It’s not yet uhuru for many women living and working on various farms in the Western Cape as they remain trapped in poverty, enduring appalling working conditions, underpaid and their constitutional rights routinely trampled upon by farm bosses.

These women who were born and raised in the farms around the agricultural town of Grabouw say despite a handful of them having recently been given title deeds affirming their land ownership this would however not change their economic status.

“What’s the use of rejoicing over a title deed and still remain trapped in poverty? This frustration is further exacerbated by the fact that your child is likely to continue with the cycle of hunger because children of farm workers are denied access to education.

“Unlike men, we as women continue being overlooked and receive paltry wages. In the orchards where we are stationed, there are no ablution facilities. In addition, we are not given protective gear to keep ourselves protected from the scotching sun,” farm worker, Sarah Afrika told Mukurukuru Media.

The 66-year-old says she has suffered several pesticides related complications and was recently diagnosed with tuberculosis.

“The farm bosses don’t care. You are only useful to them when you are in good health. Once you become ill and can no longer work, you are evicted and sent home to die a lonely death with no money and nothing to show after working for years in the farm making profits for the bosses.”

Afrika says the horrific image of watching her frail mother being forcefully removed from a place she once called home left a permanent scar on her life. Her mother fell sick after inhaling dangerous pesticides in the vineyards causing irreparable damage to her lungs.

She says subsequent to that, one evening, farm guards came knocking in their one – roomed compound which they shared together with her four siblings and instructed the elderly woman that she was no longer needed and that the farm owner had organised a transport for them to be transported.

They had to endure the unbearable cold winter night and look for alternative accommodation after all; the only home they knew was the farm. Afrika was a teenager also working on the farm by then. After a week, her mother died in the shack they had rented out.

Afrika says this inhumane treatment of farm dwellers continues unabated under the democratic dispensation with many farm workers facing evictions every day.

63-year-old Fransina Stevens shares her own anguish, lamenting that as farm workers they are vulnerable because farm owners are hostile towards trade unions.

“As women farm workers we do not receive the stipulated minimum wage. If you join a union, you lose your employment and for many of us who are unskilled working in the farm is our only source of income,” she says.

Stevens says women who are defined as ‘seasonal workers’ are the most vulnerable. She adds that the farm bosses were in cahoots with labour inspectors who ignore their sufferings by failing to enforce laws governing labour.

The two women were among the recent recipients of title deeds, an initiative organised by Free Market
Foundation’s Khaya Lam initiative together with home loan provider BetterBond. The initiative aims to deliver economic emancipation through titling and home ownership for rural, township and farm workers residents who were deprived of their dignity and rights under apartheid by facilitating the conversion of council owned rental properties and farm dwellings into freehold title. The recipients are not required to pay for the services rendered.

Khaya Lam (My Home) Land Reform project manager, Perry Feldman says the initiative was crucial in South Africa’s transformation agenda.

“The objective of the Khaya Land Reform Project and its sponsors is to ensure that every eligible resident of South Africa receives a title deed to the property he/she occupies. This is a pilot project and so far has seen some 1700 title deeds transferred to fully unrestricted fully tradable title unlocking more than R162 millions of dead capital,” says Perry Feldman, Khaya Lam Land Reform project manager,

Feldman adds that given the contentious history of land dispossession in this county, one cannot underestimate the value of the Khaya Lam initiative, saying since the pilot started many farmers in the Free State, Western Cape and elsewhere in the country have committed to sponsoring title deeds as a means to reduce historical conflict between farmers and workers living as tenants on their land.

According to research by Women on Farms Project, thousands of women are losing their jobs and evicted from commercial farms in which they work. They are then converted into temporary workers receiving low pay and chased out of the property they had occupied as labour tenants. Many of these workers have no place to go as they were born and raised in the farms. – Mukurukuru Media

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