This after the South African Sugar Association (SASA) amended its constitution to ensure that the industry is more inclusive and representative. SASA, a statutory body representing the country’s sugar industry as per the Sugar Act of 1978, currently has two members – the South African Cane Growers’ Association (SACGA) and the South African Sugar Millers’ Association (SASMA). “The new changes to the constitution will see the reconfiguration of these two members to ensure they are more inclusive and representative. The two members of SASA as of 1 April 2018 shall be Cane Farmers’ Federation (CFF) and Sugar Milling & Refining Federation (SMRF),” said SASA Executive Director Trix Trikam.
CFF will be made up of Cane Growers’ Associations (CGAs) – such as SACGA, the South African Farmers Development Association (SAFDA) – and other qualifying CGAs. The CFF representation will be determined on the basis of cane delivery and membership. The SMRF will be based on proportional representation (members/production). Both CFF and SMRF will each have 16 Councillors on the SASA Council. In another unprecedented development, the SASA Council will have an independent Chairperson, and the Department of Trade and Industry has an observer status at SASA Council meetings. In the meantime, the SASA Council approved a payment towards retrospective levies to SAFDA and any other SAFDA costs for the period 25 November 2015 to 31 March 2018, and the interim measures include the granting of three SAFDA members an observer status with a voice on Council.
The impasse was resolved after the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee on Trade and Industry stressed the need for all the parties to find each other and come up with the solution. Committee Chairperson Joanmariae Fubbs called on all the parties to approach the mediation in good faith with the conclusion of an inclusive negotiated settlement. “It is the Committee’s intention to grow the economy in order to create jobs. The sugar sector is a critical industry. The Committee would therefore prefer to see a negotiated settlement that speaks to the transformation of the sector,” said Fubbs at the time. The Department of Trade and Industry had also expressed support for a negotiated settlement.
SASA brought in anti-apartheid activist and highly regarded mediator Charles Nupen to assist the parties resolve the impasse. Within a matter of days in November and December last year, the parties had agreed to a long-term solution and the SASA Council ratified the agreement on 12 December 2017. The historic development has been roundly welcomed as a step in the right direction in terms of transformation in the sugar industry.
“SASA welcomes and embraces this historic moment. It is now incumbent on all of us in the sugar industry to join together to make it work. We must be united in our diversity as to ensure the prosperity, survival and sustainability of the industry. We would like to thank government, especially the Department of Trade and Industry for its continued support of the industry. We believe that the industry and government must work together. As pointed out by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his maiden State of the Nation Address, the agricultural sector has an enormous economic potential, as the sugar industry we believe that decisive government’s intervention with regards to an appropriate tariff level will help sustain and unleash the potential of the industry,” said SASA Chairman Suresh Naidoo.
Speaking at the SAFDA Gala Dinner to celebrate its recognition by the industry, SASA Vice-Chairman Hans Hackmann emphasised that SASA was committed to and supported transformation. “This is an epoch we are all proud of. This new era must mark the end of any hostilities. We are all in this together – the sugar industry belongs to all of us. Our common goal is to ensure the industry is successful and sustainable. We want to create more jobs than we currently we have (85 000 direct jobs) and continue to grow the economies of often rural places where cane growing activities happen in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and Mpumalanga,” said Hackmann.
He added: “We must unite against challenges besieging the industry – most notably, the insufficient tariff which has resulted in the influx of cheap sugar imports. Sugar dumping is posing a serious threat to the survival and sustainability of our industry.”
Delivering his address at the same event, SAFDA Chairman Siyabonga Madlala also called for a united industry. “As a recognised, equal and inclusive member of the South African sugar industry, SAFDA is looking forward to working together with members of the industry both Millers, Growers and SASA for the success of the agricultural sector, especially the sugarcane growing sector,” said Madlala.
Fubbs also hailed the historic moment, “Congratulations on taking this step of the transformation journey. It is the beginning of a journey. SASA must lead the industry and lead radical transformation, not only in farming but ownership,” she said. Mega sugarcane farmer Charl Senekal said he wanted to see SAFDA become an organisation of excellence. “I am only a farmer but want to help others. We must help with extension and financial services. I want to uplift rural communities – I always see potential in people,” he said.
Agriculture and Rural Development MEC Themba Mthembu welcomed the recognition of SAFDA by the sugar industry. “The work to truly ensure transformation and the full participation and recognition of the previously disadvantaged growers in the sector lies ahead. Your recognition provides us as a department with a partner for transformation, and not just of the sugar industry but the entire agricultural sector. It further gives us a partners in the training and skills development of farmers and young graduates interested in honing their skills in the sector of sugar cane growing, milling and the entire value chain,” said Mthembu.
The MEC said young people and women must be encouraged to have an interest in the agricultural sector. “We have to ensure that there is a clear understanding that Agriculture is a diverse industry that requires an array of skills. These range from scientists, to engineers, marketing, sales, information technology, accountants, landscapers and horticulturalists, land management, business managers and various others across sectors,” he added.
Meanwhile, addressing thousands of jubilant sugarcane growers (young and old), mainly small-scale ones, from KZN and Mpumalanga in Gingindlovu, former KZN premier Senzo Mchunu, who during his term of office worked closely with the sugar industry, hailed the parliamentary committee for its intervention in helping resolve the impasse and for urging all parties to resume negotiations in their endeavours to find a long-term solution. Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Deputy Minister Bheki Cele warned the industry that it would receive no support from government if it was not truly transformed.