An Alternative Perspective to the farmworkers´ strike: “Reflections on the WCape farm workers strike”, by William Dicey, Terry Bell on the “Bill of Rights” and news on “The Protection of State INformation Bill”
Reflections on the WCape farm workers strike
William Dicey says there were no winners, and the politicians generally disgraced themselves
There Were No Winners in the Farmworker Strike
There were no winners in the farmworker strike.
Tractor driver Michael Daniels lost his life to a police bullet.
Seasonal worker Bongile Ndleni lost his life to a private-security bullet.
Farmer Tienie Crous, 81, almost lost his life when strikers accosted him (his hearing aid had to be cut out of his skull).
Towns were ransacked and property destroyed.
Sheds and bulk bins and tractors and vineyards went up in flames.
Farmers are jittery and angry and scared.
Many are talking of selling their farms and emigrating.
Farmworkers in permanent employ are likewise jittery and angry and scared.
They don’t have the option, however, of packing up their lives.
They have to ride out this storm and see whether they still have jobs come April.
The strikers who resorted to violent protest were losers too.
They took their share of rubber bullets, and no doubt a good dose of police brutality.
They also had to face the wrath of workers they’d intimidated into staying at home.
The first day of protest might have been kind of fun, but after four days without pay people were desperate.
The politicians were clear losers.
Helen Zille, premier of the Western Cape, was the best of a bad bunch, but only because she didn’t blatantly put her foot in it. She dithered, failing to show decisive leadership, most likely because she didn’t wish to antagonise either the farmers or the coloured workers, both traditional supporters of the DA.
Her party’s statements to the press, however, were indistinguishable from those of farmer organisations such as Agri SA.
Zille’s opposite number, Marius Fransman, provincial leader of the ANC, made an aggressive start, telling farmers ‘julle gaan kak’, before wisely taking a back seat.
Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, put on a disastrous show.
Addressing a large crowd of strikers in De Doorns, she congratulated them on their ‘victory’.
None of them, she said, would face disciplinary action or criminal charges.
It’s difficult to say which of these two statements is more bizarre: a Minister of Agriculture congratulating farmworkers for an illegal strike in which vineyards were torched; or a minister from a non-judicial portfolio promising immunity from prosecution to people who have taken part in an orgy of criminality, including barricaded a national road and stoning passing vehicles.
To cap off her performance, the minister announced that the sectoral determination for agriculture (the minimum wage) would be reviewed within two weeks – something that wasn’t constitutionally possible.
Joemat-Pettersson has since become embroiled in a scandalous decision to further deplete the country’s ailing fish stocks. And the Public Protector has accused her of unlawful use of state funds.
But perhaps I’m being too hard on Joemat-Pettersson.
She’s so ineffectual and bungling it’s difficult to blame her.
She doesn’t seem capable of something as demanding of the intellect as malicious intent.
Whereas the villain of the piece is the very embodiment of malicious intent: Cosatu’s razor-sharp provincial secretary, Tony Ehrenreich.
Before discussing Ehrenreich’s role, however, I need to say a few things about the genesis of the strike.
Many aspects of the strike are more complex than they would appear, and issues differ from region to region.
Even a simple word like ‘strikers’, for instance, is not at all straightforward.
‘Farmworkers’ and ‘strikers’ and ‘protesters’ are distinct groupings of people.
These groupings overlap somewhat in De Doorns, but less so in Ceres.
When the strike started in De Doorns in early November, the protesters – that is, the people burning tyres and stoning vehicles – were farmworkers.
There’s some disagreement as to whether these protesters were seasonal workers from Lesotho whose work permits hadn’t been renewed or whether they were a broader coalition.
Either way, they were disgruntled seasonal workers who then intimidated the valley’s permanent workers into joining them.
A friend of mine farms in De Doorns. His permanent workers received threatening text messages: ‘We’re coming to get you,’ read these messages (in Afrikaans), ‘we know which vineyard you’re in.’
My friend spent the day transporting terrified workers from one corner of his farm to another. He then told them to stay home.
The seasonal workers in De Doorns probably had just cause to strike.
Over the past decade or two, growers of table grapes in the Hex River Valley have seen their margins shrink dramatically (thirty per cent of farms in the Hex have changed hands in the past five years).
As a result, many farmers have taken on a greater proportion of seasonal labour and have paid them close to the statutory minimum. While it’s difficult to condone this course of action – R69 is an appalling wage – it’s easy enough to understand it.
