IT IS easy to become cynical following the events surrounding Senekal over the past two weeks. On the one hand, extremists who justify farm murders by driving an overtly racist Afro-chauvinist narrative (Africa exclusively for black Africans). A story which ignores the very real problem faced by rural murder rates, some 80% above the national average and related issues of food security and social stability.
On the other hand, lack of decent wages and career opportunities faced by thousands of seasonal share croppers, farm workers and rural labourers, is providing fertile ground to those driving a fascist post-Marikana narrative that feeds into an ongoing legacy of land dispossession, at the same time that it seeks to negate democratic transformation and the notable gains of the second Republic.
Undoubtedly solutions such as income equalisation and fair trade certification will be seen by the hard left as dissipating of revolt and reinforcing of the status quo. Maintaining the current state of affairs is not my intention. Rather, we should all be asking questions: Why is it that in order to drink tea from a label such as PG Tips which prides itself on delivering a product which is ‘farmed by workers earning a decent wage, with access to good quality housing, medical care and education for their children’, one has to look instead, towards an imported brand?
Where is the local equivalent of the Rainforest Alliance, whose certification process aims at “breaking the cycle of rural poverty—and tackling the ensuing impacts for people and nature ” a fact considered “critical for a more sustainable future for us all”?
Fairtrade, another international certification organisation “exists to empower farmers and workers around the world. Some 1700 producer organisations, representing over 1.7 million farmers and workers, are the foundation of the Fairtrade system.”
Given South Africa’s history of super-exploitation of labour, one would hope that consumers would be more actively involved in changing the cycle of wage exploitation, by demanding better work conditions on farms at the same time that we act to end farm murders, in effect creating an orderly process of empowerment of black farmer and farmworkers, without the need for political opportunism and grandstanding.
Clearly there is not enough land to give each and every citizen in South Africa a farm, and similarly we can’t all become farm managers over-night. Providing a different scenario to that faced by today’s share-croppers in the form of real shares and dividends would be a welcome start. So too would proposing an income equalisation fund, one that avoids seasonal fluctuations in wages whilst protecting the families of those affected.