Tough life for those 'slaving' on farms

BARBARA-ANN Beukes wakes up at 5am, makes food for herself and her son before they leave for work, and catches a lorry to begin her day on a farm in De Doorns.

At 8am her day begins as a seasonal worker, farming grapes.

Beukes, 39, has worked at the farm for six years. Her mother was also a farmworker.

“I grew up in De Doorns. I matriculated in De Doorns. My whole life I have lived in De Doorns. I had a child at 16 years old. At that time my mom and dad were divorced. Fortunately, I could finish school, but I had to work straight after. 
I really wanted to be a nurse, but at that time I had to provide for my child,” she said.

Although she has worked at the farm for six years, she has not been made a permanent employee, Beukes said, and when there is no seasonal work money coming in (about R114 a day), the single mom uses the money received from her social grant to feed herself and her three children, the oldest of whom also works.

Her husband died five 
years ago.

“As a mother you have to make do so that the money lasts until the last day of the month. I will be the last to eat, I make sure my kids eat first. 
I do my budget every month and if it doesn't work, I will have to borrow money."

The money goes from hand to mouth.

She said Women on Farms, which advocates for the rights of female farmworkers, helped her to start her own food garden, where she grows potatoes, beetroot, cabbage, carrots and more, which the family used when money is low.

Women On Farms acting director Colette Solomon said farm work is associated with a long history of exploitation.

“Many farmworkers are the descendants of slaves who worked on the early colonial farms in the 1600s and 1700s. Their history can be traced to the early slaves,” she said.

“During apartheid, there were no laws protecting farmworkers and their rights. Farmers had total control over their farmworkers. They could fire you today. The farmer could decide what he wanted to pay the farmworker, which was slave wages,” Solomon added.

“After 1994 government began to introduce laws to protect farmworkers, but the laws had shortcomings and farmers found loopholes,” she said.

She said while there had been much progress, much was still to be done to protect farmworkers as the minimum wage for those lucky enough to be employed was just under R2 800.

“Farmworkers are the backbone of society. They produce the food all of us consume.

"They contribute to a great proportion of the GDP in the Western Cape with the production of grapes and other fruit. Without the labour of these women farmworkers, we would not have food,” she said.