In Wolseley and Ceres (two regions of which I can speak with some authority: my brother farms in Wolseley, I farm in Ceres) the situation is very different.
Farmers grow apples, pears and plums. Despite a number of challenges, margins are healthier.
This reflects in the wages. The farms around me all pay between R85 and R90 a day to their lowest-paid workers.
In addition, workers are paid a piecework rate per tree pruned or per bag picked. This averages out, over the course of a year, at around R25 a day.
In addition, workers receive an annual bonus, free transport, subsidised visits to the doctor, free créche facilities and paid school fees.
Workers who live on the farm pay no rent and their electricity is subsidised.
If one attaches a value to these benefits, then the average live-on worker receives R140 a day, and the average live-off worker R120.
Workers who choose to exert themselves earn significantly more. As do skilled workers such as team leaders, administrative staff and tractor drivers.
Similar rates of pay would apply to many farms in Ceres and Wolseley, and elsewhere in the Boland too.
It’s not a whole lot of money, but with labour accounting for forty per cent of costs, it’s as much as a well-run fruit farm can reasonably afford to pay.
And given the national context, where sixty per cent of households earn less than this, it’s certainly not a rate of pay that lends itself to violent protest. This is where the politics comes in.
The coordination and efficiency with which the strike spread from De Doorns to fifteen other Boland towns on a single day speaks of careful planning and significant mobilisation of personnel and resources.
There is little doubt that the ANC in the Western Cape and its alliance partner Cosatu were behind this roll-out.
A pamphlet on ANC letterhead was distributed in Villiersdorp, and there were reports, throughout the Boland, of intimidation by Cosatu members (despite the fact that there are very few unionised farms in the Boland).
This would explain the strangers disembarking at Wolseley train station, and the buses arriving in Nduli, the township outside Ceres, in the middle of the night.
I’m no fan of the DA’s reactionary politics, but their spokesperson for agriculture, Pieter van Dalen, was probably close to the truth when he characterised the strike as ‘simply the latest instalment in the African National Congress’s campaign to make the Western Cape ungovernable’.
Not a single worker on my farm wanted to strike.
Those who live in Nduli were informed that their families and their houses would be at risk if they went off to work.
Those who live on the farm received threatening telephone calls and text messages.
Whether these threats would have been carried out is moot. The workers were terrified and retired to their homes.
Tony Ehrenreich turned fifty last year. It is a dangerous age for a man. An age at which he might be tempted to look back over his life and ask what he’s achieved so far, and what he might yet achieve.
In Ehrenreich’s case, he ran for mayor of Cape Town in 2011 and was badly beaten by Patricia de Lille.
He is clearly an ambitious man, not content with his job as provincial secretary of Cosatu, an organisation he joined over twenty years ago.
Ehrenreich’s role in the strike has been nothing short of despicable.
To announce that ‘Marikana is coming to the farms in the Western Cape’ is not only extremely irresponsible, it is also callously opportunistic.
When Ehrenreich invoked Marikana for a second time – on a poster that featured his photograph above the gleeful exclamation ‘FEEL IT!!! Western Cape Marikana is here!!!’ – the Democratic Alliance laid a charge of incitement to violence.
Ehrenreich is also on record as saying: ‘The strike … could see a reversal to the low-level civil war we all witnessed on farms a few weeks ago.’
The only conclusion one can draw from these inflammatory utterances is that Ehrenreich wanted to see the Western Cape burn.
To please his political bosses, most likely.
And also, no doubt, to raise the profile of Tony Enrenreich Inc., mayoral candidate and champion of the poor.
Only, he’s far from a champion of the poor. One of the sad ironies of the strike was that the majority of protesters – in Ceres and Wolseley, at any rate – were either unemployed or occasionally employed.
Had they achieved their goal of getting the minimum wage increased to R150 a day, they would have locked themselves out of a job for a long time to come.
Ehrenreich’s political pawns were the very people who stood to lose the most had his strike achieved its stated goal.
Ehrenreich, lest it appear to the contrary, was also a loser in the strike.
He’s been the subject of more hate mail than I’ve ever seen in the blogosphere; he raised workers’ hopes only to disappoint them; and, judging by Cosatu’s limp showing in the second round of the strike, he was hauled over the coals by the ANC high command.
The North West Marikana dealt the economy such a crippling blow, the government had little appetite, it would appear, for a Western Cape instalment.
Despite the fact that there were no winners, the strike wasn’t all bad.
The incitement and the intimidation and the violence and the destruction were obviously bad.
