The living and working conditions of farmworkers, farm dwellers and farmers: engagement with relevant departments, with DALRRD Minister present

Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development

16 September 2022
Chairperson: Mr Z Mandela (ANC) and Ms M Dunjwa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary


In November 2020, the National Assembly mandated the Portfolio Committee on Employment and Labour and the Portfolio Committee on Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to conduct comprehensive oversight work on the living and working conditions of farm workers, farm dwellers and farmers.

In undertaking this work, the joint committees conducted oversight visits - earlier this year - across the country to conduct this assessment and interact with affected communities.

Following these engagements, the joint committees have invited relevant departments and entities to hear about their insights, challenges and programmes in this area.

In this meeting, Members received presentations from the Departments of Human Settlements (DHS), Social Development (DSD), Women, Youth and People with disabilities (DWYPD), and the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The inhumane treatment of farm workers and farm dwellers was brought into sharp focus during oversight visits to various farming communities across all nine provinces. The Committee was not assured that government officials were providing adequate support and interventions to address the plight of farm workers and farm dwellers. The SAPS was not supporting victims who suffer abuse at the hands of farmers to open cases or cases that have been opened and are involved in lengthy court processes. It is reported that in some areas, victims of abuse felt intimated and did not report cases because the police stations are situated on privately owned farms. The Committee was concerned about reports that private security firms were taking over the responsibilities of police officers. The Committee was assured that the cooperation with private security firms is regulated by the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority and their role is restricted to information gathering. The SAPS requested to be provided with specific detail of cases that members had concerns about and undertook to follow up and provide feedback in the next meeting.

The poor quality of housing units was of concern to Members as it impacts negatively on the dignity of poor and vulnerable people. The DHS gave the insurance that all housing units comply with norms and standards. Water, sanitation, roads, and stormwater services are quality assured and checked for compliance with engineering standards by provincial engineers.

The Committee found the generalisation of issues in the DSD and DWYPD presentations unhelpful because it was not assisting Members in getting an understanding of the programmes meant to support women working on farms. The two departments were offered the opportunity to redo the presentations. The departments were advised to collaborate with other departments and to consider the mandate and brief of the Committee in compiling the revised presentations.

Meeting report

Chairperson’s opening remarks
Chairperson Mandela joined the meeting from Texas in the United States, where he was attending a conference. He welcomed Chairperson Dunjwa and wished her strength. The purpose of the meeting was to receive briefings on the living and working conditions of farm workers and farm dwellers from several departments. He noted that the Minister from the Department of Human Settlements (DHS) was not present on the platform.

Ms Rashnee Atkinson, Acting Director-General (DG): Research, Policy and Planning, DHS, said the Minister had a conflicting MEC meeting and apologised for her absence.

Chairperson Mandela said in the last meeting, the Committee expressed its dissatisfaction with the Ministry for not taking the plight of farm workers seriously. He expected Ministers to prioritise these meeting requests and would follow up with the relevant Ministers.

DHS presentation
Ms Atkinson presented the Department’s programme to provide subsidised housing for farm residents.

More than four million housing opportunities have been delivered since 1994. The current housing backlog is estimated at approximately 2.3 million units including houses, stands and hostels. One of the key priorities of the Department is to eradicate mud housing to prevent disasters similar to the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal and rural areas in other provinces.

Housing Needs Register
The programme attempts to develop a practical approach to solving the housing needs of farm workers and domestic workers on farms. As of September 2022, 13 213 farm workers and domestic workers on farms had been registered. The number was not a true reflection of housing needs on farms because the system had not been updated as expected. The Department planned to work closely with provinces and municipalities to update the register.

As of September 2022, 52 housing projects had been delivered to 2 518 beneficiaries at a cost of R275 million. This might not be the real-time figures because provinces did not update the register timely. The Department was engaging with colleagues at Rural Development to launch a similar program for Military Veterans.

(See presentation)

SAPS presentation
Major General Susan Pienaar, Division: Visible Policing and Operations, SAPS, presented SAPS Rural Safety Strategy for crime prevention in farming communities.

The first Rural Safety Strategy was implemented in 2011 and replaced in August 2019 with the Reviewed Rural Safety Strategy which was launched by the Minister of Police in Limpopo in October 2019. At the end of the 2019/20 financial year, 877 of the 883 rural and rural/urban police stations had implemented the strategy. 808 of the 906 rural/urban police stations had implemented the strategy by the end of the 2021/22 financial year. The Minister of Police, in consultation with the National Commissioner, established an integrated Task Team to identify priorities from recommendations presented at the Rural Safety Summit held in the Free State on 27 to 28 June 2022.

