Farm Evictions: Briefings from Deputy Minister, Nkuzi Development, Transvaal Agricultural Union of South Africa, Agri SA & Natio

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

03 March 2008
Chairperson: Mr M Mohlaloga (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

A number of entities briefed the Committee on the subject of farm evictions. The Nkuzi Development Association translated farm workers’ testimony on poor conditions, non-payment of wages, and use of foreign workers, and reluctance of law enforcement officials to act in the Limpopo area, as well as the testimony around illegal eviction after the family had worked for twenty years. Nkuzi Development described the results of a survey on evictions, showing that over a ten year period nearly two million farm workers or dwellers were evicted, and over four million were displaced. 77% were women and children. The Association appealed to the Committee to ensure that programmes were implemented, that farm dwellers be identified proactively, that implementation of farm tenure legislation and policy on the part of the Department be measured and that the legislation be strengthened. It also pleaded for creation of sustainable establishments, separation of tenure and employment rights and creation of new dispensations to allow for both commercial and smaller farms. 

The Transvaal Agricultural Union described a number of instances in which farmers had been harmed by the behaviour of employees, including failure to abide by stock agreements, smuggling on farms, failure to comply with regulations and ad hoc workers commuting to farms. It noted that farmers did wish to have their permanent workers kept in healthy living conditions, but that the State was abusing them by essentially requiring farmers to relieve housing shortages.

Agri-SA firstly questioned some of the statistics being quoted, and noted that there were serious concerns around the eviction and farm legislation. Some of the reforms called for by the land summit of 2005 were considered impractical or unconstitutional. A farmer in the Limpopo province tabled his grievances and called for stakeholders to discuss matters so that farmers could compete properly in the global industry. The Extension of Security of Tenure Act had led to unintended consequences and discriminated against rural landowners. Agri-SA suggested that there had been an overall decline in the number of farms and that off-farm housing solutions would be preferable, and that local forums should be used.

The National African Farmers Union stressed that the farm evictions were an urgent concern.  The interests of both farmers and workers must be protected. The complexity of the legislation and the loopholes made a number of evictions procedurally incorrect, and those evicted did not have alternative accommodation to go to. On the side of emerging farmers, there was a lack of certainty, and often there was an overlap of rights and laws. It called for information campaigns, a moratorium on evictions, separation of tenure and labour rights and long term evaluations on the size of properties held by individuals.

The Department of Agriculture described the interventions already in place, and noted that an awareness campaign on land rights had been launched. Farm dwellers were a focus area and land acquisition models had been developed. The legislation was due to be amended.

Members expressed concern that there seemed to be a stand-off between unions and farmers, whereas there was a need for all to work together. There appeared to be lack of delivery under the legislation, particularly in regard to providing legal representation. There were human rights involved and implementation was vital.

Meeting report

Farm Evictions: Briefing by Nkuzi Development Association
Mr Vasco Mabunda, Project Officer, Nkuzi Development Association, translated a Sepedi- speaking farm worker’s testimony on injustices occurring on certain farms in the Limpopo Province.

The aggrieved farm worker noted the following conditions on the farms: No access to water, the issue of wages not being paid in full and deductions for electricity and water from the workers’ wages without the provision of such services. Farmers often refused firewood to the farm workers and dwellers.


Apparently certain farmers were keener to use foreigners to work on the farms as they did not feel obliged to follow the rules of paying the minimum wage. This was tending to cripple the locals economically.

He stated that that there were several incidents where farm workers or dwellers were deliberately run over by commercial farming vehicles and that one such worker was recently killed in such an incident. Police and government officials were reluctant to respond to complaints when these crimes occurred. The worker claimed that in fact nothing was done if matters were reported to the police and that the police often went out of their way to heed farmers’ complaints as opposed to those of the dwellers.
 
The farm worker made a request for the acquisition of land for the plighted farm workers so that they could produce their own food, as farmers were not producing food, just dangerous animals.
He further requested assistance from political leaders with regard to illegal farm evictions. He said that the police were assisting farmers with illegal farm evictions.

The worker said that the MEC  for the Province was often called to the farms to bear witness to the living conditions and illegal farm evictions, but that she never took the time to visit the farms and that the only time she was seen was during election times.

Mr Mabunda then translated the testimony of Ms Dorcus Letswalo of Polokwane. Ms Letswalo and her spouse had been illegally evicted from Rietkop farm in June 2007.  The matter was referred to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). The couple had worked on the farm in excess of twenty years, yet they were conferred only R600 by the CCMA. Mr Mabunda added that this was not enough to feed an American cow for two weeks.

