Bakenskraal's children dream of life away from the farmlands

2016-07-13 21:42

Oudtshoorn - About 5km from Oudtshoorn, Bakenskraal is a dozen isolated farm homes a few metres from the busy George Road.

It is home to several generations of farmworkers and their children who long to find jobs and live out their dreams. 

This tiny community is offering their vote to any party that will invest in job creation and youth skills development so their children can make it off the farm and into the job market.

Magrieta Manuel, 52, says it breaks her heart to see her two daughters, aged 25 and 22, battle to find employment.

Both completed their matric with marks of above 70%. Despite their impressive reports, they are still unable to get into the workplace.

“I refuse to see my literate, intelligent and talented children spend their best years working on a farm. They didn’t walk 10km to school for years to have to settle for that,” the feisty housewife says from the front gate of her house.

Magrieta Manuel outside her Bakenskraal home. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

She worked in the kitchen of the home of a local farmer for 21 years. She dreams of her children finding work which will see them live comfortable lives in homes of their own.

“I am disappointed with how things turned out. I promised them that good things waited for them when they brought home good reports at the end of their school year. But it is turning into a promise I can’t keep.”

Her youngest daughter Kaylene is in Grade 11 and attends a special needs school.

“If life is so hard for my older girls, what will it be like for her?”

Education is not enough

Manuel was born on the farm and is the daughter of farmworkers. She started working as a teenager after leaving school to earn a living to support her family.

“We don’t live in those days anymore. Today, education is supposed to be everything, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough. Even domestic worker jobs nowadays require references. How do you get that when no one wants to give your children a chance?”

Many farmworkers’ children have turned to begging and living on the streets to escape the frustrations of farm life, Manuel says.

“Others have turned to crime. We are too scared to walk to town because they rob us when we cross the bridge. They take everything, even your bags of groceries.”

She doesn’t blame them. 

“Desperation makes you do bad things. But these are healthy people with so much potential. Why isn’t more done to empower them and create opportunities so that they can support themselves? Where is the government when it’s time to act on their employment commitments after election promises?”

“Opportunities are scarce”

Two doors away, Isabella “Meisie” Jansen, 59, proudly shows off photos of her five children at their matric balls.

Only one of them managed to make it to the city and become a professional, she says, proudly dusting a photo of her daughter after she completed her nursing diploma.

“My other children have moved away because there are no opportunities for them here. My grandson lives with me and works on the farm out of desperation to earn something,” she says.

While she misses her sons and daughters, Jansen doesn’t blame her children for moving from the Little Karoo town.

“Opportunities are scarce. In my day it was easy to find a job. I raised my children with my husband, who drove the tractor on the farm while I picked vegetables for a living. But as a parent, you want better for your children.

Isabella "Meisie" Jansen. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

“They completed their schooling expecting to find jobs and start earning their keep. Life didn’t work like that for them. It was sad to see them so discouraged, so I had to let them go.”

According to the Statistics SA, in 2011 Oudtshoorn had a population of 95 933 with 64.2% of working age (15-64). It had an unemployment rate of 25.3% according to the census. 

Jansen said she misses the opportunities available when she was young.

“Yes, I am glad apartheid is over. Our freedom is important. But in those years at least we had work. What is the use of freedom when poverty and a lack of opportunity keeps you trapped in dead-end situations?”

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