The reported number of stock theft incidents decreased from 6 775 during the period 1 April 2021 to 30 June 2021 to 6 456 during the corresponding period in 2022. 1 982 stock theft arrests were made during the period 1 April 2021 to 30 June 2021.

Attacks on farms and smallholdings resulted in 40 incidents of murder from April to December 2021, compared to 46 murdered victims in 2020. The number of murdered victims increased from 11 from January to March 2021 to 15 in 2022.

Unlawful occupation of land and evictions
The National Instruction (7 of 2017) provides a legal framework for the responsibilities and behaviour of the SAPS members during evictions and invasions. The instruction is being reviewed and was discussed at the Rural Safety Summit that took place from 26 to 27 June 2022.

(See presentation)

Chairperson Dunjwa said in some of the areas where Members visited, people raised concerns about the standard of accommodation, especially on privately owned farms. She asked how the DHS was handling the situation of farm workers who prefer not to be relocated to areas where municipalities have built houses. In some areas, farm dwellers are being charged up to three-quarters of their salaries for rental payments. She wanted to understand if the Department of Labour was doing inspections of the standard of rental houses. Members were informed that some police stations are situated on farm property. This creates a bias toward the farm owners by the SAPS officials in areas such as KwaZulu-Natal and Northern Cape, where police stations are often rented from farm owners. She was expecting the presentation to reflect on the challenges of illegal foreign nationals and the responsibility of the DHS together with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA), to resolve the problems. She was disappointed with the lack of specific detail in the presentation and did not find the generalisation helpful. She requested the SAPS to provide a breakdown of specific districts, e.g. in the Eastern Cape, that would assist Members in following up on matters in their particular constituencies.

Mr N Hinana (DA) was concerned about omissions, especially in the DHS presentation. Members visited a farming community housed in a community hall for more than eight months without water, electricity, food and privacy. Members were informed that the process requires informing the MEC and DG before evicting people. This matter was not reflected in the report. Members were also informed that farm workers were harassed by private security firms working with the SAPS. He was expecting the SAPS to report on the killing of livestock because farmers want to reduce the number of animals on their farms without compensation to the farm workers. There was a common outcry about the forceful removal and killing of livestock without compensation. He asked the SAPS to provide the outcomes of cases where arrests were made. He questioned the relationship with private security firms and wanted to know how the SAPS assisted communities.

Mr M Montwedi (EFF) asked which sphere of government was responsible for updating the National Needs Register and if the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) had a role to play in this regard. He wanted to know why cases, where farmers are involved, were not being attended to. He asked the SAPS to investigate the matter in Ventersdorp, where many workers had been badly beaten by farm owners but cases have not been opened. He felt that the police were not winning the fight against stock theft. Not every police station had a stock theft unit. Network connection problems and the type of police vehicles available to police make it difficult to access areas where stock theft crime occurs. He wanted to know how the police were helping farming communities to manage incidents of stock theft.

Mr B Tshwete (ANC) first sought clarity on why the Committee brief for this joint meeting was not made available. Members went on oversight visits and observed what was happening in communities. It was reported that the police were working with private security firms that arrested farm workers and informed the SAPS to charge them. He asked the SAPS for a detailed update on the case of a Northern Cape farmer who, almost ten years ago, shot and killed a farm worker who he thought was a baboon. He requested data on the number of police stations within privately owned farmland. Farm workers raised this as a matter of concern because they are unable to report cases where police stations are on private farms.

Ms C Mkhonto (EFF) had a salad of comments and questions on the two presentations. The distinction between rural areas and farm areas was unclear. She was satisfied with the information on rural areas but was concerned that very little was mentioned about what was happening in farming communities. She requested a breakdown of the R375 million spent on housing and the locations of the 2 518 beneficiaries. She wanted to know if DHS officials have seen the quality of the housing units. She asked if the SAPS was aware that private security companies were taking over their operational space and what was being done about the matter. She asked for a breakdown of the number of farmworker abuse cases dealt with successfully in 2021. She held the view that many cases are settled in favour of farmers. She wanted to know if the SAPS had a unit, similar to the stock theft unit, to deal with human rights violations of farm workers.

