Tenuous tenure: Deputy minister aims to give farmworkers more muscle

By Suné Payne 18 July 2019
The government is in the process of revamping the Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1997 to protect farmworkers, says deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development Mcebisi Skwatsha. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

The laws regarding farmworkers and dweller evictions will be amended, according to the deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Mcebisi Skwatsha. The move has been tentatively welcomed by activists, who say the outcome must be tenure protection, especially for female farmworkers and dwellers.

Farmworkers are to be given more protection against eviction, says the deputy minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Mcebisi Skwatsha.

In his budget vote speech vote in Parliament this week, Skwatsha said, “We are in the process of revamping the Extension of Security of Tenure Act of 1997 to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in our society – farmworkers”.

We’ve asked [for this] a long time ago,” said Carmen Louw, one of the directors of the Women on Farms project, an NGO that works with women in agricultural communities in the Western and Northern Cape. According to the NGO, up to 20,000 people have been evicted – both legally and illegally in the Drakenstein municipality.

The Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA) is a piece of legislation designed to protect farmworkers and dwellers when farmers want to evict them from their property.

But, Louw told Daily Maverick that under the current ESTA, farmworkers and their families only have tenure security to be housed on the farm while they are working on the farm. This ceases to be the case when the farmworker dies. In other words, tenure does not extend to the farmworker’s partner or children. This means, as in the case of Elizabeth Domingo, beneficiaries who live on the farm can be evicted after the death of the benefactor who worked on the farm.

Louw said amendments to the ESTA legislation should ensure better protection for women and dependants over 18. While ESTA was originally the first step in land reform, Louw said, it was “now used wholly to evict people from farms”.

Women on Farms wants a moratorium on farm evictions while the amendment consultations are ongoing, and a standardised form of alternative accommodation for eviction orders that have been granted.

Louw says that in Drakenstein, “people are living in tents” but in Stellenbosch, “people get poles”.

The NGO also want land rights for women, who are often most vulnerable to farm eviction

Louw said the department of agriculture, rural development and land reform needed to do due diligence on the number of ESTA cases, because, “you don’t know how many people are on the court roll” for evictions.

Professor Ruth Hall, from the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies at the University of the Western Cape, said she was only aware of the 2018 amendments to ESTA, not the announcement made by Skwatsha this week.

The real problems relate not to the law, but to the failure to enforce it, to defend farm dwellers from evictions, which are proceeding and are often taking place illegally.”

Hall said what is “needed is for government to give effect to Section 4 of ESTA which says that the minister must make available funds to enable farm dwellers to upgrade their tenure, including to full ownership, either where they live on-farm, or elsewhere in off-farm settlements. There needs to be an application process to enable people to invoke this right, so that farm dwellers can benefit from land reform.”

Hall said for land reform to succeed, “A major new thrust is needed to defend farm dwellers’ rights and to enable those who want to own their own homes, or access land for their own farming, to do so.

The main call from farmworkers and dwellers is to have opportunities to have their own land as well as getting wages from farm work. Since so many people rely on casual and seasonal work, which provides insecure and sporadic incomes, people want land as security and to provide food and incomes to complement their wages.”

While Skwatsha did not give any other details on the nature of the amendments, he said, “The revised legislation will go a long way to restore the dignity of the farmworkers. In the next few months, our department will publish the regulations for public comment as part of the compulsory consultative process.” DM

Read in Daily Maverick’s archives:

THE PROMISED LAND series on farm evictions in the Western Cape.


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