Cape Town - The Western Cape’s emerging black farmers have pleaded for “a return to sanity” – warning that they may lose their farms if the violent protests continue.
The Deciduous Fruit Development Chamber (DFDC) represents around 200 “emerging” farmers across SA – with around 80 percent of their farms in the Western Cape – either wholly or partially black-owned.
As the farm protest continued into its second week, the DFDC said there had been no attention to the fact that they were suffering the impact along with white farmers, and that they were particularly vulnerable as mostly small-scale farmers.
Ismail Motala, the DFDC’s representative for the Witzenberg region and a farmer in Wolseley, told the Cape Argus: “The majority of black farmers are in a very difficult, very precarious position. These protests have only exacerbated that situation.”
Motala said they condemned the “violence, intimidation and lawlessness”.
Motala said the police were doing “an unbelievably fantastic job”, despite repeatedly coming under attack.
“Let’s get back to sanity, come around the table and begin talking again in earnest,” he pleaded. “We are not saying that workers cannot withhold their labour as a form of protest. And we agree that if a farmer can afford more than the minimum then he must pay his workers a wage higher than the minimum…
“But we are saying that protest must take place within a legal process. We have a forum where labour and agriculture can work towards a new minimum wage, but we cannot negotiate where there is violence, intimidation and a lack of trust.
“The protests are inadvertently destroying what government has done to build up a new generation of emerging black farmers… no one has taken this into account.”
Motala said the protests were adversely affecting farms at this crucial time of the year: harvest time.
“I was supposed to harvest my pears today, but I could not. Like most emerging farmers, I do not have my own packing facilities, so we have to go through other pack houses, and the one that I use is closed today.
“If the prices I receive drop, as a result, I’m gone, I’ll have to close shop.”
Motala also said farmers were telling the truth when they said most people did not understand the complex nature of agriculture.
“A farm is not a shoe shop, where you can control all the variables and be guaranteed a certain output,” he said. “I wish I could produce 100 percent crops of 100 percent export-quality fruit, but I cannot.”
Motala argued farmers were “price takers” and not “price makers” – meaning they had to accept prices set by buyers.
They could not, in turn, independently determine the wages they could afford to pay, but were influenced by what they were paid on the market for their crops.
Motala called for an urgent cessation of the violence, in favour of a constructive negotiations towards the setting of new industry standards – without the “extreme, destructive pressure” of the current protests.