Farm workers live in fear of the farmer

The workers have refused to meet with the farmer saying that he is a violent person and are only prepared to meet with him in the presence of the police and officials from the Department of Labour. All photos by Joseph Chirume

Against all the talk of “white genocide”, here is a story of a violent and abusive white farmer.

Six farm workers in the Eastern Cape have gone into hiding after their employer allegedly threatened to kill them for failing to arrest or murder thieves that were stealing fencing from his farm.

The frightened farm workers said the farmer has a tendency of shooting at them with a gas gun and at times with live ammunition. They also accused him of pressing a taser against their bodies.

Narrating their ordeal to Elitsha were Tlhoriso Pholoane (36), Lefa Radebe (32), Thabo Moeti (26), Kamelo Maome (28) and Frank Vilakazi, all from the Free State. A sixth worker, Anna Goliath, is from the Eastern Cape but Elitsha could not contact her. She is also in hiding.

The workers accuse Dirk Gouws, operator of Elephant Park Game Farm near Port Alfred of luring them to the Eastern Cape where he allegedly promised them better salaries and improved working conditions.

Tlhoriso was the first to move to the Eastern Cape in January 2019 as he is the only one of the five who has a long-standing relationship with Gouws having worked for him on his Free State farm, Kroet Hoek, as a cattle herder.

“He was ill-treating me there as well. He persuaded me to come with him at Elephant Park Game Farm to work as a patroller. He also said all the ill-treatment would end once in Eastern Cape. After a while he asked for more people I know in Free State. That’s how I brought the other guys here.

“Mr Gouws told us that his wooden droppers that hold the barrier fence intact were often stolen by people from communities around the farm. He then ordered us to kill whoever we found trespassing into the farm. He said he would bury that person and nothing would happen to us since he has friends at a local police station.”

Tlhoriso said theft of the wooden droppers continued and they did not catch anyone in the act. “That’s when hell broke loose. Gouws wanted an answer as to why we were not arresting and killing the criminals.

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“He once shot at me and countless times pressed a gun into my head and threatened to blow it. He even placed a dead snake around my head. Most of my workmates have scars and wounds sustained from his abuse. We were afraid to report to the police because he boasts that he has friends who are police officers.

“He used to refer to us as brothers to baboons. He once forced us to tie and beat one of our workmates. He normally threatens us with a real gun. Some workers have already fled and are back at their homes.”

A defiant Dirk Gouws pleaded with Elitsha not to publish the story as he would be having a meeting with the disgruntled workers on Thursday.

Gouws said, “I deny all these allegations and I don’t know why they are raising them. How can I shoot at someone? I know I will be arrested. I have never done what they are accusing me of doing. I have arranged a meeting with them on Thursday in the presence of EFF councillor, Xolisa Runeli. I request you to stop writing about the issue and wait for the outcome of that meeting.”

Elvis Moleko alleges that he was beaten by Gouws and had to flee to George in the Western Cape but wants to return to the Eastern Cape to lay charges against Gouws.

Tlhoriso rubbished Gouws’s denials and said it was a ploy to try entrap the workers. “We will only attend that meeting in the presence of police officers and the Department of Labour because he is a violent person. We have information already from other workers that he wants to coerce them to lie against us.

“We already have our evidence on our bodies. We have wounds inflicted by him. What form of evidence will he want? We want the Department of Labour to be there. He has not paid us our money for the days we worked. On top of that he used to deduct money from our wages for no reasons. We don’t know whether he was deducting UIF money or not because he never showed us payslips,” said Tlhoriso.

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Meanwhile, the Agri Eastern Cape operations manager, Brent McNamara, said Gouws was not their member. “As such we can’t comment on these alleged actions against the farm workers by Mr Gouws, as we do not have information on this matter.

“AgriEC and its members will always strive to foster good working relationships between employees and employers, a situation which we think prevails on the vast majority of farms. We will also not condone any proven transgression of the law and labour regulations.

“In this matter of Mr Gouws we trust that the necessary investigations by the relevant authorities will be conducted to establish the correct facts, which will then determine what further action needs to be taken,” said McNamara.

Simpiwe Dada of Mkhukanye Rural Social Movement said the oppression of farm workers by farmers is escalating and that he was contemplating reporting the matter to the South African Human Rights Commission.

Dada said, “The farming industry up to now has not been transformed into a professional business entity. They have not moved an inch from its history of violence, and the breaking of the law and also of using extra judicial means as a way of dealing with problems they might have on farms.

“We are blaming that on the government because we think every business and each and every person has to operate according to the laws of the country. There is a constitution that governs everybody.

“There are also labour laws that govern the labour industry. The continued behaviour by the white commercial farmers is an indication of failure to transform from the apartheid mentality.”

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About Joseph Chirume 31 Articles
I was born in the shoe manufacturing town of Gweru in Zimbabwe,1970. I came to South Africa and did some odd jobs before writing for a number of publications. At present I am doing a Masters in Journalism through distance learning.