Totally unacceptable

Farmworkers say abuse is widespread. Farmers say this isn’t true. So where does the truth lie? Possibly on the side of the road near Groblersdal, writes New on the Land editor Peter Mashala.

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I write this just weeks after the National Summit on Vulnerable Workers in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, which took place at the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West in the Western Cape. And allegations and counter-allegations continue to fly.But who’s right and who’s wrong? Is farmworker abuse as widespread as some claim? Or are political forces just stirring the pot?

A few weeks ago I was visiting a farmer on the Loskop Irrigation Scheme in the beautiful farming town of Groblersdal. While driving to the guest house, I saw a marketplace, with stalls filled with hundreds of bags of oranges. I couldn’t resist stopping. Besides, a colleague of mine had said if I had the opportunity I should sample the local oranges.

He promised I wouldn’t regret it. I got out of my car and was looking in my wallet for money to give to the lady at the stall when, all of a sudden, she screamed at me. It was a warning, and I still don’t how I managed to respond in time. But I did, and as I ducked I heard a loud bang. At the same time fragments of ice splashed all over the place.

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Some white fool, out with his mates, had thrown a big block of ice at me before speeding off. It hit the roof of the car and if I hadn’t ducked it would have done some serious damage to my face.While I was recovering from the shock, one of the women told me they’re used to such behaviour. “Don’t worry,” she said. “It happens all the time.”

It was only later that the implications of what she had said hit me harder than any block of ice. And I still can’t understand how anyone can live with such behaviour. How does anyone get used to having things thrown at them “all the time”? That’s why I reckon this debate of whether or not farmers are abusing workers  will go on and on. Whether we like it or not, what happened to me is not an isolated incident. And here’s another thing to chew on – you can be sure I didn’t make up this story!