Coronavirus: SAHRC asked to look at farmworker job losses, evictions

About 30 female farm workers and farm dwellers protested outside the doors of the South African Human Rights Commission in Cape Town.
About 30 female farm workers and farm dwellers protested outside the doors of the South African Human Rights Commission in Cape Town.
Ashraf Henricks, GroundUp

As uncertainty and fear grows amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, some farms in the Western Cape are closing their doors, GroundUp reported.

It means hundreds, if not thousands, of seasonal farmworkers such as Elizabeth Pietersen, will be without means to provide for their families.

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Pietersen said she was recently dismissed "with immediate effect" without receiving a warning.

The only explanation she received was that "it's because of the virus".

She said she was sent home with just two days of pay. She intends to apply for unemployment insurance.

Pietersen said she was one of 25 workers who were dismissed. 

But Pietersen and her colleagues are fighting back. 

SAHRC

On Friday, Pietersen joined about 30 female farmworkers and farm dwellers who picketed outside the offices of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) in Adderley Street to highlight what they went through daily.

The picket was also held to commemorate Human Rights Day, which was on Saturday, 21 March.

The women stood outside the office block, wearing medical gloves and singing protest songs.

Some held signs which read: "We shall not be moved", "We are searching for our rights" and "I want to work every day".

A memorandum of demands was handed over to the SAHRC and a meeting was expected to be held soon.

Some of the issues raised in the memorandum included farm evictions, occupational health hazards, wages and poor living conditions.

"Farmworkers feed the nation. They provide the food we eat every day, but it is their rights that are being violated," said Wendy Pekeur from the Ubuntu Rural Women and Youth Movement.

Inquiry

In August 2003, the SAHRC released a report, following an "Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in Farming Communities". It made a several recommendations relating to evictions, safety and labour.

Almost 17 years later, Pekeur said, not much has changed.

They are calling for a "farmworker commission" to act as a watchdog when it comes to evictions.

They also demanded that farmworkers who were put on leave during the outbreak, should be paid.

Another picketer, Elizabeth Leroux, 62, told GroundUp she lived with her husband, who was a farmworker, until he died in May 2006.

Following years of litigation with the farm owners, she was evicted in February this year. The eviction order was granted, despite her age and medical needs for her cancer treatment.

"I was staying on the farm for 20 years," said Leroux.

With nowhere to go, she will have to rely on the alternative accommodation provided by the municipality, which "wants to dump me in an unsafe place".

Currently, she lives with friends on a neighbouring farm.

"I don't want to live with others. I want to be on my own," she said.

The commission is expected to address the group's demands at a meeting this week.

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