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RED ALERT
The national and property question in South Africa: Land reform and expropriation
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Umsebenzi Online

Volume 2, No. 20, 1 October 2003

In this Issue:

 

Red Alert

Farm Workers Organise or Starve

By Blade Nzimande, SACP General Secretary

The South African Communist Party (SACP) cannot forget the case of more than 1000 farm workers who were unfairly dismissed by the ZZ2 farm in the Limpopo Province for demanding that ZZ2 farm must comply with the new minimum wages set by law. These workers have now been living in poverty without any income for more than 6 months whilst the employer has continued to make profits and enjoying high life: a typical case of sacrificing the working class for the benefit of the bosses. The Communist Party will therefore use its Red October Campaign for 2003 to put pressure on the owners of the ZZ2 farm to ensure that the dismissed workers are reinstated.

Since this dismissal, the Bertie Van Zyl (Pty) Ltd which owns the ZZ2 farm has displayed arrogance and disregard for worker’ rights. The employer has refused to reinstate the dismissed workers, has undermined and has refused to negotiate with their union, SAAPAWU. All this arrogance despite the fact that the Department of Labour announced intentions to take legal action against those farmers that refuse to comply with the sectoral determination.

Because the case of ZZ2 workers is just one case, the SACP will use the Red October Campaign to call on and mobilise all farm workers to come forward and report cases of retrenchments, abuse, racism, beatings and unfair working and living conditions to the Department of Labour, trade unions and the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).

Slave-labour working conditions

Earlier this year, the SAHRC released a report on Human Rights Violations in farming communities. This report is an indictment against those seeking to undermine the sectoral determination for farm workers. The SAHRC report objectively shows that 9 years into a new South Africa, farm workers still face slave-labour working and living conditions.

The SAHRC report shows evidence that despite the post-1994 major transformation of the labour market in favour of workers, farm workers still do not enjoy rights because of arrogant refusal by employers to comply and lack of adequate mechanisms to ensure compliance by farmers, domestic employers and many SMMEs. Most workers in these industries still work under conditions similar to those under apartheid. Black farm workers in particular still face rampant racism including racial harassment, beatings and murder. As a case in point, the majority of workers at ZZ2 farm earn an average of R351 per month, far below the stipulated minimum of R650 per month for that area.

Farm workers are the lowest paid in the labour market, with many being forced to accept slave wages of as little as R100. The “tot”-system still applies in many farms across the Western Cape province.

In addition, the SAHRC report also notes the following:

  • High rates of casual and seasonal labour mean that there is little income and job security
  • Long working hours – with many workers working for 12 hours a day
  • High cases of Blatant physical abuse and assaults of farm workers by farmers
  • In cases of abuse, farm workers receive little assistance from courts and police, who often collude with farmers and vigilante groups to suppress evidence and investigations
  • Child labour is a common practice in many farms especially in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces
  • Farmers still illegally evict farm workers and labour tenants often with the assistance of the police and magistrates
  • Farmers actively prevent the unionisation of farm workers by denying union organisers access to farms and victimise workers who decided to join trade unions

Given the combined and cruel legacy of apartheid and colonialism, the exploited farm workers are essentially black and the exploitative farmers are essentially white. More than 60% of the African population in South Africa is to be found in the countryside which includes largely white-owned medium and large farms, employing mainly African and Coloured workers who, as the SAHRC report shows, are still subjected to some of the most ruthless and primitive forms of labour-tenancy. In fact, that South Africa’s workers have achieved a basic floor of workers’ rights and that South Africa is based on a constitutional framework promoting human rights since 1994 is only a news story and pipe-dream to many farm-workers.

The dependence of farm workers on farmers for employment, accommodation, transport and other basic services makes it difficult for farm dwellers to challenge abuses and unfair working and living conditions. The extreme power imbalance between farmers and farm workers is an expression of the over-bearing influence that white agricultural capital has on land and agrarian reform.

