The Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development convened jointly with the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour in a virtual meeting to discuss the proposed draft programme for farm oversights.
The two Committees had been given the mandate to conduct comprehensive oversight work on the living and working conditions of farming communities. The Joint Committee Members were concerned about the timelines stipulated in the draft programme. They agreed it would be productive to split the work into two groups that consisted of members of each Portfolio Committee. They asked that the public holidays be left open for the activities of the individual parties. The Committee asked that consideration of children’s welfare, education and human rights were included during the oversight visits. It also called for multi-dimensional representation of all relevant stakeholders, including trade unions at farms, to ensure a balanced picture was obtained.
The draft programme was adopted with amendments
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson opened the meeting by saying: "South Africa's rural landscape carries the scars of centuries of colonial occupation denuded by the cruel apartheid state under development and the divided centuries which have been perpetuated in the democratic era despite the number of interventions that we have seen over the past 27 years. It was for this reason that this proposed oversight programme was of such importance.”
He said that a number of studies over the past few years had drawn attention to the plight of farmworkers and farm dwellers. These studies without exception had pointed to the difficult conditions faced by farmworkers and farm dwellers on farms. Whilst many farm owners had done exceptionally well to embrace transformation and deal fairly and justly with issues such as the security of tenure, employment share opportunity programmes and general conditions of work, many workers and farm dwellers lived under precarious conditions. It was therefore the task of the joint Portfolio Committee Members to develop a common approach and a shared vision towards joint oversight. The joint oversight would productively deliver the objectives that impact policy and programmes.
The Chairperson said that even though there was sufficient information about the farm conditions, it was vital to document these conditions through joint oversight. The steps taken by the joint oversight process were very critical and would ensure that line function departments and the functionaries of Parliament made the necessary interventions. The joint oversight would further afford the two Portfolio Committees an opportunity to conduct an effective oversight policy response and programme interventions to address the living and working conditions on farms.
He concluded that the Portfolio Committee Members must map out a way forward to fulfil their mandate. He reminded the joint sitting Committee Members that they had been given an extension until 30 November 2022. However, they desired to conclude this way before the deadline.
Draft joint oversight programme
Dr Tshililo Manenzhe, Content Advisor, PC on Land Reform and Rural Development, presented the draft joint oversight programme. He said that the two committees had been given the mandate to conduct comprehensive oversight work on the living and working conditions of farming communities, which included farmworkers, farm dwellers and farmers.
He said that the mandate would be delivered by:
monitoring the progress that the government had made to honour its commitment towards improving the living and working conditions in the farming communities;
considering work done by different stakeholders in the agricultural sector;
joining the two committees to assess the impact of legislation that affects farm workers and make recommendations for legislative amendments; and
conducting public hearings to get consent from the relevant select committees in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP).
(For more information, please consult the draft programme).
Ms M Tlhape (ANC) said that the Committee Members needed to remember that this work was supposed to have been completed by last year. Given the extension, she was concerned about the time frames set in the programme. She asked the Committee to speed up the process so that the farm workers' challenges were addressed. She supported the adoption of the programme, but requested the Committee to look into using constituency days to speed up the process. Could they not split the joint Committee to cover enough work with less cost and a shorter timeframe so that the draft report was brought to Parliament by June? She would be satisfied with anything that would bring the date nearer to June, roll out the way forward, and result in activities that would help the farmworkers.
Ms T Breedt (FF+) disagreed with Ms Tlhape regarding the timeframe suggestions she made. Completing the work by June meant they would be sitting every single weekend over nine weeks to see the provinces. With all due respect, that was impossible to do. She even had a problem with the stage at which the programme was scheduled now. The first weekend they would be away would be from 29 April to 2 May (Worker’s Day). Some of the parties, especially the ANC, had specific activities for Worker's Day and Youth Day. She did not think they could ignore the fact that they were a multiparty delegation with party obligations. Further, they had booked their constituency periods to go to their constituents to develop plans. It would encumber this portfolio if they did not have the most Members possible at these oversights. The programme did not take public holidays into account.