The cynical deployment of thousands of poor people to further the personal ambitions of a handful of politicians was equally bad. But the principle of a widespread strike in the agricultural sector has merit.
For too long now labour relations have been the elephant in the corner of the orchard, so to speak.
The strike gave us a chance to talk, to let off some steam, and – hopefully – to take action.
Personally, it has long bothered me that workers living on my farm get free housing, while those living off the farm don’t; the strike has prompted me to look into ways of subsidising off-farm living.
Come April, I would like to see the minimum wage for farmworkers increased substantially.
It’s certainly not the solution to rural woes, but exploitative farmers should feel the heat. Most of them can afford to pay more.
Those who can’t need to face up to the fact that they’re subsidising the inefficiency of their operations with cheap labour.
Leaving aside the question of who lit the match, there’s no denying that the strike spread like wildfire.
There is deep dissatisfaction in rural areas, and farmers would do well to take heed of it.
But government should take heed too.
This dissatisfaction, I would argue, has more to do with poverty, unemployment and the lack of any prospects for a better life than it has to do with labour relations on farms.
This strike wasn’t all strike, it was part social unrest.
‘If Minister Joemat-Pettersson and Mr Ehrenreich really want to benefit farmworkers,’ writes economist Johan Fourie on his blog, ‘they should rather worry about another legacy of Apartheid – the poor performance of rural schools, especially in those provinces where many of the migrants come from – and less about government policies to change the minimum wage.’
Unfortunately, however, as Fourie points out, adjusting the minimum wage is easier to do, and it’s a more popular sell.
William Dicey is a farmer and a writer.
TIME TO FIND A NEW WAY FORWARD
by Terry Bell
The Bill of Rights is rightly hailed throughout the labour movement and beyond as
perhaps the finest exposition of the desire of the bulk of humanity for a world that
guarantees the maximum level of dignity, equality and freedom for all.
It is also the greatest legacy of the late chief justice Arthur Chaskalson. At the time it was adopted
in 1996, he paraphrased the first sentence, noting: “The Bill of Rights is the cornerstone of our democracy.”
Words along similar lines have been uttered throughout this week by the likes of
trade union leaders and politicians — all the great and the good and not-so-good —
who paid tribute to a man who laid that cornerstone on which so little of substance
has been built.
However, lip service is continually paid to the principles of dignity, equality and freedom for all that should form the practical foundation for a truly democratic society.
The blueprint — the programme — for such a society exists in the schedule of Rights
contained in Chapter 2 of Act 108 of 1996.
It would certainly have the support of most people everywhere since it proposes a world that would change utterly the situation of islands of obscene wealth surrounded by an increasingly volatile and growing mass of poverty and degradation.
The responsibility for this, say the unions and their allies, lies with a system that promotes gross inequality. So they demand a change of political direction; for economic policies and greater regulation to ensure more fairness and equality within the system.
However, as some critics are prone to quote, this might be seen as hoping that “the
nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all”.
But the blame for the mess we are in has also been laid at the feet of the majority of
According to political leaders ranging from reserve bank governor Gill Marcus to
planning minister Trevor Manuel and basic education minister Angie Motshekga, a
largely apathetic populace is responsible for the fact that the cornerstone of
democracy is not being built on.
Speaking about the Limpopo textbooks debacle at a National Union of Metalworkers (Numsa) conference last week, Marcus noted: “If textbook weren’t delivered, why didn’t someone fetch them? You talk of action: that’s action.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by Manuel at a conference in Cape Town in September. He stressed that the Constitution could not be blamed for the slow pace of change in South Africa.
“The Constitution empowers and enables, but beyond that, actual change requires human actions,” he said.
It almost seems a case of politicians wishing to dissolve the people and elect another.
Because the same politicians, sometimes in the same speeches, castigate actions by
unions and others that are clearly aimed at bringing about change that is in line with
the Bill of Rights.
In an often messy and muddled way, this is precisely what has been witnessed in
many of the countless “unrest incidents” around the country and, most dramatically,
in the platinum-rich lands of the Bafokeng and the fruit and wine farms of the
However, few of the participants in these strikes may be aware of — or have read — the Bill of Rights; they are merely trying to claw their way to greater equality and freedom.
Most tend to see this in terms of better wages, an understandable reaction in a society
where material wealth determines degrees of equality, freedom and even access to
But in the process, there have been glimpses of the egalitarian order envisaged by Chapter 2 of Act 108.
These are examples of direct democracy in action, of democratic committees, electing a first among equals to speak for the group.
