I write in response to the letter "Give credit where it's due" (January 4-10 2013) about a study three academics conducted on 11 farms in the wine-producing region of the Western Cape to assess the growth and development of children in the region.
The learned gentlemen concluded that the individual farmers treated their farmworkers with respect, provided them with services, including adult skills development, decent housing with free electricity and water, crèches and after-school facilities, land for farming and so forth.
To my mind, those farmers must not only be credited for what they have done and still do. They, with the farmworkers, must also be encouraged to find sustainable solutions to the problems facing landed property. But there are farmers who exploit, discriminate against, disrespect and paternalise the farmworkers.
What is the solution? All farmers must realise that they are only human beings and not superior to their farmworkers, who must be made to realise that they are also human beings. The struggle of the farmworkers must be directed, as in the case of the slaves of old, against inequality. After defeating the French colonial army in late 1803, the Haitian slaves established the Republic of Haiti and with one stroke of a pen abolished slavery – the basis of inequality. The Haitian slaves stood higher, saw further and took a broader view than their masters and all the oppressors of their time.
The recent uprisings are an expression by human beings who have suffered abuse, ill-treatment, exploitation and discrimination for centuries. The farmowner-farmworker relationship emanates from the days of the coloniser and the colonised and later from the Masters and Servants Act.
We shall witness more and more uprisings in the agricultural sector if three fundamental challenges are not addressed. First and foremost, inequality must be addressed and rooted out. Second, agrarian reform – which is the epithet of an ancient Roman law pertaining to the division of conquered territory – must be agreed on. Third, the lack of consciousness and independent leadership among the farmworkers must be addressed to enable them to participate not only in the affairs of the farm but also in the civic affairs of the surrounding towns.
It is only then that food security, job creation, economic growth and human rights of both farmer and farmworker will become a reality.
I have been a land activist for more than a decade and worked as an extension of security of tenure officer in Worcester, the Great Karoo and the Southern Cape and have visited many farms to defend farmworkers faced with eviction. As an attorney I act on behalf of farmworkers and invite like-minded attorneys to join me in this worthy cause.
In conclusion, I wish to say to the learned gentlemen: studies become credible and will only gain credence if tested against history and materialism. – Mbuyi Ralawe, Cape Town