"Thank you very much and good afternoon everybody.
The Via Campesina conference is very important for us in South Africa in the struggle for land reform.
South Africa has achieved democracy very late, ten years ago.
Issues like agrarian reform, food sovereignty and banning genetically modified organisms are almost like struggle issues…. Current struggle issues, we are tackling all these issues. This conference comes at a time when the Southern Africa region, land reform and agrarian reform are very important issues and they even result in situations where economies are starting to collapse because of land reform.
Not because land reform is wrong, but because governments are starting to panic as a result of not getting into power after fighting the colonisers, After ten or 15 years, they start to panic because land reform is slow due to policies they are forced to adopt by the World Bank and the IMF which are not working and, as a result, which are making land reform slow and not working.
So, governments in southern Africa felt comfortable with their political achievements and neglected the land reform issue. This created a situation in which people started to rise ten years or fifteen years after achieving democracy and taking power from the colonizers. When people started to rise, governments also wanted to start and move faster towards land reform and ridicule agrarian reform neglecting other issues.
For instance countries in our region like Zimbabwe and recently Namibia, where the governments have started to move faster pushing for land and agrarian reform, whereas South Africa is moving quite slowly, but our movement grows and people are starting to join the land struggle in South Africa. The government in South Africa is also starting to come under pressure to move faster with land reform.
Also in southern Africa, countries are very behind when compared with countries like Brazil when it comes to land reform. MST will be celebrating 20 years of its achievements, and most of the countries in southern Africa are 20 years behind when it comes to agrarian reform and this is creating a lot of impatience among people on the ground, small farmers, the poor, the peasants, people who do not have land.
If you look at countries like South Africa, you will find that the rich mostly European landowners own nearly 85% of the land while the poor probably own less than 10% of land.
Land struggle has been going on for more than 350 years and at the moment we have got almost seven million small farmers, rural people who are actually starting to rise up and struggle for land.
Those seven million are being joined by 16 million urban poor who also need land for other reasons, like housing and also for small family interests.
The government in South Africa and other governments in the region, because of adopting World Bank and IMF policies, land reform is very slow and also most people see it as a hopeless situation and so we still have to build confidence in them and say it is not too late to start to struggle for land and agrarian reform.
Also, in southern Africa, the policies adopted by the governments, the apartheid governments were based on destroying the peasantry and turning them into farm workers just to work for those who owned the land. So there is a history of land disposition, land was taken from the poor people forcing them to work for those who owned the land, who were mostly European people.
Lastly, with regard to issues like banning of GMO foods, we are facing a very tough battle, because we find that the governments in the region are almost legitimising GMO companies like Monsanto and the others, they are giving them licenses to actually produce and process GMO foods and plant them
One of the problems with GMO food id that it is not even labeled. When you buy food, you do not even know whether you are buying GM food or whether you are buying properly food grown without using GMO technology. It is not labeled at the stores.
The peasants face tough challenges, because state repression in the region is starting to increase, and you find members of the movement being arrested, tortured and beaten by the police and the army.
So we are grateful that Via Campesina is holding this conference whereby we will be able to share experiences with other landless farmers from other regions of our world. We hope to learn a lot, that we can take back with us to our members in southern Africa, to give us confidence to struggle on and on without giving up.
Lastly, we are happy because this conference of the Via Campesina is internationalising our local struggles in southern Africa and making it known worldwide, so we are very grateful for that."