Cape Town - Farmworkers are sick of being treated as vulnerable victims by the media, say Witzenberg farmers who insist they have a good story to tell.
The town of Ceres hosted the biannual Plaas Kom Dorp Toe event on Tuesday night, when small groups of farmworkers travelled to town to perform song and dance numbers at a dinner for farmers and residents.
Farmers took the opportunity to tell the media that reporting only on farmworkers’ difficulties was creating a falsely negative image of the agriculture industry.
Joy van Biljon runs the Kouebokkeveld Training Centre, which provided teachers and funding for many of the musical groups performing.
“Workers are getting really frustrated always reading that they are vulnerable victims,” Van Biljon said. “Besides pathetic schools, the farm is a good environment.”
She presented the media with a seven-point document on how to report on farms with a “more informed lens”.
The points included that “the blanket labelling of farmworkers as vulnerable victims should cease as it is an insult”, and that “the dumb and drunk image of farmworkers often portrayed by the media be critically examined”.
In between the musical numbers, the audience was served wine and a meal while workers spoke about their life on the farm.
Arno Galant told the townspeople: “I feel like I’m on a long holiday. At the end of the day it’s so peaceful, I can breathe the fresh air and listen to birds singing. The conditions I stay in are much better than what any municipality can provide.”
June Jantjies from Kromfontein farm agreed. “I was born and raised on the farm. I am a farmworker and proud. I enjoy what I do.”
Jantjies helps run the farm creche.
Social projects such as these were not charity, farm owner Anthony Dicey told the audience, because a farm was a business and nothing came free. Instead, it was about responsibility.
“There is a keen sense of competition among the farms, and it’s not just about the best tonnage - it’s about making a difference in our communities. It’s our responsibility to help these people, because, you know what? We need them.”
He said production benefited from social projects such as crèches for farmworkers’ children.
“We reap the benefits, because our people are concentrating on their jobs - they’re not worried about where their kids are. It’s the right thing to do, and it also helps my conscience.”
An Afrikaans musical dinner in a church hall is not complete without a rendition of Jan Pierwiet, and the Kitaar Kinders of Boy Muller Primary were there with their acoustic guitars to oblige. “They practise every day,” said principal Tom Persens. “We don’t have a discipline problem because music sets a tone of calmness.”
Persens said the children carried the values they learnt in music into the classroom, and it had changed their attitude to academic work.