The current land ownership dispensation itself needs to be an essential focus of debate and transformation. In our view, land and agrarian reform must be accelerated whilst also attention is paid to the transformation of white agricultural capital (a major beneficiary of apartheid). In practice, the current land reform process is yet to address the central concerns of poor people living on farms and land owned by others.

If these fundamental issues are not addressed, white agricultural capital will be further emboldened to undermine workers' rights and continue with the perpetuation of apartheid land ownership and use patterns.

What are the rights of farm workers in terms of the law?

It is important that more and more farm workers are made aware of, and empowered to claim their rights in terms of the law. Not only farm workers must be made aware of these laws: journalists, lawyers, trade unions, advice offices, government officials, and so on need to know what laws are in place to promote the rights of farm workers.

Briefly, the government has passed the following laws and regulations which promote the rights of farm workers:

  • The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA)
  • Sectoral Determination for Farm Workers
  • Extension of the Security of Tenure Act

In summary these laws provide farm workers with the following rights:

  • Unlike in the past, farm workers are now defined as employees with rights
  • Farm workers should not work more than a normal 45-hour week plus not more than 10 hours paid overtime.
  • Sunday pay is double pay; other overtime is time plus one half.
  • Farm workers must have written contracts.
  • Farm workers are entitled to have one day's paid sick leave for every 26 days worked, one day's holiday pay for every 17 days worked; three days family leave per year; and four months paid maternity leave.
  • The law also states that farm workers who are over 60 years old and have worked on the farm more than ten years may not be evicted from the land.
  • Farm workers are allowed to stay in their places of accommodation for a month after they have been retrenched.
  • Minimum annual increases in the wages of farm workers must be higher than inflation
  • Minimum standards for accommodation have been established.
  • No farmer may be exempted from the laws promoting rights of farm workers

Despite these progressive laws problems persist: retrenchment of farm workers continue, human rights violations continue, workers’ rights are violated, police and magistrates in small towns collude with farmers, the Department of Labour does not have sufficient capacity to enforce laws, SAAPAWU is not sufficiently strong to mobilise and educate workers.

The Communist Party has to ask: what is the point of progressive labour market policies if we cannot enforce them, if employers can just unilaterally continue as if it is business as usual? In effect, the violations of these progressive labour policies are testing the capacity of our democracy and the working class to defend and advance the interests of the most marginalised workers in our country.

It is for these reasons that decisive action is required from farm workers, the trade union, government and other role players.

Decisive Action is required

Firstly, through the Red October Campaign the Communist Party will mobilise farm workers around their rights as workers, the need for them to join trade unions and to come forward and report their cases of human rights violations and exploitation. Our structures on the ground will conduct visits to farms, hold meetings with workers, report and process cases of workers and meet with farmers. We will hold meetings with the dismissed ZZ2 employees and assisting them with the finalisation of their case.

Secondly, the Communist Party will use the Red October Campaign to reiterate and mobilise support for its call for a halt to farm retrenchments as a result of the refusal by employers to based on the sectoral determination on minimum wages for farm workers.

Thirdly, the Department of Labour has to invest substantial resources to ensure the effective enforcement and compliance of the relevant laws. We will be meeting with the Department and the trade unions in this regard.

The SAHRC report must be taken forward though legal and other action against perpetrators of human rights violations. This requires that the police, magistrates and other relevant institutions are mobilised and ready to lead in this regard.

The Communist Party believes that all the above require an increased focus by government and other stakeholders on the building of the capacity of the state, farm workers and rural communities in order accelerate land and agrarian reform and roll back the overbearing power of white agricultural capital on land and agrarian reform.

Therefore the Communist Party is also throwing its weight behind struggles for access to land, and for state support for commercial use of land by communities and farm workers. The countryside is definitely a fertile ground for building a strong co-operative movement around, initially, small-scale subsistence farming.

Linked to this is the need for stronger state commitment to increased delivery of social services (social security grants, education and health services) to farm dwellers as this will go a long way to immediately improve conditions of farm workers. It is for this reason that the Communist Party will also tie the mobilisation of farm workers to taking forward the campaigns to mobilise people without Identity Documents to apply for IDs, helping farming communities in accessing social security grants and with voter registration. Without an ID, people cannot access social service and social security grants.

