Farmworkers in the Boland region of the Western Cape say that their working and living conditions have not changed since the historic 2012 farmworkers strike that lasted over 5 months. The strike in August 2012 started a few days after the Marikana Massacre. The farmworkers at the time tabled 21 demands for improvement in their working conditions, including a daily wage increase from R69 to R150, which they say was partially achieved.
A 10th anniversary protest was organised by workers in De Doorns on Wednesday. They raised the issue of daily targets, renting of houses from the farm owner, the electricity prices, lack of sanitation at the vineyards, evictions and contracts being given to men only, among others.
Farmworker, Matheko Mohobo from Rawsonville said that after the 2012 strike, farmers introduced daily targets to force farmworkers to work extra hard. Magrieta Prins who was part of the 2012 strike, said that these daily targets are linked to a high number of unfair dismissals.
The costs of accommodation during seasonal work are now more than previously borne by workers who still have to pay rent to the farmer. Mohobo explains, “The farmers have introduced rent where you rent each room and the houses are not in a good condition.”
Sarah Peters said that they spend the little money that she gets paid as a farmworker to buy electricity. “I only get 30 units for R100 and I can’t afford to have it for the rest of the month. The farmers are also refusing to let us use the land that they used to give to farmworkers to grow their own vegetables. I only use a small patch of about three metres as a garden,” she said.
Lindelwa Liwane from Robertson said the main problem with the targets is that the crates are heavy and most women cannot cope. “The crate or the bag that you have to fill up with fruits is 20 litres and you get paid 70 cents,” she said
“I was living on the farm at that time of the strike but now I have my own RDP house. The dignity of women farmworkers is being trampled upon as they are put in the vineyards. Some vineyards do not have toilet facilities and the women farmworkers have to go sit in the bush and they can get raped. The farmers use pesticides to spray the vineyards and some of the pesticides are banned in Europe but they use them here. Some farmworkers have died of cancer as a result,” said Prins.
“You can only stay on the farm as woman if you are married as contracts are only given to men. When your husband passes away, you are expected to leave the farm as a woman. Also when your children reach the age of 18, they are expected to leave,” said Mohobo.
In 2012, farmworkers in the Western Cape went on strike demanding R150 a day. Photo: Surplus Peoples Project.
Anniversary protest hijacked
The anniversary protest was hijacked by different groups that blocked the N1 with burning tyres and were hostile to the media. Police spokesperson, warrant officer Joseph Swaartbooi, said that there were no incidents of looting and when Elitsha arrived in De Doorns in the morning, traffic was being rerouted through the town and back to the N1. The groups played cat and mouse with the police for most of the morning until the station commander met with representatives. A credible source told Elitsha that the committee that met with the police raised the issue of employment of foreign migrants on farms, and that a meeting between the committee, the police, and the departments of Home Affairs and of Labour has been scheduled for Thursday.
“We will do this over and over up until the farmers listen to us,” concluded Prins.