Ms N Mahlo (ANC) found it frustrating that the street committees in rural areas were not functioning. She asked the SAPS to provide examples of areas where street committees had been implemented, as they were not visible in the communities she visited. She asked for an update on the review strategy.

Chairperson Mandela welcomed the commitment by the DHS to eradicate mud housing throughout the country. But he drew attention to mud houses seen on oversight visits in the worst conditions, posing risks to farmworkers and farm dwellers. He was not getting a clear idea of the practical steps that would be taken to eradicate mud houses. The Department did not need the permission of farmers on state land to deal with the problem. He questioned the low numbers on the Needs Register and urged the Department to be proactive because not many farm dwellers are aware of the registration process. He noted that inter-departmental coordination seemed to be a challenge. The Department also raised sectoral determination as a challenge. He wanted to understand why the DHS was only coordinating with the DALRRD and not with the Department of Employment and Labour and other departments. He welcomed the statistics on housing delivery on farms. He requested the Department to submit a complete record of statistics including the related budget and expenditure report by the end of next week, i.e. 23 September 2022. In addressing the issue of farm workers, he referred to section 23 (s1) of the SAPS Act which stipulates that no person shall evict an occupier except on the order of a competent court, and any person who contradicts the law shall be guilty of an offence. He became aware on oversight visits that local police officers prevent victims from reporting cases on the pretext of not having the code to register such cases. In his view, police officers did not have the legislative knowledge. He wanted to understand how the SAPS could help to change the state of affairs. The perception exists that police stations were assisting farmers and not farm workers. He held the view that the Rural Safety Plan was not crafted with the plight of farm dwellers in mind because farmers are able to present a title deed if both have a dispute. But farm workers who have been utilising the land for more than 30 or 40 years do have labour tenant rights.

In many cases, the new owners tend to limit the rights of workers and treat them as trespassers. He asked the SAPS to comment on this observation. He brought to the attention of Members and the SAPS the gross inhumane atrocities against the people of the Gert Sibande District by the Greyling family. It is reported that a person was shot in the eye in the presence of two police officers. Mr Greyling is reported to also have shot and killed two brothers. No arrests had been made. He was informed of many incidents of farm workers and farm dwellers being brutalised by a farmer, du Toit, in the Limpopo area. He asked the SAPS to comment on the issues raised.

DHS response
Ms Nonhlanla Buthelezi, Chief Director: Operation Policy Frameworks, DHS, replied that the Department checked the quality of accommodation during site visits. The sizes and ranges of housing units are specific to the needs of beneficiaries including that of military veterans and people living with disabilities. The provincial engineers and quality assurers do check that water and sanitation, and roads and stormwater services comply with engineering standards. Inspectors of the Housing and Building Regulatory Authority perform quality checks. All housing units are built in compliance with norms and standards which she offered to share with the Committee. She acknowledged that building on privately owned land is a problem. It would be preferable to build developments on government-owned land. The MEC agreed to make parcels of land available for those who qualify.

Further conversations were needed about the development of privately owned land. In terms of 1970s legislation, the sub-division of agricultural land is not permitted unless it is with the consent of the Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development. She suggested that the legislation might have to be amended to provide a mechanism to deal with such cases.

Ms Buthelezi said it is the responsibility of provincial authorities to provide emergency housing in the event of evictions and where families are housed in community centres. She asked for more detail about the community housed in a community hall for more than 18 months. She apologised for omissions in the presentation. The Department considered the timeframe allocated for the presentation but could have added more detail about the emergency housing programme. She undertook to share the information with the Committee. Information of all beneficiaries interested in subsidised housing, including rental housing in urban and rural areas, is recorded at the Customer Care Centre. Accredited municipalities have access to load detail of beneficiaries onto the system. The Department was in the process of developing a system that would allow beneficiaries to use cell phone technology for registration instead of the Customer Care Centre. The DALLRD had its own advocacy campaign to reach beneficiaries in rural areas. Sectoral determination had been an issue of debate with colleagues from the Department of Rural Development. A slow uptake of the programme is reported. Income of less than R3 500 is the qualifying criteria for free housing. A partial subsidy is offered for people with income up to R22 000. Often beneficiaries who qualify for a partial subsidy need to apply for a loan at the bank. The Department of Rural Development was working on a proposal for a farm dwellers programme. Further engagement was needed to determine if other departments should be involved.

