By: Anna Majavu
A leading rural and land reform expert has warned that the government must not throw unemployed rural animal health technicians “to the wolves” by setting them up as small businesses with no capital. Prof. Lungisile Ntsebeza, the current holder of the National Research Foundation research chair in land reform and democracy, the AC Jordan chair in African studies and director of the Centre for African Studies at the University of Cape Town, was speaking in response to the launch of a new business training programme for the animal health technicians.
The Tsolo Agriculture and Rural Development Institute (TARDI) in the Eastern Cape and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation launched the programme to help unemployed animal health technicians become small businesses. They will begin training 50 students from TARDI and North-West University next month. An animal health technician works in support of a vet and in the field of public animal health to prevent and control animal diseases. TARDI principal Nandipha Ndudane said about 40% of the 297 graduates produced by the institute since 2015 were unemployed.
But Ntsebeza said the training would only be worthwhile if the government was going to finance these small businesses. If not, the new SMMEs could be wiped out by established companies in the agricultural sector. “There is no state protection for small businesses. Small businesses will have to sink or swim in the same water as huge corporations in the world of agriculture,” said Ntsebeza.
He said the state was producing more animal health technicians than it could ever hire. Animal health technicians were greatly needed in the former Bantustans where livestock were farmed under very difficult conditions, but it was unlikely that the small-scale farmers there had the funds to hire the animal health technicians privately. “These are people who are already trained, who don’t have jobs, who have expertise and so what can they do to make a living? That’s a tough one, that requires a state that is pro-poor people, and unfortunately, we don’t have that state here,” Ntsebeza told Vutivi News.
Instead of training unemployed animal health technicians in business, the government should provide them with land and capital so that they could make a livelihood out of the land, and work closely with rural communities. This would require a commitment from the government to land redistribution and equity, Ntsebeza said. Ntsebeza also warned that unemployed animal health technicians may borrow money to start small businesses if they were not given capital by the government, and this could leave them financially worse off if they were unsuccessful. “This is a hostile business climate where there is no protection, and it amounts to the government throwing them to the wolves,” Ntsebeza added.