Land claim delays under fire at farm workers’ summit

2010-04-30 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Agriculture, Environmental Affairs and Rural Development Department came under a barrage of criticism from numerous speakers during a farm workers’ “summit” in Ashburton yesterday.

The gathering was attended by farm workers and delegates from all over the province, including unionists, farmers, farmers’ organisations and senior government representatives.

Farm workers told of the harsh treatment they received from employers, including evictions, abuse, the absence of proper education for their children and poor wages. The department’s land restitution programme was also blamed for the suffering of many.

Chris Ndlela, provincial chairperson of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, said many farm workers are fed up with being abused by their employers.

He warned that the lethargic pace at which the department is settling their claims may lead to anarchy on farms.

“We do not want to see a situation like that [in Zimbabwe] happening … but with the slow pace of settling the claims, we might end up with a similar situation.”

Ndlela said that in light of the recent murder of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging leader Eugene Terre’Blanche, it is clear that farm workers are edging closer to taking drastic steps.

Ndlela’s words were echoed by Musa Zakwe of the Association for Rural Advancement. He told the summit “The problem is that the department is failing to distribute the land to its rightful owners. They have messed up some claims and have lost many others. Many farm workers remain landless.”

Sandy le-Marque of the KwaZulu-Natal Agricultural Union said the failure of the land restitution programme, coupled with the challenges that many commercial farmers face, has put the commercial agrculture under a great deal of strain.

Agriculture MEC Lydia Johnson said: “The farmers and the workers need each other because they cannot do anything without one another. We need them to work with each other for us to survive.”

Dr Mandla Buthelezi of the National African Farmers’ Union said: “Despite the workers being an important part of farming, we employers sometimes treat our employees very cruelly.”

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