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The Select Committees on Economic and Business Development, and on Trade and International Relations will meet this evening with the MEC for Safety in the Free State, Mr Sam Mashinini, to discuss reports of the abuse of farm workers on a farm in Wesselsbron. The Select Committees are on an oversight visit to the Free State to assess the impact of government-funded programmes on economic growth. Earlier, they received a briefing on the road infrastructure in the province.

The Department of Labour (DoL) briefed the Committee on the abuse, which involves a farmer who allegedly uses young children as farmworkers. A DoL representative told the Committee that farm worker abuse in the Free State is a common occurrence and urged urgent action to address the problem.

“Our inspectors were alerted to an owner of Weenen Farm employing young children. Seasonal workers are still transported in trucks. They are staying in a barn partitioned with plastics inside, and also workers are paid far less than the minimum wage,” the representative said. It is suspected that the owner is not registered with the employers’ association. The farmer also sought to mislead the inspectors by providing incorrect details of himself.

Members of the Committee asked what has been done to address the situation and why the farmer has not been arrested. Committee Member Mr George Mthimunye said the Committee should visit the farm to witness what had been described by officials. He said the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation should be involved.

Committee Member Dr Younus Vawda agreed, saying that the Committees wanted to show that this sort of situation will not be tolerated. “We need to send a strong message that as Members of Parliament we will not allow this to happen. We also need to send a signal to the people tasked with investigations to do them with speed,” he said.

Co-Chairperson Mr Eddie Makue said the Committee wanted to see DoL officials do more on these kinds of inspections. “We have an obligation to cooperate with you to make sure that perpetrators are brought to book,” he said.

Co-Chairperson Mr Mandla Rayi, said if the meeting with the MEC does not yield the desired results, the Committees will consider coming back to the Free State next week. “Our priority for now is the arrest of this person, especially in that it is alleged that two people had died on that farm.

Sibongile Maputi
6 September 2017