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Calls for Farmworker Equity Scheme to be scrapped and replaced

Published Oct 27, 2023


Lack of government involvement and oversight has allowed farmers to exploit the Farmworker Equity Scheme (FWES), to the detriment of workers.

This is according to activists following a report titled “Land Corruption and Discrimination” by Corruption Watch, which included a case study focused on equity schemes, a policy programme that was rolled out by the Department of Land Reform and Rural Development (DRDLR) from the late 1990s until the 2010s.

The research report based its findings on interviews with a range of experts who highlighted the weak implementation of land reform programmes, the fragmented legal framework that creates obstacles for those whose rights have been violated, and perceptions of pervasive corruption in the sector.

Farm worker equity schemes were designed to raise up disadvantaged workers, but few participants felt that their situation had changed.

Despite limited public information, CW’s report found that by 2013, nearly R700 million had been allocated to privately-owned farms in the name of FWES but for a majority of the farmworkers, the intended equality benefits are yet to be felt.

On one farm, shareholder workers nominated four trustees who would attend meetings on their behalf. However, when the farm went bankrupt, the trustees and shareholders suspected they had not been given access to all of the relevant information, which resulted in many workers signing over their shares without fully understanding the causes and consequences of the bankruptcy. Workers on another farm were also represented by trustees. However, the shareholders explained that they had no say in who was appointed and were given no information on the decisions made.

Approached for comment, Agri Wes-Kaap referred the Cape Times to the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform.

The department did not respond to questions relating to FWES this week.

Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz) said it had not been directly involved in FWES but generally supported the programme as a way to effect transformation in the agricultural sector.

“It sounds like the implementation went (wrong). Unlike in the Eastern Cape and Mpumalanga, where mass dispossession resulted in people being awarded their land back, it didn’t happen in the Western Cape. Restitution is not as prominent in the Western Cape. So it makes sense specifically in the Western Cape, where a majority of farm labour is concentrated, for land reform to get employee ownership in the businesses,” said Agbiz CEO, Theo Boshoff.

Rural and Farmworkers Development Organisation, executive director of the Billy Claasen said in most cases farms were sold off piece by piece without farmworkers benefiting.

“In most cases managers have more rights than workers who are shareholders.

“Farmers use the equity schemes to get out of debt and get rich. Workers still get evicted even though they are a shareholder, they get put off their own farm. Then when they want to do an application for RDP housing, they are told they already benefit from the system.

“Government must scrap it (FWES) and create a new empowerment model where workers get shares in the land and in the business,” said Claasen.

Chief negotiator for the Labour Association Workers Union (LAWU), Nosey Pieterse said: “A lack of government involvement and oversight to ensure the issue of management or farmers (who try) to keep trade unionists as far as possible ensures they can do with (the FWES) what they want.

Government is very much aware of all these issues, we have raised it. They know labour is demanding they start dealing with this because in its current form it does not benefit workers at all,” he said.

Cape Times