'Good meat given to the lions, rotten meat to the people' - Free State farm workers

2017-09-04 13:46
Vienna farm in Bothaville, Free State is the only place where there were workers present on Friday, however, the Department of Labour has stronlgy urged them to start striking. (Elizabeth Sejake, Netwerk24)

Vienna farm in Bothaville, Free State is the only place where there were workers present on Friday, however, the Department of Labour has stronlgy urged them to start striking. (Elizabeth Sejake, Netwerk24)

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Bloemfontein – Free State Agriculture has called on the Department of Labour to introduce guidelines for the recruitment, remuneration and living conditions of seasonal workers as soon as possible, in order to prevent issues similar to those which saw hundreds of contract workers recently being removed from three Free State farms.

The seasonal contract workers were apparently housed under appalling conditions and they claim they were given rotten food and were not paid, Netwerk24 reported.

The Hawks are investigating provisional charges of child labour and human trafficking.

"We are still collecting evidence. No arrests have been made, but we already have a lot of information," Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said on Saturday.

He said there were similar cases, but couldn't confirm that the police had raided another farm near Hoopstad.

The workers allege that Hendrik Reyneke, a labour broker, had recruited them in North West to work on Free State farms. The farmers they worked for paid Reyneke, who in turn would pay the workers.

Jahni de Villiers, AgriSA's head of labour and transformation, says farmers often use labour brokers for seasonal work. 

The labour broker accepts responsibility for the administration, but the law was changed in 2015 to make provision for the farmer also being held liable, should problems arise. 

"Farmers and labour brokers are now jointly responsible, should there be a dispute," said De Villiers.

'We just swallowed'

The workers, who were removed from farms outside Wesselsbron and Allanridge, said they were responsible for picking up cobs after mealies had been harvested.

They claim they weren't paid in full. One of the workers, Regina Mogwasi, 34, also told Rapport that rotten meat had been dropped off in a heap for them.

"The good meat was given to the lions [which are being kept in cages on the farm] and the rotten meat to the people.

"We didn't chew. We just swallowed," she said.

They often became ill from that, and at other times there was no food at all. On some days all she wanted to do was cry.

"My heart physically ached over what was happening on the farm."

On the farm Driehoek, outside Wesselsbron, where Reyneke housed some of the workers, there were big plastic tents with just blankets inside. Workers stayed in these tents and in brick rooms.

Disagreement from neighbouring farm

However, Helene Saaiman, 33, from a neighbouring farm, described Reyneke as a kind-hearted man. "This whole thing is being taken out of context."

When Rapport visited Driehoek, where Reyneke lives, a woman who introduced herself as a friend of the owner's, but didn't want to give her name, said Reyneke gave the workers maize meal, potatoes, cabbage, coffee and sugar.

"They don't want to be paid monthly, they take it when they go home. I also live on the farm, so I know what is going on here."

The heap of rotten meat is from the lion cages and the rest was dumped there by an abattoir, she said. They had permission to do so. She says the meat was never meant for the workers. She said Reyneke works with farm managers, who recruit their own workers.   

Asked about minors who were found with the workers, she said they were contract workers' children. "Two of the children's parents are dead. They work for a bit of money."

The minors have already been taken to a place of safety and the others are being housed in halls in the area. Henk Vermeulen, head of Free State Agriculture, said Reyneke wasn't a member of the organisation. 

The farms where the workers were found, don't belong to Reyneke, Vermeulen said.

Reyneke, on legal advice, declined to comment.

Read more on:    bloemfontein  |  labour action  |  farming  |  agriculture

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