'We drink water with animals', farmworker tells commission of inquiry

Mashishing - Elderly farmworkers have told a commission of inquiry on farm dwellers their former bosses treated them like useless goods after they retired.

The Mpumalanga farm dwellers spoke out during the R10m public hearings being held to investigate the socio-economic conditions of their ilk in the province.

Elizabeth Maphanga, 65, who stays in Bottelspruit farm with her partner, set the tone with her grim story.

"I worked and stayed on our farm while I was still a young and now I am old and retired, I am treated like a useless item by my former employers. I stayed in a caravan, but I was fired from work after I fell from a tree while working. That's why today I am old, poor and disabled," Maphanga said.

She said she was advised to apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) where she was given a form her former employer needed to sign, but he refused to sign the papers.

Although Maphanga receives her old age grant, she still feels there was too much injustice and her rights were violated.

"I want the commission to help me with a house and assist me get my UIF money if that is possible. I don't have a place I can call home after working for more than 30 years as a farmworker," she said.

Paulos Mokadi, 44, from Spruitboom, told the commission the government was failing to give them services, because they stayed on private land.

"Since the dawn of democracy, we don’t know what an electricity box looks like and we drink water with animals," Mokadi said representing 204 households.

"We are staying on private land and we tried to solve the problem with the owners, but they demanded to speak with the department of rural development and land reform. There are ongoing discussions, but we want the commission to at least help us with an urgent interventions while the owners are discussing settlement with the department," he said.

Premier David Mabuza launched the commission of inquiry in August.

Commission chairperson Gerald Louw said its purpose was to look into the circumstances and conditions of farm dwellers and find solutions.

"It will help the premier make decisions to better the lives of the farm dwellers. We want to get feedback from the communities or representatives and also farmers, because we want to hear from both sides. We are happy with the turn up of the farm dwellers, because we were not looking to speak to every individual, but the representatives who represent many households," he said.

Louw said key problems included forceful removals, lack of services, no electricity and poor roads.

No farmer attended the Mashishing hearings despite being invited.

The commission was expected to report back to the premier in May 2016.

The Mashishing hearings were the first in the province. Meetings were held in Ogies this week and more would be held across the province over the next few months. 

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