- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 27, 2005

TWEEFONTEIN, South Africa — A crudely built brick house and a shack for cooking is what 75-year-old laborer Nicolas Chirinda and his family have called home for the past 38 years on a white-owned farm in northern South Africa.

After the farm changed hands, Mr. Chirinda was told to pack up and leave, even though he insists he has nowhere to go and is fond of his dwelling, where he also tends to six cows, pigs, chickens and goats.

“He can’t go in the township with the goats and pigs,” said daughter Elisa, who lives with her father in the house with her two children in Tweefontein, a rural area about 40 miles north of Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital.

“I love this place,” she said, gazing over the fence to pasture fields.

“It’s cool, and we don’t have problems with a lot of people,” she said, referring to life in a crowded shack settlement called Mandela not far from the farm.

Eleven years after the end of apartheid, land-rights activists say little has changed for the 950,000 farmworkers who toil on South Africa’s agricultural land, still mostly in the hands of white farmers.

Farmworkers who, like Mr. Chirinda, reach retirement age or have a dispute with the farm owner often face eviction, losing their homes and livelihoods all at once, said Siphiwe Ngomane, program manager with the Nkuzi Development Association, which defends the rights of farmworkers.

When Mr. Ngomane joins hundreds of other delegates at a national land summit that opened in Johannesburg yesterday, he will call for a moratorium on evictions of farmworkers until new legislation protecting farmworkers’ rights is adopted.

“Farm owners don’t feel obligated to their workers,” he said. “They think they are not the government, and therefore, have no responsibility toward them.”

While putting more farms into the hands of black farmers is a key plank of South Africa’s land-reform program, activists say the government should turn its attention to the 2.9 million vulnerable workers and their families who live on these farms.

Legislation brought in by the post-apartheid government in 1997 was intended to protect farmworkers and their families from evictions.

But Mr. Ngomane said there are many loopholes in the law, and that farmworkers are often unaware that they have tenure rights even under a new owner.

Farmer Jappi Meyer said he wants Mr. Chirinda and his family to leave because a deal to sell off a nearby slaughterhouse hinges on the removal of the nearby shack and houses to avoid health risks.

“I can’t believe he has nowhere to go. It’s a big country,” said Mr. Meyer, who has offered to help Mr. Chirinda find a home elsewhere and laments the fact that the government is not providing more affordable housing.

The white farmer voiced concern that Mr. Chirinda is expanding his homestead with more shacks and outbuildings, and said he doesn’t want a “crowd” living on his land.

The plight of farmworkers in South Africa came to the fore when a white farm manager and his black accomplice were convicted of feeding a black farmworker to lions.

Labor Minister Membathisi Mdladlana expressed “shock” and “anger” at the brutal killing of Nelson Chisale in January 2004. The main farm-labor federation said the case showed that many farmers treat black workers as badly as they did during apartheid.

Mr. Ngomane said the nationwide organization to which he belongs last year took up about 400 cases of forced or threatened evictions of farmworkers, or denial of rights.

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