Slow reform ‘brings tension’

2010-04-12 00:00

LABOUR relations and the slow pace in dealing with land claims and land reform in South Africa may be contributing to the spate of attacks on the farming community.

That’s the view of the Association for Rural Advancement (Afra), whose director, John Aitchison, said in a statement that the organisation was “deeply concerned” about the relationships between farmers, labour tenants, farm workers and other farm dwellers in rural areas.

“Labour practices on many farms have made these relationships more difficult and may well be an influence on the growing tally of farm murders in South Africa,” he added. “Afra therefore calls on government to intervene and address issues that exacerbate rural conflicts, from labour relations matters to other land rights issues, such as the slow pace in dealing with land claims and land reform.

“The brutal murder of [former AWB leader] Eugene Terre’blanche [allegedly as a result of a wage dispute with two of his workers] may serve as a harsh warning of what will continue to happen if frustrations over rural labour and land issues are not dealt with properly.”

While condemning farm murders as “horrendous” and calling for perpetrators to be dealt with, Aitchison said that Afra nevertheless feels that government must do more to help those living and working in rural areas.

Robin Barnsley, president of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union (Kwanalu), said that while, in principle, he shared the concerns expressed by Afra, he feels there is enough legislation in place to protect farm workers. Problems only arise, Barnsely added, when people take their grievances outside of the mechanisms in place to help them.

The Kwanalu president does, however, believe that the rural safety plan needs to be looked at on an ongoing basis, and that the agonisingly slow process of land reform has inevitably led to tensions in rural communities.

The problem is especially acute in KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, where land restitution claims (involving people who were dispossessed of their land, without being compensated) and land tenancy claims (involving people living and working on farms, who, instead of being paid a full wage, are given part of the land to grow crops or graze their cattle) tend to overlap.

Because no other claims can be dealt with until land restitution claims have been resolved, there are inevitably delays, which in turn leave those involved frustrated and angry.

 

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