These are practical manifestations of the hollow, “Let the people speak” rhetoric of
As a result a few voices, mainly within the labour movement, are continuing to ask: Why not establish a system that, within the bounds of the Bill of Rights, truly lets the people not only speak, but also decide?
After all, the argument goes, technological advances, leading to greater automation
and mechanisation, are making more and more of humanity redundant, in the process
causing hideous social and environmental harm.
This was highlighted again last week with reports about Japanese scientist Hiroshi Ishiguro who has made a robot double of himself that can deliver lectures.
Mining companies and farming interests have also, in recent weeks, made it clear that
increased wages will mean greater mechanisation and fewer jobs, accelerating a
process that is probably unstoppable.
But, as some labour activists agued in this column in June, the very same technological advances have turned the world into a village in terms of communication.
That makes South Africa a small region of that village and, despite gross disparities of income and minimal home internet connections, more than 12 million South African adults now regularly use the internet.
This figure comes from a major survey published last week. It reveals that these
internet users access this means of almost instant communication by means of cell
phones, computers based at schools, universities or other institutions and at internet
In other words, the means now exist for citizens en masse to hear about, discuss, analyse, and make decisions about their lives.he missing ingredient is organisation.
Because, on the basis of available technology, union locals, religious communities, schools and communities could be transformed into democratic hubs where citizens debate, discuss and vote on all matters concerning them — and instruct recallable members of government to
implement majority decisions.
This is an idea that will not feature at Magaung, but one that may become much more
prominent within the labour movement, especially in the wake of the recent wildcat
These have been a wake-up call to unions: in order to remain relevant, they should look to their democratic roots and assess how best to return to them.
The technical resources exist.
Only imagination and political will are missing.
Right2Know campaign voted newsmaker
December 6 2012
By Carol Hills
INLSA: The Right2Know campaign protested in front of Parliarment earlier this year. File Picture: Courtney Africa
The Right2Know campaign has been voted Johannesburg Press Club 2012 newsmaker of the year.
“It’s a victory for people’s power,” Right2Know (R2K) Gauteng spokeswoman Jayshree Pather said on Thursday, accepting the award at Wits Business School, in Johannesburg.
“What lies ahead is, I think, many other struggles and as Right2Know we’re committed to… eternal vigilance,” she said.
Johannesburg Press Club chairman Mixael de Kock said the R2K coalition, comprising more than 400 organisations with 30,000 members, had “relentlessly pursued the public’s right to understand the full scope of the Protection of State Information Bill and how it would impact the media and every citizen of this country”.
It had shown “extraordinary courage, commitment and consistency” in ensuring the issues it tackled received news coverage.
“Access to information, as well as freedom of expression and association, are hard-won rights which are enshrined in the South African constitution.
“These values were continuously reiterated, restated and reported by the coalition,” he said.
Pather said every single committee meeting in Parliament had been full to capacity with R2K people monitoring “every single step of the way what happened with the Secrecy Bill”.
The amended Protection of State Information Bill, known as the Secrecy Bill, was adopted by 34 votes to 16 by the National Council of Provinces at the end of November and will go back to the National Assembly in the new year, where it is likely to be passed with ease by the ANC majority
At the time, R2K and opposition parties vowed that, if this happened, they would ask the Constitutional Court to overturn the legislation,
Pather said when R2K started two years ago, it was considered at best alarmist and at worst, a traitor.
“Right2Know has been accused of being counter-revolutionaries, agents of western imperialism, but the reality is all that we’ve achieved in the two years has been achieved, really through the tireless and selfless energy, passion and commitment of hundreds and hundreds of people,” she said.
“I think what we’ve seen unfold… has proven that we’ve been right to say there’s a real threat to our democracy, that there’s an increasing veil of secrecy descending upon all aspects of our lives….
“I mean its unbelievable, and much of it we don’t even know, but what we’ve seen again is the increased attack on civil society.”
She said mainstream civil society organisations were now being accused of many of the things only Right2Know had been accused of in the past.
“… Organisations that are working to support the state in a range of different areas are now being attacked because we’re independent, because we’re critical.”
The award was for a strengthened civil society, said Pather.
“It’s to acknowledge the work of all of these organisations, who work against great odds, under very difficult circumstances and so it’s a very important… thing for all of civil society.”
Other nominees for the award were Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and her team, and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.
A Special Mention Award was made to Madonsela, who received the newsmaker award in 2011, for being the second person ever to be nominated twice in consecutive years.
The other double nominee was former president Nelson Mandela. – Sapa