All of the above must be harnessed towards deliberately seeking to build motive forces for rural transformation. As things stand, there is no consciously mobilised mass motive force with economic or political muscle capable of leading on the land and agrarian question. This is not an objective that will be achieved in the short-term, but it requires systematic attention.

Finally, the Communist Party calls all communists, our allies, other progressive organisations and other South Africans to action and to join the struggle of farm workers for a better life.


The 2003 Red October Campaign  

On Sunday, 5 October 2003, the Communist Party will launch its Red October Campaign for this year at the Mooketsi Community Hall at the ZZ2 Farm in Duiwelskloof, Limpopo Province. The farm workers rally will be addressed by Blade Nzimande (SACP General Secretary), Willie Madisha (COSATU President and SACP Political Bureau Member), and speakers from the ANC and SAAPAWU.

The 2003 Red October Campaign will focus on:

  • mobilisation of vulnerable workers (farm workers, domestic workers, and un-unionised workers employed in SMMEs)
  • assessment of service delivery, in particular free basic services (water, electricity and sanitation) by municipalities to poor and working class communities (townships, inner cities, rural villages and informal settlements)
  • Social Security Registration
  • ID Applications Campaign
  • Launch of the Dora Tamana Savings and Credit Co-operative

Vulnerable workers

Activities will include:

  • Leaflet and poster blitzes and door to door work
  • Mass meetings with farm workers, domestic workers and other vulnerable workers focusing on:
    • Education and information on rights of workers in terms of the constitution, labour law and the sectoral determination on wages and working conditions of farm and domestic workers
    • Mobilising workers to join trade unions
  • Reporting and processing of individual worker cases through the Department of Labour, advice offices and trade unions

Service Delivery

Activities will include organisation of community meetings with ward councillors and councillors on service delivery issues; door-to-door visits looking at problems of service delivery (cut-offs, high bills, indigent families, etc).

During the 2002 Red October focus on social security registration, the problem of IDs was reported on many occasions.

Social Security Registration and ID Campaigns

Learning from the 2002 Red October Campaign, activities will include:

  • door-to-door visits, community meetings and factory lunch-hour meetings, and visit pension pay-out points, and Social Development and Home Affairs offices.
  • Making communities aware of their social security rights.
  • Assisting, where possible, those who need help with their applications for social security grants
  • Listening to problems, and identify issues that must be addressed.
  • Mobilising and assisting people to apply for Identity Documents in order that they may access social services and grants
  • Mobilise communities to register for elections

Launching the Communist Stokvel: Dora Tamana Savings and Credit Co-operative

On 1 November, the Dora Tamana Savings and Credit Co-operative (DTSACCO) will hold its Founding Meeting in Johannesburg. The DTSACCO is a new initiative to form a primary savings and credit co-operative providing comprehensive savings, credit and basic insurance products to its members at reasonable interest rates.

Like other SACCOs, the DTSACCO will be a democratic, unique member-driven, self-help, not-for-profit financial services co-operative. It will be owned and governed by members who share a common bond.

The DTSACCO will offer the following to its members:

  • Members will collectively mobilise savings outside of the exploitative private commercial financial system.
  • Providing savings and loans that are generally better than rates given by private commercial institutions.
  • Encouraging members to save through various products. Savings is important for asset accumulation and economic empowerment.
  • Educating members in financial matters by teaching prudent handling of money, how to keep track of finances, how to budget and why to keep away from hire purchases and loan sharks.
  • Savings (Regular Savings, Special Savings, Fixed Deposits)
  • Loans
  • Funeral Insurance
  • Life and Loans Insurance
  • Fixed Deposits

Even though the DTSACCO is initiated by our Party, primarily for its members, it will be an independent organisation from Party structures, and will be controlled by its members, with its own board democratically and directly elected by DTSACCO members.

The DTSACCO is open to SACP members. The common bond for DTSACCO members is their membership of the SACP.

 

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