The Grim Fate of Farm Labourers in the Western Cape, South Africa

Social issues

Notes to broadcasters

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South Africa is known to the world as a country with a very progressive Constitution, especially where human rights are concerned. These rights, however, are not enjoyed equally by all citizens, as the white minority is still largely in control of the South African economy. Because of this economic power, black people, including those who work as farm labourers, are often at the mercy of their white employers. Emanating from the Constitution are various laws, meant to regulate the relationship between employers and labourers. But with an understaffed Department of Labour, coupled with inspectors who wear a “price tag,” these progressive laws are of no meaning to those who need it the most, our farm labourers. After thorough research, the Minister of Labour enacted legislation which attempts to protect farmworker rights by stipulating the minimum humane conditions under which farm workers must work and live. However, farm owners who have become rich through the sweat of farm labourers openly and arrogantly ignore the letter and spirit of this law. It seems that the size of your bank account directly dictates what rights you may enjoy.

This script offers a first-hand account of what is really happening on farms in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. Because farmers are a close-knit community, conditions may be similar across South Africa.

Farm labourers are denied rights in many countries. As a broadcaster, you can help publicize this situation and tell stories which show how abuses of human rights can be addressed. At the end of the script, there is a list of several South African organizations that are working on these issues. There may well be organizations – either national, regional or local – who are working on these issues in your areas. One possibility is to write a script on the situation in your area, interviewing farm labourers as well as representatives from these civil society organizations.


Good morning (afternoon, evening), and welcome to the program. Today we focus on farmworker’s rights. In some countries, farmworkers’ rights are protected by law; in others, they are not. But everywhere, there are stories of farmworkers being mistreated and deprived of their human rights. Today we will hear from three South African farmworkers.

My name is Felicity Louise. I have lived with my family on a farm in the Western Cape for 25 years. Two years ago my father was given notice by Zirk du Toit, the owner of the farm Klipdrift. He had worked the whole day, and in the afternoon about four o’clock, the farm owner accused my father of being under the influence of alcohol and sent him home. We all knew my father wasn’t under the influence of alcohol. But my father came home. The farmer had written many warning letters to my father in the past, and on this basis, he dismissed him from the farm, still maintaining that my father was drunk. We know our father wasn’t under the influence because he had driven the tractor the whole day. My father was brought before a disciplinary hearing in front of a board which arbitrates in disputes between employers and employees. As a result of the court decision, my father was promised one thousand and twenty Rand (use local currency – there are about 7 South African Rand to the U.S. dollar), if he vacated the house. But because my father is very old, no other white farm owners would take us. They turned my father away, saying that he was too old. We stayed for two more years on Du Toit’s farm. Suddenly, on the 25th of July 2006, we received a court order which notified us that we had to leave. But we had nowhere to go. Two weeks later, people came and threw our furniture out, without packing it. They just threw it on the back of a pick-up truck. We couldn’t stop them because the farmer wanted his house. It was a very sad story for us. My mother sat there crying, for she is lame. During the time we stayed there, the farmer treated us very badly. We had to act like slaves, obey every wish or whim of the Du Toits. I believe that the real reason that du Toit chased my father away is because he knew my father was in his final years and won’t be able to be a slave any longer.

Next you will hear from Sara Beukes.

l am Sara Beukes. My father worked many years on the farm of Piere Vd Merwe. My mother died there in l995. My father became ill on the farm. The farmer renovated the farmhouses and turned them into guesthouses, and put my father in the back of a barn. I am HIV positive but still alive. I am a woman who has outlived three husbands. One of them lived on Piere Vd Merwe’s farm. The reason why I had three husbands is because, after I outlived the one man, I had to take another in order for me and my children to have a roof over our heads. Right now, Piere Vd Merwe has taken me before the courts to get an eviction order. My last husband Tello Diyamani died in the hospital but I received none of Tello’s savings money. Tello’s family came and took everything. They left me with nothing. My children and I had to sleep on cement floors. We now live in toilets on a sports field in Rawsonville, near Worcester, South Africa.

The last person you will hear from today is Nosey Pieterse, president of the Black Association for the Wine and Spirits lndustry.

We have celebrated Sharpeville Day every year during the struggle against apartheid since l960. After 1994 we called it Human Rights Day. We do also have a Bill of Rights in our Constitution. But it is very clear that farm labourers are excluded when it comes to human rights. Farmworkers have no reason whatsoever to celebrate. We don’t have any reason to celebrate Human Rights Day because our human rights are being violated. When on Human Rights Day the sheriff of the court evicts farm labourers, our comrades took the evicted people into their own homes. Recently, about 24 families have lost their jobs, and we know that they are also receiving eviction orders, so our people are being chased away! What does our government do to protect us? More farmworkers are being chased away from farms under the democratic government than were chased away under the apartheid regime. We are Africans, but we have been reduced to Africans without Africa!

This is just a “tip of the iceberg” insight into what is really happening on some farms in the Western Cape area of South Africa. There are many more heart-rending incidents of assaults, rapes and illegal evictions. As much as the democratic government in South Africa tries its utmost best to create a better life for all people, we still have a long and difficult struggle for our farm labourer community in this country.


Contributed by: Mr. C.J. Carolissen and Ms. V.R De Wee, with assistance from Mrs. P. Congwana.
Thanks to: Felicity Louise, Sara Beukes and Nosey Pieterse.
Reviewed by: Chris Huggins, international land rights consultant.

Information sources

The following groups are working for promote farmworker rights in the Western Cape area of South Africa:

  • Women on Farm Project: Wendy Pekeur
    Fouroaks, Bird Street, PO Box 530, Stellenbosch, 7599
    Telephone number: 021 8872960 / 021 887 2968.
    Fax number: 021 887 2963.
  • Society Development Trade Union: Munadia Moosa
    93 Durban Street
    Telephone numbers: 0233472234/023 3477083.
    Fax: 023 3426346.
  • Black Association of the Wine and Spirits Industry: Nosey PieterseTelephone number: 021 863 3151
    Fax: 021 863 2321
    Mobile: 0828051745