Stellenbosch farmworker evicted from strawberry farm claims he is blocked from seeing family

Farm workers on Brakelsdal S. Zetler & Sons Farming Enterprises PTY. (LTD) in Stellenbosch seen harvesting strawberries. Picture: Tracey Adams/Independent Newspapers

Farm workers on Brakelsdal S. Zetler & Sons Farming Enterprises PTY. (LTD) in Stellenbosch seen harvesting strawberries. Picture: Tracey Adams/Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 13, 2024


Cape Town - A distressed farmworker who was evicted from a strawberry farm in Stellenbosch claimed management was now blocking him from visiting his family.

Patrick Muller, 46, a former irrigation foreman at Zetler and Sons Farming Enterprises, said he was dealt a blow as he couldn’t step foot on the premises anymore.

“I’m the man that is protecting them, the door is now open for any attacks on them because they are just women. If something happens, who is going to protect them?” he said about his family.

Muller said he was evicted from the farm last week following an order by the Land Claims Court earlier this year.

This followed the termination of his employment almost four years ago when, in 2020, CCTV footage captured him allegedly intimidating a gate attendant and knocking him with his car.

A CCMA case then followed and he was dismissed but continued to live on the premises despite housing being an employment benefit.

“I don’t have living rights but my wife and I are married, so it is a bit sad that the court separates a man from his wife and kids,” Muller said.

He now spent his nights in his car or at a friend’s house in Paarl.

President of the Black Association of the Wine and Spirit Industry (Bawsi), Nosey Pieterse, described management’s actions as “heartless”.

“Their father cannot visit them. Those children have rights and as part of their rights as an occupier, they can receive visitors.

“That right is being violated, as well as the mother. They are denying their right to see their father,” he said.

Gabi Zetler, speaking on behalf of the farm, said Muller was interdicted from returning to the property.

She said after he was dismissed, they engaged with him and his family several times over a period of more than a year to ask them to vacate the property willingly.

“Several substantial offers of financial assistance were made to Mr Muller and his family to help them find other suitable housing, but all such offers were refused out of hand unless a new house is bought for them, which the owners cannot justify or afford to do in any manner.”

Muller’s wife and children held separate housing rights, Zetler said.

“We are considering an appeal against this part of the decision as we did in fact engage them on various occasions in order to discuss their options, but in the meantime, we are following the order and have not taken any steps against Mr Muller’s wife or major children,” she said.

Zetler further alleged that Muller had tried to strong-arm them into buying him a house while presenting a distorted version to the media.

“We have on our part followed fair and just and legal processes and while we do not wish any family to be forced to reside apart, we posit that this unfortunate situation could be ameliorated by Mr Muller himself.”

Muller added that he left without any financial or housing support from the municipality.

“I was thrown out without any financial help or any accommodation from the municipality,” he said.