Second-class farm workers

2012-11-17 10:45

SA belong to all who live in it.

I was born the son of a domestic worker mother and a farm-worker father.

The reality on the farm I grew up on – and thus my reality – was one of near slavery: long working hours; low salaries; poor housing; poor sanitation; a dop system that trapped many in alcohol abuse; a ­never-ending debt trap as families tried to make ends meet; often-interrupted schooling resulting in high dropout rates; the farmer assaulting workers into submission, threatening to banish their kids if the parents did not do as they were told.

Although armed with a good matric qualification, I found myself working on a farm for almost two years.

So, while South Africa was celebrating the dawn of democracy, my world was one of both promise and hope, but also a ­reminder of the status quo and the second-class nature of my new freedom.

This is why, on April 27 1994, I found myself on a rainy election day voting at a polling station called Rust Stasie, about 20km outside ­Malmesbury in Western Cape.

This was a polling station set up specifically to allow farmers and farm workers to vote.

While black and white shared a queue in most parts of the country, we did not at Rust Stasie.

Farmers were allowed to skip the queue and cast their votes immediately, while farm workers had to face the elements while awaiting their ultimate expression of citizenship.

You see, even as democracy dawned, even within that sacred democratic moment that promised my vote was equal to yours, farm workers were reminded of their second-class status.

Thanks to my mother, who ­believed in the power of education; thanks to determined church missionaries; and dedicated and committed teachers, individuals who saw my talents and nurtured them within a framework (and never gave up on me), I was offered financial aid by the University of Cape Town. I could thus defy my “predetermined” destiny and pursue higher education and a better life.

At the university, I ended up as SRC president, and eventually as manager of student governance and leadership in the department of ­student affairs.

However, I was the exception in 1995. Although my immediate family are no longer on the farms, when I visit extended family and loved ones, I realise that I (even today, in 2012) remain the exception because we have not yet realised the promise of “a better life for all”.

Nelson Mandela’s words, “the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, the son of a mine worker can become a head of a mine, the child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation”, are not yet a reality.

We cannot even deliver textbooks on time and so our country burns.

The country burns even as the latest census results indicate we are better off than we were 10 years ago.

At R69 a day, are farm workers better off than they were 10 years ago? Are our mine workers better off ­today than 10 years ago?

South African citizens need to recommit themselves to the Freedom Charter promise of a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it.

In doing so, we need to deal with our unresolved issues.

We need to have those painful conversations. We need to take off the bandage and ­address what Dr Mamphela Ramphele calls our “woundedness” and to respond to Graça Machel’s call for a “movement to heal our nation”.

Whoever you are – black and white, rich and poor, young and old – begin the process of building our nation.

We need to use all our insights, talents, skills and abilities, putting our differences aside and committing to building a nation in which
Mandela’s words ring true.

Our history as a nation proves we can overcome even the greatest of challenges.

We have proved the doomsayers wrong many times before. We owe it to our forefathers and, more importantly, we owe it to the youth of this
nation.

»September is the youth connector at the Citizens Movement


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