Ms Atkinson said the eradication of mud houses in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumulanga and Limpopo was a priority for the Department. The detail would be shared with the Committee. She acknowledged that coordination with sector departments had been challenging. The IMC programme through which engagements have been taking place needs to be relooked to determine the efficacy thereof. She undertook to draw information on the housing delivery programme from inception to date and would share it with the Committee.

SAPS response
Before giving the SAPS the opportunity to respond, Chairperson Mandela drew attention to the killing of Mr Nkosi, who was at the forefront during a visit to Mpumulanga by Minister Bheki Cele. He was killed two days after giving evidence of gross brutality meted out against farm workers. He asked the SAPS for an update on the case. He referred to another case in KwaZulu-Natal where a farmer, Mr Boshoff, had traumatised a family. Case number 159-12-2021 against Mr Boshoff was opened on 25 December 2021 which meant that the family was at the police station instead of celebrating Christmas.

Lieutenant General Michael Motlhala, Divisional Commissioner: Visible Policing and Operations, SAPS, asked permission to give written responses to those incidents. It was not the policy for any official to be biased especially toward farm owners. Serious steps, including dismissal, would be taken if any member is found guilty. The cooperation with private security firms is guided in terms of the Eyes and Ears project. The purpose is to gather information and is not meant to take over the responsibility of the SAPS.

Major General Pienaar said a circular was issued to all police station commanders, providing guidelines on the responsibilities of the SAPS officials when working with private security companies. The guidelines on the role of the police during evictions are clearly stipulated in a national instruction. The Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) would be shared with the Committee. Providing detailed statistics of cases would require an ad hoc systems request. More detail is required to follow up on incidents of bias so that specific police stations could be targeted for in-service training. She disagreed that the Rural Safety Strategy was written from the perspective of farmers because it covered everybody in rural communities. There was broad representation including from unions, at the national Rural Safety Meeting held on 14 September 2022. Rural police stations need to give feedback on incidents on a monthly basis. She undertook to submit a breakdown of the information to the Committee.

Brigadier O Kgopodithata, Section Head: Stock Theft and Endangered Species, said stock theft is being monitored by the National Office and statistics on stock theft would be provided in the next meeting. Issues concerning stock theft were ironed out at the Rural Safety Meeting held on 14 September 2022. The next meeting is scheduled for 17 November 2022 to deliberate on the National Stock Theft Forum. He asked for more information on specific cases that Members raised concerns about.

Lieutenant General Motlhala said the SAPS would be engaging with PSIRA about private security companies who are involved in illegal activities.

Chairperson Dunjwa said police stations situated on farms were a cause of concern but she did not get a direct response to the question about the SAPS renting police stations from farm owners.

Chairperson Mandela sought clarity on the issue of the SAPS renting houses to serve as police stations from farm owners.

Chairperson Dunjwa replied that she was informed about the renting of houses by the SAPS in the Northern Cape and in KwaZulu-Natal.

Lieutenant General Motlhala said he would provide information on the matter in writing. The lease contracts for facilities used by the SAPS are facilitated through the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure. He would obtain information from Supply Chain Management and submit it in writing to the Committee.

Chairperson Mandela accepted the SAPS might not be able to provide immediate responses but he expected a written response by 23 September 2022.

(See presentation)

DSD presentation
A Department official was tasked to lead the presentation on services rendered to communities by the Department.

The Department does not differentiate between farming communities and other communities when providing services. The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the food supply chains of many communities and amplified the vulnerability and food insecurity of communities, including the farming community.

Community development interventions
During the first quarter of 2021/22, 97 432 individuals and 20 891 households had access to food through the DSD Food Security Programmes. The National Development Agency (NDA) provided grant funding of R7 million to 49 CSOs to support communal food gardens and small-holder farmers. The NDA assisted 294 small-holder farmers with applications for the Relief Fund. Smallholder farmers were assisted with basic farming implements to sustain agricultural activities.

(See presentation)

DWYPD presentation
Adv Mikateko Maluleke, DG, DWYPD, said the Minister fell ill the previous night and was unable to join the meeting. She welcomed the opportunity to brief the Committee on interventions of the Department to help farm workers and farm dwellers.

Implementation of milestones
During the 2020/21 financial year, the Department signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with various other departments. The MOU with DALRRD involved the implementation of the following six priority areas:

Access and acquisition of land
Of the targeted 30 037 hectares available land, 14 305 hectares (37%) were allocated to women and 6 053 (16%) to young people.

