Cape Town - Amid thousands of hectares of lush vineyards surrounded by the scenic mountains of the Boland region, a battle is brewing.
There is tension over a new land-reform proposal (see box) involving giving 50 percent of land to farmworkers, which has generated fear, anger and discontent – and seen farmworkers across the province fall victim to escalating evictions.
As a result, this is threatening to spoil the harvests, as farmworkers fight to hang onto their homes.
John Gcanga, 58, and his wife Ella, 59, have had to rebuild their lives away from familiar soil when they were evicted after 20 years on a Rawsonville farm.
Left blind in his right eye by the poison of toxic pesticides, Gcanga said he had never received any compensation. He and his wife left the farm after the owner “told us to clear the house and get out”.
Initially, the Gcangas resisted moving, but later made an appearance at the Worcester Magistrate’s Court. But on the assigned date, according to the Gcangas, the owner never showed up at court and, with no legal representation or “help”, they say they simply moved.
The couple now live in a shack in the informal settlement Geelkamp, and are on a government housing waiting list.
The Gcangas say they pray that one day they will find a better place to call home.
Virgina Kapa, 38, is suffering a similar fate. She had to leave behind 10 years of her life on a farm and, with her three children, move into a shack in another Rawsonville camp, De Nova.
She had allegedly been accused by the farm owner of “running a shebeen” from her farm dwelling, which Kapa denies.
“That night it was still raining and we got so wet when the farm owner told us to clear the house. It was so hurtful. He chased us away like dogs,” Kapa said.
Kapa said before they left the farm, the owner handed her R2 200 and offered them old corrugated iron sheets. And so, Kapa used the materials and old carpets she had received from farmers in the town to put up a shack to house her family.
“My hok (shack) is still not in a good condition.”
A Western Cape union said farmworkers were facing a growing number of evictions from farms.
Regina Williams, Boland regional secretary for the Building and Allied Workers Union of South Africa, said “nothing’s changed” since farmworkers “had the big strike in De Doorns”.
Many labourers had approached the union for help, and investigations had revealed that many were being legally evicted, but the courts, claimed Williams, were making rulings without the benefit of reports detailing the living and medical conditions of the people involved.
She complained, too, that courts were not adhering to the Extension of Security of Tenure Act.
Gazetted in 1997, the act states that farmworkers aged 60 and who have been living on the same land for 10 years or more, or were working or had worked on the farm when they were medically boarded, had a “lifetime right” to live there.
This month marks the deadline for feedback on the controversial land reform and restitution policy, Strengthening the Relative Rights of People Working the Land.
It proposes that, based on the number of years a farm labourer has worked on the land, accounting for their contribution to the land’s development, they will assume half ownership of the farm.
It was reported last year that the government would pay 50 percent of the portion allocated to the farmworker, deposited into an investment and development fund, rather than to the farm owner.
While Rural Development and Land Reform Minister Gugile Nkwinti has suggested the policy would apply to workers who have worked and lived on a farm for a period of 10 years or longer, it comes too late for many.