Farmworkers speak out against evictions

Most of the farmworkers who spoke at the meeting are facing 'constructive eviction'. Photo by Mzi Velapi

The Rural Legal Centre says it deals with cases of eviction of farmworkers and families who have stayed on the same farm for more than 20 years.

Farmworkers from the west coast, Boland and Langeberg regions of the Western Cape recounted their struggles against evictions during a speak-out in Robertson over the weekend. Organised by Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE), the Commercial, Stevedoring, Agricultural and Allied Workers Union (CSAAWU) and Mawubuye, farmworkers who are experiencing or have experienced evictions took to the podium to narrate their stories.

Peter Dawid, a 54-year-old father of two, has been working on the same farm for 30 years in Saron, a small town near Ceres. “The new owner started in 2019 and we could immediately see that he does not know what he is doing. We have been on an indefinite lay-off since April and we have not been paid since. We are not allowed to go work for other farmers. On Thursday [10 August] we noticed that our water and electricity has been cut off. The water to the vineyard has not been cut off, but only to the houses,” he said.

The water to the vineyard
has not been cut off,
but only to the houses

Anna Jafta, a farmworker from De Doorns told the meeting that about 30 workers and their families are facing eviction as the farmer claims that he is bankrupt. The 55-year-old said she was born on the farm and started herding sheep at the age of 12. “We are unemployed at the moment and we cannot walk freely on the farm as the farmer closes the gate without telling us and you have to jump over the fence,” she said.

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“The workers at the farm were retrenched but they have not received their package or forms to fill in. They can’t claim for UIF as the farmer has not done regular monthly declarations. Families now rely on the child grant for survival,” said Christopher Jafta.

The farmer demolished
the wendy house

Jacobus Adonis who has worked for 30 years as a farmworker said that he shares a four-room house with his wife and eight children. Because the house is overcrowded, he decided to build a wendy house for his three sons. The farmer, who, according to Adonis, stays in an eleven-room house with his family, demolished the wendy house.

Denia Jansen of Rural Legal Centre said that most of the eviction cases that they are dealing with involve farmworkers with more than 20-years tenancy. “We also find out that the farmers do so without a court order as it is stipulated in ESTA [Extension of Security of Tenure Act]. There is also a new trend of claiming bankruptcy by the farmers and citing Covid and after-effects of Covid as a reason. These are the same people who have not opened their books to us,” she said.

A joint committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and Employment and Labour compiled a report in 2022 on the living and working conditions in farming communities, finding that constructive evictions on farms is rife and includes “cutting access to water, demolition of farm dwellers’ houses, denial of burial rights, limit to a number of livestock that can be kept on the land that farm dwellers are entitled to, refusal of access to basic serves such as water and electricity and limiting the right of access or way, as well as limiting access by family or relatives”.

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The report also found that many farmworkers had limited knowledge of their rights. A survey conducted by Nkuzi and Social Surveys counted the number of rural dwellers evicted between 1994 and 2003 to be just under a million (940,000), only 1% of which was legal.

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