South Africa

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Farmworker activist arrested in winelands as family of six is evicted 

Farmworker activist arrested in winelands as family of six is evicted 
Colette Solomon, co-director of the Women on Farms Project. (Photo: Centre of Excellence in Food Security)

Hidden away in the breathtaking Cape winelands is the scourge of farm evictions. On Wednesday, following the eviction of a family of six, including three schoolgoing children, a group of women protested and Women on Farms activist Colette Solomons was arrested. 

“All our women are extremely upset and shocked,” said Carmen Louw on Wednesday afternoon. Louw, a co-director of Women on Farms (WoF), along with about 30 women, had protested against the eviction of six people in Simondium near Paarl in the Cape winelands. This is where her fellow co-director, Colette Solomons was arrested by police while sitting in the road singing protest songs. 

Solomons was released on Wednesday evening and will appear in the Paarl Magistrate’s Court on charges of public violence. 

WoF is a nonprofit organisation assisting and educating women farmworkers and farm-dwellers in Western and Northern Cape agricultural communities. It had been helping the Petersen family, whose furniture was dumped on the side of the road after the family was evicted from the Aruna Farm in Simondium. 

According to WoF, Fransiena Petersen was born on the farm and worked there from the age of 14. On Tuesday, the Petersen family, including three schoolgoing children, was served with an eviction notice. They spent the night outside and on Wednesday morning, about 30 women from WoF came to support them, because, Louw said, “the family was still on the side of the road”.

Louw said the women protested peacefully – but there were seven police vans and private security present during the protest. Videos on the Facebook page of WoF show the women peacefully singing Struggle songs while South African Police Service (SAPS) officials are clearly visible. In another video, Solomons is seen sitting on the ground, while four police officers pick her up and put her next to a police van. A shot is then heard in the background. 

SAPS Western Cape spokesperson Noloyiso Rwexana told Daily Maverick: “Klapmuts police have opened a case of public violence after a group of about 30 people were evicted in a farm in the area. The group blocked the road with stones and furniture and the police took action and a 54-year-old was arrested and will appear in Paarl court once charged.”

Farm evictions, against which the group was protesting on Wednesday, whether done legally through the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (Esta) or illegally, are not a new phenomenon. According to WoF, about 20,000 people in the Drakenstein Municipality alone (encompassing the towns of Wellington and Paarl) face eviction under Esta legislation. The organisation called for a moratorium on evictions in 2014, which was followed by then-deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa deciding to ban farm evictions. 

To date, no moratorium or ban has been declared. 

In 2018, the group disrupted Ramaphosa while he gave a speech at the official Women’s Day celebration, also held in Paarl. 

Read in Daily Maverick: In the Boland, women from farms take their protest to Ramaphosa’s stage 

In 2019, Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development Mcebisi Skwatsha announced during his department’s budget debate and speech that Esta legislation would be amended to protect farmworkers and dwellers, But on that front, nothing has happened. 

Solomons will appear in court on Thursday morning on charges of public violence. DM 

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