She said that the process could not be completed as quickly as possible because the Joint Committee had failed to meet their first deadline. Why were they forcing deadlines while they had other free months when they could do the work? She added that Sundays were not going to work because people needed to respect religious days.
She requested the joint Committee to be very clear and ensure that there was balanced representation regarding farmworkers, as there were always three sides to a story - "your side, my side and the truth!” She stressed that the Committee needed to focus on not getting a one-sided view, but one that was inclusive and broad.
She was worried about the attendance at public hearings compared to oversight. How were they going to approach an oversight visit? How were they going to make the selection? Who would be selected? How would they be informed? They could not just arrive and introduce themselves. Setting aside two or three Fridays to gather background information would be a good step in the right direction.
The Chairperson said that when people spoke about religious days in South Africa, they must not be narrow in their thinking. It was a holiday (day of Jummah) today as Muslims, but they set aside time to do work. Many Jews go to their synagogues on Saturday, and Christians on Sunday. In the midst of that, they all found time to do or work as public servants. The programme must not be slanted to one religious view but should be inclusive of any person from any religion.
Mr G Hendricks ( Al Jama-ah) said he was very excited that the Committee would look into the research done by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and their recommendations, which indicate that farmworkers were still living in the age of slavery. He urged the Committee to look into the Mining Charter because it had a social compact in terms of which mines had a responsibility to look after the socio-economic needs of the residents around the mines. He suggested that the Committee should also look at the Competition Commission's powers because of its ability to prosecute prosecutorial rights in their own courts to speed up enforcements in line with the Employment Equity Act (EEA). The EAA offered an annual voluntary plan that had to be established, where employers were required to report on the progress of the plan. The voluntary plan had not worked, so there had been amendments to the EEA that would in this case offer farmers an opportunity to set their own targets and standards to facilitate change and monitor how these changes improve over time, since the 27 years of democracy. Mr Hendricks reminded the two Portfolio Committees that they had a revolutionary task that would change the farming landscape of South Africa.
Ms C Mkhonto (EFF) said she agreed with Ms Tlhape about dividing the Committee to speed up the process and lessen the workload. She was concerned that there was a general conception that children were being treated well on the farms. What departments could look into children’s welfare at farms? Childline? Could the Department of Social Services be consulted and be requested to accompany the joint Committee on the oversight visits? Could they please look into and confirm the child labour that occurred on the farms concurrently with the oversight into living conditions? Were the children even going to school?
Ms A Steyn (DA) said that the programme outlined what needed to happen, and she agreed with Ms Mkhonto about children’s welfare and access to education in the farming communities. She knew people in her area were not going to school due to transport issues and lack of boarding schools - the children had to stay with families in town to go to school. They must also not forget to also look into access to mobile clinics. She agreed that the Committee needed to be split into two groups to ensure that all areas were covered. Did the programme also take into account the legislation that the Committee needed to utilise during oversights and public hearings?
Mr M Nontsele (ANC) suggested that the Committee should agree on the proposed approach by Ms Steyn, with amendments by Ms Mkhonto, regarding extending the scope to include a focus on children’s rights and labour. He added that the South African Police Services (SAPS), complementary to StatsSA, could also be asked to offer useful and comprehensive statistical information on the children living on farms. He said the Committee must adopt flexible timelines before 25 March. He asked the technical team to take advantage of the parliamentary programme to look for days during the recess to have oversight at two or three provinces. He added that the Committee must ensure that they got maximum participation from the farming communities, so he called for flexible days rather than Sundays. He added that the Committee must creatively find ways to attract wider and inclusive voices during the public hearings by issuing notices in advance.