Post settlement support
Women and young people benefitted from the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme (CASP) in terms of training, capacity building, technical support, and facilitation of access to markets amongst other support mechanisms. Of the 7 432 beneficiaries, 2 374 were women, 865 were young people, and 25 persons living with disabilities. 37 415 women, 30 139 young people and 687 persons living with disabilities benefitted from the Presidential Employment Stimulus Initiative.

Rural enterprise and cooperative support
Of the 334 members that received agricultural cooperative training, 155 were women, 131 young people and two persons living with disabilities. Farmer Production Support Units totalled 23 women, and 24 young people. At least one infrastructure project was completed.

Skills development
The programme delivered 556 interns that were internally appointed, 950 graduates placed on farms, 678 assistant agricultural practitioners were appointed, and 969 new students enrolled at agricultural colleges.

Market Access
38 women, 32 young people and one person living with a disability were supported to gain market access.

40% Public Procurement
Procurement opportunities to SMMEs were made available to 388 women, 328 young people and 16 persons living with disability.

Based on the MOU with the CONTRALESA in Mpumalanga, capacity building workshops had been implemented in the KwaMhlanga area to support the socioeconomic empowerment of women, young people and persons living with disabilities within the agriculture value chain.

(See presentation)

Chairperson Dunjwa invited Members to engage with the presentations but Members had no questions to ask. She asked for a breakdown of the beneficiary numbers to understand which provinces are affected. The detail would assist Members in doing monitoring. She expected a response within a week.

Chairperson Mandela remarked that Members had difficulty with the information presented. During oversight visits, Members came across women on farms who farm owners had victimised. It seemed the DWYPD was not engaging with the Department of Labour. The presentation was not assisting Members in understanding what work had been done to help women working on farms.

Chairperson Dunjwa said the Committee was not undermining the presentations and proposed that the departments be given another opportunity to understand the brief. The presentations were not assisting Members in getting an understanding of the programmes that are meant to help women. She suggested that the political heads should accompany the departments for the next presentations.

Ms Mahlo agreed that Members needed a breakdown of the numbers to help when oversight is done. She asked the DSD to include the status of the inter-governmental relationship with the Post Office in the next presentation. Network problems at some pay points, e.g. in Limpopo, are causing pensioners to move to different Post Offices for their funds. The Department should develop a better system so people can get their money on time. She was disappointed that aid and development programmes were not reaching rural women.

Mr Hinana concurred that the departments should be called back with detailed reports. Members found during oversight visits that the policies and programmes of government are not being implemented.

Chairperson Dunjwa reiterated that the Committee was not undermining the work of the two departments. She asked the officials to consider that the mandate of the Committee is to attend to the plight of farm workers. She wanted to know what the attitude of farmers is when the Department assists farm workers. Communities are encouraged, during oversight visits, to reflect and report on how farmers are treating them. The Committee promised to follow up and respond to issues raised by communities. The presentations were not providing the answers as expected.

DWYPD response
Adv Maluleke agreed to submit a report with the specific detail as requested by Members. She said the Department had not yet met with women living with disabilities on farms. Due to the lack of provincial and local government presence in the structure, the Department was not in a position to embark on visits to women working on farms. She apologised for this shortcoming.

DSD response
Ms Siviwe Kakaza, Acting DG, DSD, appreciated the comments and direction from the Committee. She asked to be offered the opportunity to request information relating to farming communities from provinces. The information would make it easier to report at the next meeting.

Chairperson Dunjwa accepted the apology from the DG, DWYPD and advised her that it would be useful to work with the DALRRD and the Department of Labour when preparing the report for the next meeting.

Chairperson Mandela noted the absence of the Minister of Employment and Labour. Minister Thoko Didiza was on the platform and sent a message to inform him that she needed to leave early to attend to a family bereavement. He wished her condolences on behalf of the Committee.

Chairperson Dunjwa thanked Members for availing themselves. She recognised that it was not an easy task. She noted Minister Zulu on the platform but it seemed that she had difficulty connecting because she was outside the country. She urged officials to attend the next meeting accompanied by their principals. She regarded the ill-treatment of farm workers as a very important matter. Members had been informed about the emotional, psychological and physical abuse of farm workers in all nine provinces. The Committee is committed to taking this matter forward during the next term.

The meeting was adjourned.


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