Ms Theresa Yates, Programme Manager, Nkuzi Development Association, noted that an  evictions survey presentation was done in conjunction with Social Surveys, a NGO research company with whom Nkuzi had entered into partnership. 

She requested that something must be done in regard to illegal evictions, noting that workers were often evicted without a court order and that there was no co-coordinated inter departmental approach regarding farming. She said that there was also no long term policy in place regarding the access to legal representation. Ms. Yates said that not even a draft Bill was circulating for comment with regards to the matter. 

Ms. Yates’ survey was financed by Atlantic Philanthropies. The survey had investigated evictions for 21 years from 1984 to 2004/2005. The findings in the survey were that nearly two million farm workers/ dwellers were evicted and that over four million were displaced. It was noted that according to census data from 1980, there should have been approximately seven million farm workers by now but that there were only an average of three million, thus corroborating the four million displaced evictees. It was noted that 77% of those evicted were women and children.

Ms. Yates called for assistance for those evicted and said that two thirds of those evicted wanted assistance, but that 83% of them did not know where to go.

She appealed to the Portfolio Committee to use its oversight ability to call on the Departments of Land Affairs and of Justice, to account for their failure to implement a programme where evictees could be provided with free legal assistance. She also requested that the Committee should do the following:


1) Ensure that government implement a sustenance programme, and not just rely on the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA).
2) The proactive identification of farm dwellers
3) The Department of Land Affairs should  be measured on its implementation of farm tenure legislation and policy
4) Ensure better data gathering and monitoring of court decisions
5) Tighten up legislation, including categories on non-evictable occupiers
6) Implement a well resourced programme of information dissemination
7) Proactively create new sustainable establishments
8) Separate tenure and employment rights
9) Prioritise farm dwellers and evictees for sustainable settlements as they were knowledgeable of farming and capable of being self sustaining
10) Create a new dispensation in farming areas to include commercial and smaller farms.

Transvaal Agriculture Union SA (TAU SA) Briefing
Mr Jannie Roux, Chairman: Labour Affairs, TAU SA briefed the Committee on the stance of the Union in relation to farm evictions. He noted that some former employees did not have the right to occupation and yet they often made life unbearable for the farmer with their bad conduct.

Often stock brought on to the farm by the dwellers would increase in an uncontrolled way and was not being restricted as agreed to, and that smuggling was taking place on the farms, leaving farmers no choice but to approach the Court for restriction orders against farm occupants.

He added that some of those legally evicted did not comply with regulations.

He stated that there were too many vacant permanent posts for farm workers that were filled by ad hoc workers who commuted and were not permanently based on the farms.

The State was abusing farmers to provide housing and relieve housing shortages. Farmers did wish to have their own permanent workers kept in a healthy environment. No other industry required that an employer must provide housing, and that even members of the Defence Forces had to vacate their State-owned houses when their term of employment expired.

AgriSA Briefing
Mr Lourie Bosman, President, Agri-SA, stated that the statistics being quoted by the Nkuzi Development Association were inaccurate and old. Farm evictions were a sensitive issue, and the tenure reform programme was attempting to balance competing rights on the same land. Evictions were regulated by a number of laws, and there were serious concerns regarding Prevention of Illegal Eviction Act. Some of the reforms called for by the land summit of 2005 would be impractical or unconstitutional.

He introduced Mr Theo De Jager, a farmer in the Limpopo Province, to the Committee. Mr de Jager tabled his grievances as a farmer on the misconduct of farm workers or dwellers on farms and called for all relevant stakeholders to discuss matters and eradicate such misconduct so that farmers could compete with the global agricultural industry.  He noted that one type of misconduct was the illegal leasing of farmers’ property to Zimbabweans.

Mr De Jager also noted that farm dwellers had no electricity, sewage, education or health care facilities but that farmers did not have the capacity to pay for all that.

Mr Bosman then briefed the Committee further. He noted that there was a moratorium on evictions through ESTA. Evictions should, however, always be possible.  The problem with ESTA was that it had led to unintended consequences; the process was protracted, it did not cater for unemployed, adult children of workers, for farm attacks and theft, conflicts over livestock, valuations and new employees. ESTA rights were easily acquired. It discriminated against rural landowners.

