By Lloyd Phillips, as published in Farmer’s Weekly
Representatives of farm dwellers from six local municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands recently gathered to discuss problems reportedly being experienced on a number of farms in the area. The Association for Rural Advancement’s (AFRA) inaugural Farmworker & Farm dweller Platform, held over two days in Pietermaritzburg recently, provided the complainants with an opportunity to air and submit their grievances to government departments.
The representatives came from Mshwathi, Richmond, Mkhambathini, Mngeni, Mooi-Mpofana and Msunduzi.
Allegations included farmworkers receiving low wages, having to work in dangerous conditions, not being allowed to take annual or maternity leave, not receiving severance pay, not being paid due benefits, and having to work unfair hours.
Farm dwellers alleged unfair evictions, not receiving basic services such as running water and electricity, having their grazing and livestock impounded, having their electricity disconnected, being prohibited from building brick houses, not being allowed to bury family members on farms, and being forced to sign contracts that they did not understand.
The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) did not escape criticism. The representatives alleged that it was taking too long to process land claims.
“Successful land claimants are also not getting title deeds to their land from government. We’re now demanding a three-month time limit for government to provide us with updates and information on land claims that have been lodged,” said Shakes Shange, a representative of farm dwellers and workers from Richmond.
He also accused the DRDLR and other government departments such as the Department of Labour (DoL) of being biased in favour of farmers and other rural landowners.
“We’re frustrated that government is not doing its work effectively,” he said.
Sifiso Mazibuko, representing farm dwellers and workers in Mkhambathini, urged the DRDLR and DoL to hold workshops where farmers, other rural landowners and farm dwellers and workers could receive training on land and labour laws.
“We’d like to see common ground being achieved between farm owners, farm dwellers and farmworkers so that we can better understand each other’s needs. There must be collaboration between all stakeholders. We’re not targeting farm owners because they’re white. We’re targeting the illegal, unfair and wrong things that they do against farmworkers and farm dwellers,” he said. – Lloyd Phillips
Departments promise support for farm dwellers
After formally accepting a range of grievances from farmworkers and farm dwellers from six municipalities in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands regarding their working and living conditions, various government departments committed themselves to addressing the complaints.
Government departments attending the Association for Rural Advancement’s Farmworker & Dweller Regional Platform, held recently in Pietermaritzburg, were the Department of Labour (DoL), the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
Nkosikhona Majola the DoL said the department would be holding a meeting to discuss the issues raised and seek out solutions.
“It’s essential that farmworkers’ working conditions are according to the labour laws” he said.
Majola mentioned cases where employers were not reporting on-duty injuries sustained by their employees to the DoL. The DoL was therefore unable to pay the injured farmworkers the compensation due to them.
“Instead, there are farm owners who have private insurance that pay [the farm owner] out when one of their farmworkers is injured,” he said.
He encouraged farmworkers to establish committees to record labour law violations and report them t6 the DoL.
Nomphilo Mhlongo of the DRDLR acknowledged complaints that not all of her department’s offices and all of her department’s offices and officials were effective in dealing with land and labour tenant claims.
She said that DRDLR was currently working on improving efficiencies across all of its structures.
“We’re pleased to have received the lists of complaints and demands from this platform. We’ll work through them methodically,” she said.
Thandeka Makhonyane of the SAHRC urged farmworker and farm dwellers with complaints of human rights abuses to contact the commission for assistance. She said that the SAHRC’s services were offered free of charge to the public.