The lives of farm labourers in the Swartland by Tracey Derrick
I live in the Western Cape, in an area known as the Swartland, in the Riebeeck’s River valley. South Africa is a country known for its extremes and contrasts – in landscape, weather, and people. My work and personal outlook allows me to mix with and meet many different types of people, from refugees to streetwalkers, bankers to farm laborers
Piet and Hendrik are farm laborers, they live on the farm where they work – through them I have got to know other workers in the valley – most are related in some way or another. Over time I have become involved in their lives. I see them at work every day, but I have also shared significant events like birthdays, weddings and church groups. They even call on me to document these milestones in their lives.
Being with Piet and Hendrik, I recognize that, despite the new post-apartheid regime, many practices of abuse and exploitation still persist on the farms. This complex heritage has left behind various forms of entrapment, like alcoholism. Historically derived from the ‘Dop’ system – where laborers were paid in measures of cheap wine – the damage of this inheritance is still manifest on most farms in our valley.
Their community must wrestle with other problems too: land tenure, poor housing, low wages, racism and change. Poor education makes it difficult for them to understand the potential of new legislation, and with no disposable income they have few opportunities to make real choices in their lives.
Many of the new laws brought in to protect them have hurt their community more than help – for example, minimum wages have resulted in many farm workers being retrenched; land rights have resulted in workers being responsible for their own housing.
So, nine years into the new democracy, it seems that those who work to feed us in South Africa, have yet to reap any benefits from the new dispensation.
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