Mr S Matiase (EFF) said that there was not much one could say about the proposed programme other than to agree with the Members that whatever was needed to make this process smooth and expedient must be considered and factored in. He agreed that relevant stakeholders should be fairly represented, because the work of the joint Committee was multidimensional, not just one-sided. Wherever possible, when resources and time allowed, they should extend an invitation to other research or interested groups to come and make presentations. They needed to hear from Afriforum about the farm murder allegations they make domestically and internationally. They needed to hear their side of the story and persuade them to give the Committee some evidence of their claims based on empirical and scientific research, in conjunction with the information and dockets from the SAPS. The trade unions operating at farms must also be invited to speak on behalf of farmworkers on the receiving end of all the economic, political and social ills. Mr Matiase said that the beauty of this Joint Committee was that it would allow loud and prominent voices from women, who would ascertain that the work would be done to the best of the joint team's ability. He added that genuine feedback would emerge out of this oversight and Parliament would benefit from the wisdom that women would have shown and demonstrated in the work of this committee. When the world gets carried away with the "isms" (ideologies) of the world, women focus on the real issues that affect children, women and the most vulnerable communities. He trusted that with the kind of women they had in the Committee, they were going to get the best report ever since 1994.
Mr Nontsele added that it would be very helpful to extend the initiative to all social partners through the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC), to offer input in terms of farm labour.
The Chairperson asked the Committee to adopt the draft programme as a working document that could be changed upon approval, noting that they might need to use some of the days from the constituency period and during the recess.
Dr Manenzhe said that he supported the proposal to split the team into two, given that each split group would have Members from each Portfolio Committee. They would look into that proposal and bring back a programme that considered two groups instead of one, the exclusion of public holidays to allow party activities, and timeframes. He agreed that the public hearings were multi-dimensional, so there should be balanced voices. The stakeholders would be any interested party, and the success of this work would be determined by the work done before going to conduct oversights.
The administrators had made a proposal and they were advising the joint Committee to update the upcoming constituency period because it may be difficult for support staff to conduct thorough preparations and send teams to the oversight areas to mobilise the farmworkers and communities. It required time and did not need to be rushed so that they could have a desirable outcome. Also, all the Portfolio Committees in Parliament would be considering budgets and annual performance plans (APPs), and would the support staff’s inputs to prepare for the presentations. There was a lot that was happening, and they want the oversight to be a success.
He said it was very difficult to select sites, but they were mostly selected by engaging with the stakeholders in particular communities. They also considered inputs from the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) that had been in this sector for a long time. They would also look at the statistics from land rights management facilities about the causes of evictions and human rights abuses, to establish areas that had many cases going to court. They would come back with a proposal to the Joint Committee and say this was the analysis they had done for its consideration”.
During previous oversights, they had observed that people tried to make time at weekends to attend public hearings. Children's rights were taken into consideration under stakeholders, and he would ask his colleagues about the Mining Charter. They had circulated a list of very broad legislation in the previous engagement with this Joint Committee, so it was very important to narrow the legislation down so that they did not end up losing focus
He concluded that he had noted all the comments, and would revert to the Portfolio Committee in the next meeting.
Mr Reggie Ngcobo, Media Liaison Officer, DALRRD, said that the enforcement services of the Department of Employment and Labour did not have jurisdiction over mining because the Department of Mineral Resources had its own inspectorate services that conducted inspections in the mining sector. He added that a proposal by Mr Nontsele to extend an invitation to NEDLAC had been noted.
Ms Tembisa Pepeteka, Parliamentary Researcher, said that the Joint Committee needed to focus on already established departments, otherwise they would have a long list of departments to invite.
The Chairperson asked to move for the adoption of the draft programme as a working document.
Mr S Mdabe (ANC) proposed the adoption of the draft programme with amendments.
Mr Matiase seconded the adoption of the draft programme.
Mr Nontsele, Acting Chairperson, thanked everyone and said that the Joint Committee now had a working document that would guide them and allow them to make adaptations. He highlighted that the Joint Committee should be able to meet timelines, and thanked the technical team for working overtime.
He thanked everyone who had been instrumental in putting the draft programme together to make it possible for the Joint Committee to carry out the work.
The meeting was adjourned.
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