The farm crops in De Doorns are among the highest quality in the world, exported to the fussy markets in Europe. Farmers are paid in Euros while farm workers’ wages are R62- R75 per day.
For those farmworkers unlucky enough to still live on the farms, they pay rent of R50 per week. As soon as any child reaches the age of 18 and still lives on the farm, they also have to pay an additional rent of R50 per week. Doctor’s charge consultation fees of R200. If workers are booked off sick for 3 days, bosses sometimes refuse to pay the full sick leave. In these areas a loaf of bread costs a minimum of R8, often more. A litre of milk costs R12 or more. The farm bosses have connections with the municipality, expelling workers from their farms into RDP houses in the locations, often ahead of those living in the townships who have been on the waiting lists for a much longer time. When farmworkers retire, often after 20-30 years service, they have no pension, they have to survive on the measly govt pension. Workers typically work from 7am to 6 pm , sometimes from 6am to 6pm. During the peak season workers may even work up until midnight. Workers often do not get any bonus. Leave has to be taken only after the season has ended. The season lasts from January to May, but workers can be taken on from November already. Workers have UIF deducted of R20 for a wage of R1000 fortnightly (ie double the legal rate, and seemingly the employer contribution is deducted from workers’ wages). When new owners take over farms, workers’ wages are reduced, even if the business was sold as a going concern. Workers complain that they are often transported in open lorries in the heat, rain and cold- they are exposed to the elements and often get sick because of this. To add insult to injury, workers have to pay for their own shears and overalls (we saw payslips to this effect). Workers who go off on maternity leave during ‘the season’ may have their leave cut short from 4 months to 3 months, sometimes not getting paid anything in this period (presumably to ‘encourage’ them to return to work earlier).
Workers report daily intimidation by farm owners. Threats of dismissal or higher deduction for housing are all used to browbeat workers into silence. The farmer Louis, owner of Elim, who shot at workers (some are hospitalised in Worcester), was not even locked up, he was released on bail within 1 hour of being taken in for questioning. One worker was shot by the police, losing an eye, also hospitalised at Eben Donges hospital, Worcester. If a worker had lifted a hand to any farm owner, he would have been locked up and the key thrown away, most likely also being assaulted by the police. The farmworkers are angry about that and draw the lesson- the police are with the farm bosses, not with them.
Soon after the Marikana uprising, workers went on strike at one of the farms in De Doorns and within days achieved a R127 per day wage. The rest of the workers on other farms took note of this, and having suffered abuse from the farm bosses and the state for many years, came out on strike.
Workers have tax deducted (we saw the payslip of a worker earning R2500 per month (a supervisor) who was taxed R59.02, even though his rate was way below the tax threshold. When workers have gone to SARS to complain, they are told that they are not registered, but SARS never takes action against the farm bosses for the illegal deductions.
There is much greater concentration of ownership of the farms since 1994, then there were 50 000 commercial farmers, today this number stands at 25 000. In De Doorns, workers report that farmers own from 5- to 17 or more farms each. They are multi-millionaires.
The ANC and Cosatu leaders collaborate with the farm bosses
While the DA’s alliance with the farm bosses is well known, the alliance of the ANC and Cosatu leaders with them, is not. Wards 2- 5 in De Doorns are controlled by the ANC. This means that the corruption of providing RDP houses to allow a faster rate of eviction of workers from the farms, was done with the blessing of the ANC. Furthermore, Ward 5 councillor, ANC member, Nelie Barends, is a community leader, has his own trade union, ‘BAWSA’ and is also a labour broker for the farmers in De Doorns. ANC Councillor Nelie provided a bakkie to carry scab labour, under police escort, to some of the farms during the first week of the strike. The labour broker pays workers from R63- R70 per week. Labour broker workers are paid with unmarked envelope, and do not even get a payslip. Nelie was apparently encouraging farmworkers to go to work on Monday 12th Nov.
Ex-Cosatu leader, Membatisi Mdladlane, then Labour Minister, signed into law the Sectoral Determination for farmworkers, which entrenches labour brokers on the farms. The low wage levels have been set by the ANC govt, continuing old slaves wages. Not only that, but the averaging of hours mean that workers are forced to work a 10-11 hour day, or longer, without being paid any overtime (overtime should be paid after 9 hours work a day). During the season, January to May, workers work extra hours and after the season, they are sent home (not dismissed, they are given ‘time off’ and so the average is that, overall, they work less than the 9 hours per day). Thus workers lie in their shacks from June to October, starving, without a cent, no assistance from the farm boss, unable even to claim UIF). This is worse than slavery because, under slavery the slave owner was at least obliged to provide a meal and a roof and clothing for his slave.
The YCL Leader, Manamela, came to De Doorns, claiming he came to listen to their demands, claiming to support the strike. Yet he remains silent on the role of the ANC in collaborating in the slavery conditions on the farms and in playing the role of human traffickers for the millionaire bosses. Rank and file members of the SACP should challenge the YCL and SACP leadership about the pro-capitalist role of the ANC. Is this black empowerment? What stage of the transition is this? Please explain. Demand answers. If you are serious about workers’ rights, break with the SACP.
A proposed way forward
1. Form workers’ committees on each farm, whether local or immigrant; let the strike be led in all its forms by these committees; link up with the mine workers committees and community committees;
2. Away with labour brokers on the farms- equal pay for equal work;
3. R12 500 monthly wage for all farm workers;
4. Nationalise the land; Expropriate all commercial farms and major food retailers, without compensation to the capitalists, under workers’ control. This is the way to rational pricing and planning, so everyone can eat.
5. Housing, development, schooling, recreation and services for the rural areas, on a par with the urban areas.