Freedom remains a mirage, a pipe dream for many poor black people employed on South African farms.

Many continue to work and live under deplorable conditions. They work long hours for low pay, are abused by employers, ignored by unions, the violations of their rights ignored law enforcement agencies and government departments.

They live with the constant fear of eviction, dismissal and assault. Politicians and political parties remember them only at election time before disappearing back to the comfort of the cities and leave them in the dust and fear of the remote farming areas.

The International Labour Organisation recommended in a 2015 report into the working and living conditions of farmworkers that government facilitate the appointment of labour representatives on farms, provide or facilitate labour rights training to them and give them access to a regularly updated data basis of organisations that aid farmworkers.

In a report in August 2003  — titled Inquiry into Human Rights Violations in Farming Communities — the SA Human Rights Commission found that the state provided minimal legal assistance to farming communities in instances of the violation of rights against farm dwellers.

Although there are adequate laws, which are even-handed, “those who have resources use the law as a tool”. 

The report also noted that farming communities are characterised by an acute lack of awareness of human rights, and a lack of training and education about rights and mechanisms to enforce rights. It also noted critically that there existed “skewed power dynamics between farm dwellers and farm owners”.

follow-up report by the SAHRC in 2008 found that: “There remain incidences and pockets of serious human rights abuse where employers and persons in charge infringe the rights of workers and farm dwellers.”

Sadly while government has put in place regulations such as the minimum wage and structures such as the CCMA to protect the rights of workers, farm workers remain marginalised, abused and forgotten.

This collection of photographs form part of a project highlighting the working and living conditions of farm workers in post-apartheid South Africa by editor Lucas Ledwaba.

Farm worker Samuel Morudu is worried by the constant calls from debt collectors and the fact that his family has no food after he was dismissed without a valid reason in September. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media
Farm workers on the floor in this warehouse on the farm Uitdraai Boerdery in Tolwe in Limpopo. Their employer deducted a monthly housing levy of R200 from each worker. The workers were retrenched without following proper procedures in February. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media
Farm dweller Isaac Pukuni is living in fear of property owner Johan de Jager against whom he has opened a case of intimidation which was thrown out of court. Pukuni’s case was reinstated after the Mail&Guardian published his story by Mukurukuru Media. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba
Mara Ratshosa says she no longer feels welcome at Walton Valley Farm where she has lived and raised her children since the 1950s. She is retired and sickly but says the farm management has placed restrictions on her movements on the property which makes her life a living hell. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba
Mokgadi Maria Morudu worked as a house helper at the Taaibosch farm but was dismissed without compensation or a valid reason. She is now worried that she may lose the old house she inherited from her grandparents who lived and worked on the farm. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media
While farm workers are not free from exploitation and abuse farmers also live in fear of constant attacks. Farmers have set up armed defence units in their areas. However some of the units have been accused of perpetrating a reign of terror against black people. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media
Some of the Phukuni and Ratshosa family memmbers live in Lesedi informal settlement near Steenbokpan in Lephalale after they were systematically forced to leave the farm where they were born and grew up. The informal settlement grew as a result of the rising number of evictions in the farming areas around Steenbokpan and Lephalale. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba
Kate Maripa’s family is threatened with eviction from their home on a farm in Tolwe. She was born and worked on the farm all her life. Her children also work on the farm and face the threat of retrenchment and eviction. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media) 
Farm workers living conditions remain relatively poor. Workers used material including irrigation pipes to construct this shack on the farm Taaibosch. Their employer deducted R200 from their earnings every month for housing. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media
Mokgadi Maria Morudu prepared pap mixed with water for her little children. She has not earned a salary since September after her employment was terminated without a valid reason. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media

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