Politics: A fresh start Charting a path for South African agriculture to progress from the closed system of apartheid to the new free market era is not easy. Both industry and government have made mistakes but there is a determination to succeed and, underlying that, fear of what will happen if they don't. Bongiwe Njobe, director-general at the ministry of agriculture, says: "We are trying the best we can as a government to put into place a social infrastructure and put in place incentives for economic development. "The government machinery needs to transform itself first before it can respond rapidly. It is quite a slow system and it needs to build up experience and competence. We hope to have a maturing population that believes in the democratic principles and takes responsibility for the process of change. We know there are no quick solutions." The government is encouraging its export industries to grasp the challenges by setting up export councils which will work with the various ministries. Njobe says: "These councils can do things and they will have funds to support them." She emphasises that there is also a need for a fresh perspective of SA products on UK shelves. "The exporters need to remove the sentimental historical positioning they had and address product quality," she says. UK retailers need to be assured that whatever position we take, the quality of our products will be good. The perceptions held by the European buyers become very difficult to influence if we do not have any way of exposing them to what is really happening. "The buyer will get snippets of news from the media and they are not told the other side of the story. In reality the trouble hot spots are getting smaller and things are getting back to normal." The country's fruit growers and processors have a worldwide reputation for quality and value and its wine industry has been basking in rapidly increasing demand for its products. However, both sectors have their problems, although they are not considered life-threatening. The ministry oversees the strategic direction of the industry and Njobe takes a positive view that careful evaluation and repositioning will put the sectors back on course. "We recognise they have immediate short term problems. There has been radical change for both industries. "Wine took off in the global markets, but these markets changed while the industry did not, and it failed to take advantage of the opportunities." But problems such as rock bottom pricing and subsidies competition encountered by deciduous fruit are more complicated. Njobe says some of the trouble lies outside the control of fruit producers, such as the advantages of EU subsidies, enjoyed by some of their global competitors. As a result of deregulation there may be farmers who are threatened with no profitability or liquidation. "But there has to be a future for the industry and we are looking at issues that affect it, and they include finding innovation," she says. "We have a way to go. Somewhere we read the signals wrongly." The future of the South African economy will depend on the integration of the black population and one factor that must be built into any company's business plan is the issue of black empowerment. This is not a question of tokenism. Unemployment among blue collar workers in the black community is running at between 40% and 50%. Njobe says: "The focus of our discussions with the industry has been on the farmer resettlement programme and many have undertaken to apply themselves to the issues. "We must create room for the black working population in the industry, but we cannot afford to put black people into failing businesses and thereby perpetuate the problem. I believe there is a need for more dedicated analysis. "One of the realisations I have had is that we cannot wish away the impact of the survivalist strategies employed by the trade in the apartheid era. In post-sanction South Africa we failed to position ourselves to make use of the market opportunities and we tend to continue with pre-sanction strategies." {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}