creature the good Lord ever created.
What we do to uplift our people is not a sacrifice, it’s one of life’s great pleasures, because they make the sacrifices, and have done so for decades. We make up for the fact that as a farming enterprise, there is always going to be a limit on what we can afford in the way of salaries compared to bigger and richer industries. We compensate by providing homes, water and electricity, garden and refuse services, healthcare and schooling. At Summerhill we have four educational facilities, a beautiful crèche, a junior school which has provided our community with two junior international athletes and a mayor in recent times, a night mentorship and literacy programme for adults, and of course, our School of Management Excellence, (the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere). The staff own 50% of the profits from the farm trading store, and we live in one of the safest places in the world. It’s a testimony to the harmony we all share, that this is so.
These endeavours have led to 44 international scholarships at the best farms in the world for our Zulu grooms; four of our young Zulu chefs have represented South Africa at international cooking exhibitions in Zurich, Prague and Shanghai: our traditional dance troupe has ranked third and second in the world in Tokyo and Hong Kong respectively, and in 2012, Thabani Nzimande, a young Zulu from our district and a graduate of the first intake at our School of Excellence, won the award for the top practical student of his year at the English National Stud. Getting up in the mornings is easy for these achievements, and it’s gratifying to see the agricultural sector at last being recognised in official statistics for their efforts on behalf of the previously disadvantaged community.
In a recent survey conducted by “Who Owns Whom”, which appeared in the Sunday Times at the weekend, it was revealed that almost 100% of companies exceed their social investment targets, and that agriculture topped both the socio-economic and enterprise lists. The research cast its net wide in an attempt to provide a clearer picture of the contribution by the private sector towards increasing participation in the economy by a broad base of beneficiaries. Sustainability is a key business initiative, and social economic development (SED) projects are directed at benefitting communities of future customers and employees, while at the same time growing the capacity of small suppliers and customers.
The agriculture, construction and mining sectors all scored high on the enterprise development chart, and that could be a result of the proliferation of small suppliers to these industries, which are supported by other beneficiaries of enterprise development. Socio-economic development scores by sector show agriculture at 101%, transport at 95%, mining and retail 94%, construction 93%, financial services 91% and manufacturing 85%. Enterprise development by sector shows agriculture at 96%, construction at 93%, mining at 92%, financial services 89%, transport 84%, retail 84% and manufacturing 83%.
While it’s possible that in other emerging economies similar work is being done, it’s hard to envisage anything anywhere exceeding what South Africa has achieved. While you might argue that it was overdue and we had some catching up to do, it’s time for government to sit up and take notice, particularly when one considers that when it comes to service delivery, governments could take a few leaves from the books of farmers.