WESTERN CAPE

Farmworker transport: Nobody should go to work fearing for their life, industry stakeholders agree

By Suné Payne 19 May 2021

A farmworker at Khumo Ea Tsebo, which supplies small white beans to Tiger Brands, in Nigel. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

The Western Cape legislature has heard that solutions must be devised to help curb accidents related to transporting farmworkers.

Suné Payne

There needs to be a concerted effort – and solutions – to curb accidents related to farmworker transport, stakeholders agreed during a session in the Western Cape legislature on Tuesday, 18 May. 

Farmworker transport made headlines in January when trucks transporting farmworkers overturned in two separate incidents. On 4 January, a farmworker named Doreen Frieslaar died and 12 people were injured in an accident on the N1 between Worcester and De Doorns. Later that month, 70 people were injured in an accident on the R44 near Klapmuts. At the time, Daily Maverick reported that Western Cape Agriculture MEC Ivan Meyer asked the legislature’s agricultural oversight committee to look into farmworker transport. 

On Tuesday, at a virtual meeting held with members of the legislature, unions, departmental officials and Agri WC, solutions for the issue were sought. 

“Nobody should go to work fearing for their lives,” said agriculture committee chair Andricus van der Westhuizen. Committee member Peter Marais said solutions needed to be found quickly, “because the farmworkers are struggling while we play politics”. 

Malvern de Bruyn, the Cosatu provincial secretary, said it was clear that the current modes of transport for workers were unsafe. He called for a policy to ban the transportation of workers on bakkies and trucks. “It can’t be business as usual as people risk their lives,” he said. 

Paul Bester, also from Cosatu, called for more traffic enforcement on Saturdays, when trucks transporting farmworkers were overloaded. 

Gerrit Willemse from the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union said improvement was needed, especially for women who were on “that time of the month” as they did not feel comfortable travelling on overloaded trucks while menstruating. Willemse, an organiser for agriculture in the Boland area, called for a subsidy for those using trucks to transport workers or hiring public transport for workers. 

Jannie Strydom from Agri WC said the organisation supported safe transportation for workers and welcomed additional law enforcement efforts. 

Darryl Jacobs, a deputy director-general in the provincial agriculture department, said farmworker transport would be the key focus at an upcoming rural summit in June. 

He said joint roadblock operations would be held with the Department of Transport and Public Works to monitor overloading. 

Committee member Deidre Baartman suggested calling a meeting with the National Treasury and the Department of Transport, along with provincial Treasury officials to figure out how a public transport subsidy could work, not only for the province but for the entire country. 

A suggestion agreed to by everyone in the meeting was for the committee to join with the Transport and Public Works Committee on an oversight with traffic officials at roadblocks at a date which is yet to be determined. DM

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