Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has infuriated organised agriculture by announcing an immediate ban on legal and illegal farm evictions.
Ramaphosa announced the moratorium after he and a delegation of senior ministers met for hours yesterday with agricultural and farm labour representatives in Paarl in the Western Cape.
The discussion was part of an ongoing dialogue to find solutions to problems in the agriculture industry.
“We are calling on all farmers who have plans for evictions to stop [the evictions],” Ramaphosa said after the meeting.
Ramaphosa said this was an emergency measure, “effective immediately”, and would remain in force until at least next year, when a follow-up meeting would be held to find “concrete solutions” to the agricultural sector’s problems.
At that meeting, role players would have to say what they are willing to “trade” so that farmers and farm workers can get value out of the industry, he said.
Theo de Jager, deputy president of AgriSA, said: “This is absolutely cheap politicking in the short term that will cost our country dearly.
“It speaks of absolutely poor leadership in the ANC and puts tremendous pressure on the only sector that has not collapsed under poor economic policies.”
De Jager said the moratorium will create an “impossible situation” on farms and undermine laws regulating evictions.
“Especially from Cyril, whom we considered a rational decision maker, it really is a blow to us.
“If the government wants us to create millions of jobs, they can now forget about it.
“The government should make it as easy as possible for farmers to create jobs, but they make it as difficult as possible.”
Tony Ehrenreich, Cosatu’s Western Cape secretary, welcomed the moratorium and launched an angry attack on the country’s farmers during the talks that preceded the decision while Ramaphosa and his companions listened attentively.
He railed against farmers who, according to him, put workers off farms left and right, hold on to “stolen land” and treat their employees with contempt.
Ehrenreich demanded a total “restructuring” of South Africa’s agricultural industry, saying that land redistribution is crucial but isn’t happening because farmers have “historical animosity” towards their employees.
Since a minimum daily wage of R105 was introduced early last year, Ehrenreich said, farmers did everything they could to make workers’ lives difficult.
Water and electricity are often cut off when the farmer is “in the mood” and farmers now also make workers pay for various benefits that were previously free, he claimed.
“Rent is increased, workers have to pay for electricity, water and for transport when they go to town on a Saturday to shop.
“If we sound angry about these things, our members and the farm workers are a thousand times more angry because you cannot expect a man to remain silent while his family and children are despised and his legacy and contribution are dismissed as irrelevant.”
Japie Grobler, deputy chairman of the Agri-Sector unit forum, said in response: “Tony has been stirring terrible hatred in the agricultural community in general for some time and that puts enormous pressure on the farmers.”
Grobler said the “realities” of the agricultural industry in South Africa were “extremely difficult” and it was not easy to find solutions.