Over 200 farm workers, mostly women, marched from Keizersgracht Square in Cape Town to Parliament demanding Radical Agrarian Reform on 28 October. The march was organised by Women on Farms following demands which were developed during the National Farm Worker Platform which ran from 24 to 28 October 2022. The farm workers’ memorandum of demands, addressed to the Minister of Agriculture Thoko Didiza, covered key issues such as land redistribution, farm worker evictions, the use of hazardous pesticides on farms and a call for a Basic Income Grant as well as a provident fund for farm workers.
Farm workers are calling for reform from export driven industrial and commercial farming to small-scale agroecological farming. Farm workers are also demanding more inclusive land redistribution policies and practices which target the poor, especially women farm workers and dwellers, and that the Land Beneficiary Selection Process is pro-poor and pro-woman.
Farm workers are further calling for a moratorium on farm worker evictions and that the annual crime statistics reflect the prosecution of farmers found guilty of illegal and constructive evictions. “The police must get training on how to enforce ESTA laws, because the farmers are illegally evicting people on farms. We are saying from today on you must arrest them because they are arrogant. [The farmers] ignore the laws and our dignity on farms,” Joanne Johannes from Women on Farms told the large crowd of farm workers who had gathered outside of Parliament.
Mthawelanga Hloyi from the Trust of Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) told farm workers, “Farm workers are amongst the most important out of all industries because the food that we eat comes from the farm workers. The law on paper is great and amazing. There are great policies for labour. But when it comes to the practice of the law, none of it is happening, which is why the people are standing here today.” Hloyi called on Ministers of Parliament to do more for farmworkers, “We are asking that Parliament take action and do something instead of promising with no delivery.”
Farm workers expressed grave concern about the ongoing use of hazardous pesticides which they are forced to work with on farms. The National Farm Worker Platform highlighted research which showed that pesticide exposure can cause reproductive complications, cognitive impairment and stunted growth. About 24,5% of children in farming areas may be directly exposed to pesticides when they assist on farms. Farmworkers are calling for a ban on the use of hazardous pesticides such as Paraquat, Dursban and Round Up. These three pesticides are already banned in the Europe Union, but farmers in South Africa are still making use of them despite that the highly hazardous nature of these pesticides is well documented.
“These pesticides, these dangerous hazardous pesticides, must be banned. We are being exposed to hazardous pesticides. Our lives doesn’t matter. We are just here to be working machines. On the farms, our dignity is being grossly violated,” says Johannes.
The march also commemorated the 2012/2013 Western Cape farm workers uprising which started in De Doorns with farm workers demanding better wages, working and living conditions as well as access to land. “We won a 52% increase after we paid for that 52% in blood. Three people died. Two at the hand of the police, and one at the hands of security forces. We have paid with blood, sweat and tears for that 52%! And what happened? The farmers negated our 52%, our hard fought for 52% was negated by increases in rent, increases in transport money and increases in electricity. Yes, ten years and here we stand today,” says Nosey Pieterse.
Members of the Rural Women’s Assembly attended the National Farm Worker Platform and the march, “We attended the march demanding radical agrarian transformation. We are saying as Rural Women’s Assembly we are in support of the working class, especially the farm workers. Their struggle is our struggle. What they want is transformation from below where farm workers are able to share the land where they work. The land must be shared amongst the ones who are working the land. We support that call and we are going to push for government to implement Section 25, and redistribute the land and start with the farm workers,” says Moipone Jwayi from the Rural Women’s Assembly.
“If you look at the Gross Domestic Product of this country, the agricultural sector was the only sector that has shown growth. But you show us the growth in the life of farm workers? This is the most exploited, most vulnerable category of workers,” lamented Pieterse.
“It’s time we took back the land that was stolen from us. We are not going to beg this government for land, we are going to take it. In 1994, we got our freedom, but we are still slaves on the farms. We are not free,” concluded Johannes.