Improving farm dweller access to services on farms

Access to services for farm dwellers living on commercial farms has been one of our focus areas in the Pathways Project during 2018.  We undertook some qualitative research interviews on access to water and sanitation with farm dwellers in August and September and we held a second multi-stakeholder Services Dialogue in October. The first dialogue took place in December 2017.

The purpose of the Services Dialogue was to engage a range of stakeholders in conversation about how to improve farm dweller access to services on farms. An independent facilitator held the space in which identified stakeholders from three critical interest groups – farm dwellers, farm owners and government – could make inputs and respond across the themes of water, sanitation and electrification.

Two sources provided context for the dialogue. The first, ground-up context was the findings of our survey and the qualitative research that we undertook to supplement it. AFRA conducted an extensive survey of farm dwellers in 2016 and 2017. The farm dweller interviews supplemented the quantitative findings. Most farm workers have access to water, although the sources and quality vary. Land owner discretion is evident in reports of selective cut-offs to people who no longer work on the farm, for example. Sanitation access is more diverse, with a range of experiences from open defecation to self-dug pit latrines and, in some cases, ventilated improved pit latrines (VIPs).

We also situated the dialogue was in relation to the law. We considered the basic rights contained in the Constitution and the minimum standards for access to basic services contained in sector specific laws and policy frameworks.

The right to water is contained in Section 27(1) of the Constitution: “Everyone has the right to have access to -… (b) sufficient food and water …”.  Section 27(2) requires that state to take reasonable steps to progressively realise this right within available resources.

The minimum standard for basic water supply services is a minimum of 25 litres per person per day of potable water or 6 kilolitres per household per month, at a minimum flow rate of not less than 10 litres per minutes, within 200 metres of a household. No consumer should be without a supply of water for more than seven full days in any year.

The right to sanitation is enshrined in section 24 of the Constitution as a right to an environment that is not harmful to health and well-being. Municipalities must ensure the realisation of this right. In addition, Section 26 of the Constitution specifically grants everyone “the right to have access to adequate housing” which has been interpreted to include sanitation.

The minimum standard for basic sanitation services is a toilet which is safe, reliable environmentally sound, easy to keep clean, provides privacy and protection against the weather, is well ventilated, keeps smells to a minimum and prevents entry and exit of flies and other disease-carrying pests. This standard is further prescribed as being one well-constructed VIP toilet per household.

The Constitution does not include a provision that expressly entitles people to electricity. However, case law has established that municipalities are under an obligation to provide electricity to those within its area of jurisdiction. The Constitutional Court ordered in Mkontwana that local government bears a responsibility to provide electricity “as a matter of public duty” and in Joseph that “electricity is an important basic municipal service which local government is ordinarily obliged to provide”.

These provisions are bolstered by other sections of the Constitution such as 152(1) and 153 which set out an overarching set of obligations for local government to “ensure the provisions of services to communities” and to “promote social and economic development” in communities in their area. Section 139(5) requires access to at least a minimum level of basic services, and Section 195(1) provides that “people’s needs must be responded to”.

From these provisions, it is clear that access to basic services has the backing of the Constitution, the law and policy frameworks. However, despite these constitutional and legal requirements, farm dwellers have yet to attain access at the most basic level.

Some of the constraints to access to services are the significant resource and capacity constraints of district municipalities, which is where responsibility for water services resides; district municipalities not planning for the provision of services on farms;  perceptions that the state cannot provide services on land that is privately owned as is the case with the commercial  farms on which farm dwellers live; and in some cases the reluctance of private owners to permit access to farms for municipalities who wish to provide services, especially electricity.

The dialogue identified that some important initiatives exist of farm owner provision of services, as is the case on Hillerman Farm in uMshwathi local municipal area. Participants included farm dwellers in Limpopo and the Western Cape who were able to share their experiences. Given the experiences of many farm dwellers in our province, as well as others, that farmers are unwilling to provide access to services, it was important to hear about farmers who do. One of the workshop recommendations was that willing farmers should encourage other farmers to provide at least a basic level of water and sanitation on their farms. The exploration of incentives, such as rates rebates, was identified as a possible strategy.

Farm dwellers were wary however, of relying on the notion of “the good farmer” for access to services and of being dependent on the discretion of farmers who may, or may not, provide access to water and toilets.

The requirements in the law, that municipalities are the duty bearers when it comes to the provision of water services and electricity, were emphasised. This obligation is currently being tested in court in the case against uMshwathi and Msunduzi local municipalities. Obtaining land owner consent was identified as a significant obstacle in municipal provision, especially in electrification. The dialogue discussed the difference between consultation and consent and that a land owner cannot unreasonably withhold consent for municipal access to a farm.

The question of land rights came up in the dialogue in several ways. For example, some participants saw settling land rights as a pre-requisite for access to services, while others expressed the view that farm dwellers who were no longer employed should not expect farmer provision of access to services. Farm dwellers explained that some farmers use water access as a form of control. Cutting off supply was identified as a way of evicting a family that the farmer no longer wanted to live on the farm.

Some of the balances that need to be struck were debated including access to a diminishing resource in the case of water and protection of that resource, the cash flow requirements and financial constraints of less profitable farmers and meeting a minimum access standard, water quality when live-stock use the same water source as farm dwellers, and participation in government led consultation processes when budget decisions seems to be opaque.

Participants identified that water tankers should make way for a priority municipal bore-hole programme. They indicated that progressive land owners should take the lead in advocating to other farmers to provide services.

Most people agreed on the importance of participation in IDP meetings to raise their needs for access to basics services. However, some farm dweller representatives said that they can attend as many IDP meetings as they wish but their needs never get prioritised.

Good will and mutual respect emerged as important principles for improved relationships around such issues as water wastage when taps are left running. As a result of this strand in the dialogue, improved communication was identified many times as an important way of overcoming obstacles. Some people were not invested in more processes however, and pushed for solutions of substance, that are concrete in nature.

The practical orientation of the dialogue meant that the participants could push toward a concrete action to take the workshop forward. The facilitator had to hear the voices of frustration at the idea of creating more talking spaces where little practical is achieved, while acknowledging that stakeholders needed to come together to improve access to services. To these ends, the workshop mandated a small group of people to convene around communicating the most important messages of the workshop: farm dwellers have rights of access to basic services and practical experiences exist of municipal and land owner provision. The legal requirements and the good practices need to be shared by different stakeholders in multiple structures and processes that already exist.  A common message will assist participants to press for the changes they want to see.

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