After extensive consultations with stakeholders in the agricultural and labour sectors in Bloemfontein, the National Assembly’s (NA’s) Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour and Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform joint delegation embarked on an oversight visit and public hearings in Bloemhof and Ficksburg in the Free State.

In Bloemhof, the delegation went to Dubulamzi’s Communal Property Association (CPA), which comprises 13 families and over 300 hectares of land that was handed over to them by the Weideman family. It is the product of a 2014 recapitalisation initiative on the part of the Agriculture department.

 According to the Acting head of the Directorate of Provincial Shared Service in the Department of Agriculture, Rural Development and Land Reform, Mr Steven Modise, Dubulamanzi is a CPA success story because the Weideman family mentored and trained the new land owners on mechanised farming processes.

In spite of that, members of the delegation asked hard questions about whether CPA members understood their business’s value chain. It emerged that most of them did not due to literacy issues. However, they intend to hand over this responsibility to their children, some of whom are currently at university, the delegation was told.

Some delegation members were dissatisfied with this status quo and asked CPA members if they wanted to comment on it. However, they were reluctant to do so in front of the Weideman family member who was present. A member of the public explained that farm owners deploy people to listen to what is said and report back to them. As such, they were not at liberty to voice their concerns about their living and working conditions in public for fear of reprisals.

The chairperson of the delegation, Ms Lindelwa Dunjwa, urged them to express their lived experiences without restraint to Parliament’s committee secretaries, researchers and content advisors, who were scribes of the proceedings.

Incensed by the concealment of what he viewed as underhandedness in how this CPA is run and managed, a representative of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Mr Mongezi Mbelwane, painted a disturbing picture of the CPA. He alleged that there is no appetite from the part of the mentors to be transparent about business aspects of this CPA. In his view, its owners are still treated as normal farm workers and are subjected to the same ills as every other farm worker. They are owners in name only and have not derived any economic benefit from it.

This situation was echoed in a public hearing in Ficksburg, which described the living conditions farm workers experience as abusive and conducted with a flagrant disregard for the Labour Relations ACT. Often, workers are at the mercy of employers’ discretion rather than the legislation dictating their employment and living conditions. One farm worker in Ficksburg described their living condition as so appalling that they are forced to live with pigs and are basically reduced to animals.  

Mr Molete Mathe, who had his finger amputated due to infection as a result of a biological fungicide while working on farm points to the flagrant disregard of occupational health on farms. He also alleged that after this incident the farmer denied that he was injured on duty and he was dismissed. As a result, he never received his pension.  

The stipulated working hours are also ignored, prompting one worker to ask rhetorically if they are really protected by labour laws or are excluded from the normal regime by virtue of the nature of the work they do.

In defence of farm workers’ freedom of expression, delegation Chairperson Ms Dunjwa assured them they have a right to express their lived experiences on farms. “That is why we are here today. And that is an inherent right extended to anyone by our Constitution. To do otherwise is to suppress the very tenets of our country’s bills of rights.”

 Ms Dunjwa continued: “We all know that we are coming from a painful past and if we, the current generation, don’t address its ills, they will haunt our future generations.

Abel Mputing
20 June 2022