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Even billionaires pay farmworkers badly

South Africa’s billionaire wine farm owners Tokyo Sexwale and Johann Rupert pay their workers the same as farmers across the board - described as “slave wages” by Cosatu.

The Saturday Star established from interviews this week with farmworkers at Sexwale’s wine estate Bloemendal in Durbanville and Rupert’s L’Ormirans in Franschhoek that seasonal workers earn a minimum of R80 a day, or an average R1 733 a month.

Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale. Credit: INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Rupert, the second-richest person in South Africa and third-richest in Africa, is reportedly worth R44.26bn. He made his money from Richemont, the Swiss luxury group that owns Cartier, Dunhill, Chloe bags and MontBlanc pens.

Sexwale, South Africa’s human settlements minister, is reportedly worth R16.7bn.

The wages their workers said they earned are the same as those earned by the lowest-skilled and seasonal farmworkers in towns such as De Doorns, where farmworkers burnt down vineyards, and in Ceres, where they burnt down storage facilities and machinery during recent violent strikes over their demand for a R150 a day minimum wage.

The majority of farmers pay R80 a day for seasonal workers, about R11 more than the minimum wage set down by the government of R69 a day (about R1 481 a month).

Permanent farmworkers on all the farms, including on those belonging to Sexwale and Rupert, earn slightly more.

A discussion with a group of tractor drivers at Bloemendal revealed they earn R560 a week (R112 a day, or about R2 420 a month).

Bloemendal tractor driver Roger September said workers used to receive all the wood pieces cut from trees on the farm, which they sold to help pay school fees and buy uniforms. They were upset this privilege was taken away six months ago, he said.

Peter Presence, national treasurer of CSAAWU, the commercial stevedoring, agricultural and allied workers’ union, which represents Bloemendal farmworkers, said permanent workers were paid from R110 to R140 a day, a 13th cheque and long service bonus.

At L’Ormirans, irrigation assistants said they earned R2 898 a month (R133 a day or R667 a week).

On the neighbouring Antonij Rupert wine estate, also owned by Johann Rupert, a worker at a bottling plant said he earned R3 500 a month.

The Saturday Star understands from interviews with farmworkers and CSAAWU that farmworkers at Sexwale and Rupert’s farms protested peacefully at the beginning of the strike, but not again this week. They were also not involved in any violence during the strike.

Strike action started early in November and spread to 15 towns in the Western Cape. It has been put on hold over the holiday season, with plans to see it resumed on January 9.

The highest-paid workers on Sexwale and Rupert’s farms said they would be astonished, but very happy, if the strikers’ demand for a R150 a day minimum was granted as it would push up their earnings considerably.

Like most farmworkers in the Western Cape, those on the billionaires’ farms get free accommodation, water and electricity. Transport and crèche facilities are also provided.

Rupert’s accommodation for farmworkers, Dennegeur, looks like an upmarket security estate.

L’Ormirans farmworkers own their own piece of land inside the Dennegeur complex, where they grow mealies, beans, pumpkins, sweet melons and watermelons.

Rupert said he paid each worker R2 000 as an end-of-year bonus.

At Sexwale’s Bloemendal, workers receive two free chickens a week, and transport to doctors and hospitals.

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