He then went on to consider the Nkuzi report. He commented that only a small percentage of those quoted in the statistics may have followed a legal process. He said that there was a large migration from rural to urban areas for a variety of reasons, not just lack of tenure. The number of farming units had decreased between 1993 and 2002. He outlined Agri-SA’s stance on farm worker housing, noting that off-farm solutions were often preferable. He pleaded for real empowerment, economic opportunities and rural development with the necessary infrastructure.  Farm workers should receive preferential and proper treatment.

Agri-SA proposed that farmers should be able and willing to accommodate workers without fear of prosecution or disguised expropriation. There should be a movement from on-farm to off-farm housing. It recommended using local forums. The primary role of producers was to produce food and not to provide fringe benefits.

National African Farmers Union of South Africa (NAFU) Briefing
Mr O Nbangula, NAFU, briefed the Committee on the position of NAFU. It had received a number of documents, including human rights reports, that stressed that the farm evictions were an urgent concern.

NAFU believed that the interests of both farmers and workers must be protected. However, farm evictions were played out in a complexity of dynamics, including the fact that the workers were amongst the poorest and most vulnerable, that they were often evicted without notice, and often in an inhumane way. It seemed that evictions were on the increase. The complexity of the legislation and the loopholes made a number of evictions procedurally incorrect, and those evicted did not have alternative accommodation to go to. On the side of emerging farmers, there was a lack of certainty, and often there was an overlap of rights and laws.

NAFU said that there was a need for accurate and updated information. The voices of both farmers and dwellers must be heard. There was a need to tighten up the legislation. He requested that the Human Rights Council should call on the nation to adhere to the request of the UN Special Rapporteur that there be a moratorium on evictions. Further information dissemination was needed. New sustainable settlements, such as agri-villages, should be created in farming areas. The issues of land tenure and labour rights must be separated. The practice of seeking urgent eviction orders without prior and full exploration of other alternatives must be restricted. The State should also in the long term be evaluating the size of land owned by individuals, and a better redistribution.

Department of Agriculture Briefing
Mr Mduduzi Shabane, Deputy Director General: Land and Tenure, DOA, mentioned the interventions by the Department currently in place. 

The initiatives included:
- The introduction of the Land and Agrarian Reform Programme (LARP), one of 24 Apex priorities. One of five pillars of LARP would focus on land acquisition with farm dwellers as a key priority
- New land acquisition models developed for farm dwellers
- A legal service panel had been established for legal representation for farm dwellers and that panel would be in operation by June 2008
- A mediation panel had been established with mediation services already available
- An operational toll free call centre had been established
- The Minister has launched a Land Rights Awareness Campaign in 2007

Mr. Shabane said that farm dwellers should enjoy the fruits of freedom. They should become the priority focus of the DLA in land acquisition to provide long term tenure security. He noted that new land acquisition model for farm dwellers had been developed and was subject to approval by relevant authorities. The Department was also focusing on awareness on land rights and people on farms.

The two pieces of legislation enacted to deal with farm workers were the ESTA and the Labour Tenants Act. The new amendment bill for PIE would strengthen the regulation of evictions and has been referred to Cabinet.  The main objective was provision of tenure through acquiring rights to the land.

Comment of Deputy Minister
Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Land Affairs Adv Dirk Du Toit was concerned that the whole problem was not just a problem of employment, but a political problem, and that a political solution needed to be provided.

Discussion
A Member noted that the main concerns appeared to be the accuracy of the statistics quoted, and whether there was any access to pension or provident fund schemes or funeral policies. It seemed that equal distribution of land was a growing concern, since it was not healthy for two people to be competing and farming on the same piece of land. Everyone with knowledge and capacity of the farming industry should have their own piece of land in order to be self sustaining.

Ms Yates responded that AgriSA was part of the reference group regarding the statistics. It acknowledged their methodology and analysis as sound. The statistics were based on the census data, which was released every five years.

Finally she noted that that farm workers did have access to and the opportunity to join pension and provident funds and take out funeral policies.

Adv S P Holomisa (ANC) was concerned about land ownership, saying that historically wars had been fought for land, and those dispossessed needed to be put back in possession of their land.  

The Chairperson noted that ESTA was passed some time ago,  and he was concerned about its profound failure of service delivery regarding the provision of legal representation to farm workers.

The Chairperson was also concerned that the Unions appeared to be squaring off against farmers. There was no such battle; workers, unions and farmers should all be partners in the fight against illegal farm evictions.

The Chairperson noted the differences in opinion on the efficacy of statistics but said that in essence the issue was about human rights and the implementation put into place.

The meeting was adjourned. 


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