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THE DEATH of 28-year-old farmworker Michael Daniels in Wolseley yesterday should bring all polticking over the farm strike to a screeching halt.
Stop the speeches, stop the campaigning and the slogans and the trading of accusations and insults, forget the search for votes. It doesn’t matter who the farmworkers or the farmers vote for next time round; what matters is that they should be alive to vote. And that the huge contribution farmworkers make to the economy should at last be recognised.
In De Doorns last week, our reporter entered the shack of a young mother. Her furniture: a thin mattress on which to sleep with her baby and an upturned bucket on which to sit. Who could blame her if she were angry?
Like domestic workers, farmworkers are among the most vulnerable in the work force. One reason for this is that they do not have strong trade unions through which to bargain. Scattered across huge areas, separated from other workers, tied to their employers with an intricate knot of wages, housing, payment-in-kind and debt, even those farmworkers with permanent jobs are notoriously difficult to organise into unions. Even harder to organise are the seasonal workers whose lives are regulated by the cycle of planting and harvest, and whose interests do not always coincide with those of permanent workers in the same area.
Some trade unions and civic organisations are doing excellent work on the farms. But the fact is that no one, not the ANC, not the DA, not Cosatu, can claim to represent the farmworkers of De Doorns, Bonnievale, Ceres, Villiersdorp or Wolseley. No one can claim to speak for them, to call them out on strike or to end their strike. And no one should try to use them for political gain.
For the ANC’s Marius Fransman to complain that the DA has institutionalised the interests of farmers in its cabinet because three MECs have farming backgrounds, for the DA’s Annette Steyn to suggest that the strike is being stoked up by the ANC – as if the farmworkers did not have their own reasons to protest – for Cosatu’s Tony Ehrenreich and the Freedom Front’s Pieter Groenewald to indulge in a spat about what Ehrenreich did or didn’t say – it’s all so much fiddling while the farms burn and lives are in danger. If ever there was a time for politicians to put aside their differences in the wider interest, that time is now.