Recently I have been travelling around the Western Cape farmland due to work commitments and I must say it is every bit grand, serene, sultry and breath-taking. It’s upon these drives that my heart got drawn towards the individuals working these farms; the farm workers. These are the individuals one can catch a glimpse of their sun tanned skin, hands gracefully massaging the rich African soil with droplets of sweat trickling down their skin. However it can be noted that progress within this area is considerably slacking and myopic. I found myself reading a copy of ‘Native life in South Africa’ by Sol Plaatje and got a whiff of the rich, lush, blood wrenching political history that birthed the unparalleled levels in the sector.
What I’m saying is that I took a stroll down Stellenbosch, the agricultural paradise for wine connoisseurs. Home of viticulture, it was gorgeous, the air was clear, smooth, crisp and every bit white lilies and daisies. Submerged within the mountains of the Western Cape it resembled the picturesque grandiose canvas marveled by nature enthusiasts.
I took a short left towards Franschhoek and it was every bit grand, serene, lush and tranquil. With updated landscapes and coffee shops it was paradise, a highly recommended island for solitude and solace, however it was every bit white roses and white walls.
In contrast, the narrative for the farm worker on the other hand appears to be impecunious and inert. Plagued with lack of skills development, poverty, alcohol abuse, fetal alcohol syndrome, inequality, unfair and unjust practices. As noted on ‘Reflection of workers conditions on South African farms’ by a study conducted by BAWSI (The Black Association Of the Wine and Spirits Industry) examples of which are:
- Lack of drinking water and toilets in harvesting area
- Dilapidated housing structures
- Evictions from housing unit upon termination of employment
- Children walking +- 4 km to school
- Use of the bucket system
- Labour violation
- Unequal pay structures and in some cases only males are eligible for a salary increase
- Child labour
- Discrimination against black employees and some farmers still resort to making use of the derogatory term ‘Kaffir’
- Forced labour
- And in one farm for example the workers make use of water from the river for drinking and washing
In 1913, Mr Sol Plaatjie walked the South African landscape in the early days of the native land act and decades later here I was taking a stroll down the democratic western corners of our country. What I witnessed was lush vegetative landscaped wine estates sprawled within mountain passes and at times my chocolate coloured brushstrokes were distinctively evident in this picturesque canvas. Somewhere in my grey matter I couldn’t brush aside the thought that some of these estates were watered down with tears from my ancestors, painted with the blood of 1913 and the carcasses of our ancestral riches were fertilizing these lush valleys. It became evident that the native land act has scarred relations within the industry, both parties are marginally segregated and the wounds of serfdom are still heavily weighing the air.
We have a responsibility to uphold and we can’t hide behind the facade and wish it will just frizzle away. Hence eradicating the social ills permeating their environment is a process that will require intervention by private and public entities. However such a cohesive approach entails correcting decades of injustices and the wind of change erasing the tainted layers engraved by their predecessors. More so it’s introspective, and galvanizing these structural anomalies to break the socio- economic fetters will not be an easy task though its success will encourage them to realize that they can never be defined by their environment, and that they are destined for greatness.
It was Steve Biko who once said “change the way people think and things will never be the same.” Primarily erasing the hardship endured by these agrarian workers entails the change of mind set them acknowledging their circumstances as well as the consciousness of the dilapidated environment and the realization that as a collective they can overcome. As a collective they overcame when they stood together raised their voice and pumped their fists in De Doorns, and the veil was lifted. Like Karl Marx once said “workers of the world have nothing to lose but their chains.”
These men and women of society who live from hand to mouth, the proletariat, marginalized, working society, whom with the words of Thabo Mbeki vibrating in their ears “when will the day come that our dignity will be fully restored, when the purpose of our lives will no longer be merely to survive until the sun rises tomorrow” but the question remains though , how do we expect this agrarian class to rise on their own, to break the chains of oppression, marginalization in the economy where they consider themselves inferior and possess no sense of consciousness of self in society.
“Where necessity is blind until it becomes conscious, freedom is the consciousness of necessity.”- Karl Marx. The fundamental catalyst to driving change within the class context involves the awareness of ones state of mind to the environment, the centering of oneself to the idea that one can amount to something better in society; it’s such a mind-set that will aid in breaking the chains of hardship and promote individual growth a catalyst towards economic emancipation. However that can’t be achieved without the relevant parties be it political, business and non- governmental organisations coming to the forefront.